Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Parshas Emor 5780

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Acharei Emor
14 Iyar 5780/May 8, 2020
Pesach Sheni
Avos Perek 4 – 29th day of the Omer


            Like many educational institutions, since the Pandemic began, our Yeshiva, Heichal HaTorah, has been having shiurim and classes on Zoom. While it unquestionably has its challenges and deficiencies, there are two things I love about teaching on Zoom: the mute and the commute. The commute from the kitchen to my downstairs office is economically friendly and saves a lot on gas. In addition, in the classroom, I periodically have to contend with a student who interrupts the shiur, or a brief conversation may ensue between a couple of students despite my protestations.   These days such challenges no longer exist. As the host of my class conferences, with one click of a button I can mute all, and peacefully continue giving my shiur. Sometimes after muting everyone I can see a student who is still talking animatedly. But now it no longer disturbs the class, and I can gleefully proceed.
            Yet the undeniable truth is that there is a great deal missing. While I see my students every day, am able to interact with them on some level, and continue to learn together despite the erratic situation that has gripped the world, it is just not the same.
            Like most homes, our home has been transformed into a makeshift school with classrooms all over the house, and at different times.
            Remember how we complained about Purim day when each of our children’s teachers gives a different time to come visit and each teacher lives in a different part of town? Well, now we have a taste of that every day within our own home!
            Most of my children’s classes are held on conference calls that they call in and listen to. That’s an even greater challenge than being on Zoom because teachers and students cannot see each other. It’s a stress to remember all the times and call in numbers for each child. Although it’s unquestionably draining on all parties, it’s also a testament to the devotion of our yeshivos, rabbeim and teachers in making the best out of a highly challenging situation.
            In fact, our overall general response to the pandemic has demonstrated collective resilience and adaptability.
            No one was excited about the restrictions imposed upon us, of the massive loss of income so many have suffered, or about the terrible anxiety of the unknown future, and surely no one is happy about the many victims of the virus. But we had no choice but to accept the reality. It doesn’t matter how big one’s bank account is or what connections he has, like it or not we were, and are, in this together. It’s been noted that for many millennials this is the first time they have been in a challenging situation that their parents could not protect them from or bail them out of.
            However, it is clear to everyone, that despite our incredible resilience and dedication to education, there is no substitution for real human interaction. Five hours of zoom meetings don’t equal one hug. Just ask any grandparent who hasn’t embraced their grandchildren in over two months.
            There is no replacement for a gentle hand on the shoulder or pat on the back. If that’s true with adults, how much more so with children and adolescents who desperately need constant warmth, positivity and encouragement.
            Hashem created us as social beings to be there for each other, and that is our most natural interconnection.
            We have been blessed with incredible technology that allows us to vividly stay in touch with people even on the other side of the world. But make no mistake about it - the brilliance of technology is no match for human touch, a handshake, or a face to face smile. The fact that so many people had to sit shiva for a loved one physically alone, just compounded the grief and anguish.
            Sometimes our ability to connect with the other side of the world causes us to forget how to connect with the people closest to us.
            So, despite my gratitude for the the ability to see and interact with my students each day via Zoom, I would actually rather have a commute and an unmuted class that I can personally interact with, despite the inconveniences.
            I hope I’ll have that opportunity soon.

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,
R’ Dani and Chani Staum