How to stay positive and busy during this challenging time
In 20 years, what will your child remember? Yearbooks often ask graduates where they hope to be two decades later. In just a few months, we as a nation will reflect on the 20-year mark following the September 11 attacks. How do we want our children to recall the era of the 2020 coronavirus? Do we want them to reflect on the ordeal as a horrible experience where they were climbing the walls, or one where they made arts and crafts and bonded with their siblings?
This past Shabbos, March 14, countless families were left without a shul to attend. Fathers took this unique opportunity upon themselves to gather their children and daven with an extra fever, maintaining the typical schedule in shul. Many even took out a Tanach to read the parshah with trop. While we may not compare to the shul baal k’riah, the younger children will cherish these moments, hearing a father or older brother doing his best to belt out a rendition of the Torah reading. It is also a challenge for children above bar mitzvah to do their best at practicing a new parshah to read for their family. A fun task might be to have your children each try recalling the nusach ha’t’filah and repeat it as the leader, reenacting a typical shul davening.
On Shabbos day, some men stood on their porches, while others gathered in backyards; all made sure to maintain a significant distance, lest they infect their friends and neighbors. The most distinctive reactions presented a new appreciation to the open air and the nature in Hashem’s world. Everyone should take time to go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air; to date, we are not being forced to remain locked up indoors. One neighborhood resident recounted having her entire family join for Shabbos. Excitedly, she explained that with ten men over bar mitzvah, the family was able to conduct a special minyan in the living room, making for a meaningful Shabbos and birthday celebration.
By now, all k’hilos should have shifted the epicenter of t’filah from shuls and schools into our homes. We must not feel that by transferring our davening, learning, chesed opportunities, and general education into our living rooms that we are losing out. Every action, like opening a siddur, practicing school lessons with our children, or even putting a penny into the pushka, infuse our homes with holiness. These deeds will shadow us until our final days, and they will certainly remain a constant in our children’s lives many years down the road. The k’dushah of our homes is elevated even higher by bringing our families closer and spending these precious moments engrossed in t’filah or recognizing the small mitzvos we are given the chance to fulfill. Merely expressing appreciation to our Creator for steadfastly staying beside us every step of the way reignites the faith that the world is not coming to an end.
Day schools and yeshivos are hard at work organizing Zoom and Google Hangouts classes to keep the youth connected to their educational resources. Even the kids need other programming to take their mind off the troubling times. The Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation has organized Wonderwords: Yeshivas Mordechai HaTzadik with noted lecturers to entertain the children in half-hour programs from 12 to 3 p.m. by calling 646-726-9977.
One local mother decided to start the day asking her two younger children what they are grateful for; she asked her older daughter to choose one person to check in on, and another to connect with. For herself, she questioned, “What expectation of normal will I let go of this afternoon?” She still made sure to arrange for each child to take a walk around the block and get some fresh air while moving their body to get a bit of exercising.
Websites like TorahAnytime.com/kids, TorahGames.org, Facebook.com/Uri.Pilichowski, and OorahAuction.org/shmorg have content suitable for children to partake and be inspired. A special 9:00 a.m. t’filah class will be held for children between three and eight years old. Call in via 374-491-7373 or go to zoom.us/j/3744917373 to join. Misameach.org/live has organized daily live shows with juggling, clowns, magicians, and even Jewish pop stars like Uri Davidi to entertain the kids during this transitional time. Small Wonder Jewish Puppets even waived subscription fees for their content during this crisis. Free games to occupy boredom are available on Miniclip.com, KibaGames.com, and Kongregate.com, while Sporcle.com boasts trivia with educational quizzes. MyKidsTime.com posted a 30-day LEGO challenge that is sure to keep any builder fanatic occupied all month long. Follow the social media accounts of magicians like Shlomo Levinger and Magic Avi for free shows and mini-concerts by Jewish sensations Uri Davidi, Simcha Leiner, and others. Another local parent reached out to the Queens Jewish Link with an educational game for preschoolers. Set your child up with sticky Post-its and have them write out the ABCs. Then, send them out around the house to label items that begin with the corresponding letter. A virtual field trip to the San Diego Zoo or Yellowstone National Park can be found with a quick Google search. There is even a tour available of Mars, the US Space and Rocket Museum in Alabama, The Louvre, The Great Wall of China, or the Boston Children’s Museum. DiscoveryEducation.com also has other virtual tours of wildlife and nature on its platform.
Women of the community must not be forgotten. Live call-in classes have been coordinated with the speakers of Wings to help rejuvenate and inspire world Jewry. Call 732-250-3628 and use password 5432 to open yourself to a new world of programming. SaraYounger.com has organized virtual workout parties for her dedicated squad of girls to dance, sing, jump, laugh, and of course win prizes.
We now live in a world where chavrusos are facetiming, followed by a teleconference shiur on apps like Zoom. Then the children access Kahn Academy lessons and transfer to Skype for a social studies class. Meanwhile, the mom of the house is in the study room practicing Spanish on Duolingo, while her daughter is taking an exam on Socrative.com.
A virtual beis midrash was designed for the Five Towns community with leading rabbanim. From 4 to 5 p.m., and then again at 7:15 p.m., boys can learn mishnayos. A full schedule, Sunday through Thursday, is organized on the half hour from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. They can all be accessed on ZOOM with meeting ID 219468944 or by phone (929-205-6099).
In a similar light, TorahAnytime has taken upon itself the task of live streaming programs from words of inspiration to virtual t’filah gatherings with Torah luminaries. Organizations like Chazaq, Agudath Israel of America, and Torah Umesorah have been at the forefront of many of these projects.
The Vaad Harabonim of Queens recognizes the government’s directive for restaurants to close for sit-down service, allowing them only to provide take-out offerings. Our Kosher establishments are in jeopardy with huge overheads including staff and rent. It is incumbent on the community to ensure that our eateries can survive these turbulent times, especially around the upcoming holidays. Many establishments now offer curbside pick-up or free delivery and yet others have opened access to services like DoorDash, Postmates, and Uber Eats. Eateries have offered to simply leave food items at your doorstep to avoid space distancing issues. By taking advantage of these options today, we can ensure these businesses survive and continue to serve us for years to come. It might seem haphazard to call ordering lunch or dinner a mitzvah, but having in mind to help the storeowner by placing an order earns us a spectacular good deed.
There are countless means to remove ourselves from the bottomless pit of fear and anxiety. We must not be gripped by fear and paralyzed by anxiety while losing our minds. Our minds are what we require most to help us overcome these struggles. The response of a Jew is to become more vigilant and always live with a strong belief in a higher power; there is no reason to panic.
By Shabsie Saphirstein