Despite all of the challenges of this past year, there have definitely been many positive developments that evolved as a result. Zoom is one of them. The need for social distancing necessary to combat the devastating effects of corona has resulted in feelings of loneliness and isolation for many. But in His overflowing generosity, Hashem gave man the necessary components to create Zoom. That is not to say that Zoom provides the same level of connection as face-to-face interactions, but in so many situations, Zoom saved the day and enabled the formation and maintenance of relationships as well as opportunities for unique and memorable experiences that would have been otherwise impossible.
My daughter is currently in her first year of college, studying social work. Unlike her formal education until now, in which all of her teachers, classmates, and staff were religious, she is not in a religious program. Even so, almost her entire class is female, more than half of them religious. There is one Arab woman. Almost none of the teachers are religious. As is the case with most educational institutions, my daughter is learning on Zoom. She set up a nice “office” for herself where she can sip her coffee while attending class.
The instructor unanimously considered the favorite of the class is the professor of economics. His class is much less formal than the rest. He views the knowledge of economics that he transmits to his students as secondary to the preparation for life that he wishes to give over. Even though he is not religious, he has a great deal of knowledge of Torah and halachah. And he prefers to discuss this knowledge at least as much as economics, if not more. He often begins his class with some sort of halachah or theological question. One day, he began his class with the question of why people often turn to religion when they are in difficult times and facing trying circumstances, but less so when times are good. He believes that people should be grateful and appreciative of what they have, and consequently drawn towards religion. This generated an animated discussion among the students. Another time he raised the subject of a particular halachah related to Shabbos. The girls shared whatever knowledge they had about the topic. After a lively discussion, the father of one of the girls, who happens to be a rav, sat down next to his daughter and joined the Zoom. He gave a concise and enlightening shiur on the subject and in a very clear manner explained the Torah view. The professor was satisfied. At least a third of the class time had passed before the professor started to talk about economics. This was typical of his classes and he was thrilled to be able to spark thought-provoking discussions in his “classroom.” He already gave them a d’var Torah for Pesach since he won’t be teaching them next semester and didn’t want them to miss out. He always tells the girls that they shouldn’t work too hard in school. They should meet their friends and have fun. If a girl knows the material too well, he suggests that she go find herself a hobby. It’s no wonder he is their favorite teacher. At the end of the semester, the girls had a beautiful cake platter delivered to his home and sent him a video they had prepared expressing their appreciation for his wonderful class. The professor got all choked up and his wife joined him on the screen to relish the moment with him. The warm and homey feeling along with the ability to have outsiders spontaneously join to enhance the experience would not be possible in a regular classroom. The experience can also be relived as the students (and their parents) can watch the recordings at a later time. While remote learning has its disadvantages, Zoom definitely has the potential to foster a very positive growing atmosphere.
I recently had another gratifying Zoom experience that I believe I will always remember. I have spent much time researching my family history and have even visited the hometowns of my ancestors in Europe. I am elated by every tidbit of information I can find and have contacted total strangers out of the blue who have some remote relationship to my family. I have been thinking of late that maybe in addition to trying to connect to relatives who have already passed on and others whom I’ve never met, maybe I should hook up with relatives I do know about and are still among the living. So, I reached out to extended family members who have not been in touch with each other for some time. After getting a bit reacquainted with one of the relatives, she suggested that we do a family Zoom. I managed to put together a small group of distant cousins and we Zoomed away. It was really very moving, as this group had not joined together for decades. It was so heartwarming to reminisce and together share our memories of our great-grandparents, each person providing their own piece of the puzzle. We talked about who was named for whom and where they lived and when. Some people remember my great-grandparents’ home. I, of course, recall the Hershey bars that my great-grandfather doled out to anyone who came to visit. There is no way such a meeting would have taken place with relatives in distant locations and multiple time zones without Zoom.
With all my difficulties with technology, Zoom is here to stay. And it’s a blessing.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.