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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 10/07/10

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Dear Readers,

In August, this column ran a letter from a reader (Chronicles 8-13/Pining for the good old days) who took umbrage with “today’s generation” and cited his/her own experiences back in time, before the advent of e-mail, the world wide web and many other of today’s modern conveniences. (The letter was a commentary on an earlier column that criticized grandchildren who are inattentive of their grandparents.)

“The way I see it, it’s a must-have, must-be, fill-my-needs world ” wrote the author who then went on to wax nostalgic of days gone by:

“Letters used to be written in longhand and sent by postal mail (which we patiently and eagerly waited to receive and to read) and we were frugal about long distance calls since they cost a pretty penny. Abbreviated messages were relegated to urgent telegrams.

Those of us whose parents couldn’t afford to send us to summer camp were content to play ball, hopscotch or monopoly with friends and neighbors in the same boat, and the highlight of our day was a trip to the local grocer, empty soda bottles in tow, for our much anticipated ice pops.”

The following is a reader’s belated response to that column – a worthwhile read, even eight weeks later.

Dear Pining,

Blah, blah “Good Old Days” Yeah, yeah. We get it, Grandma. Nothing’s ever as good as it was in the “good old days” when you were young.

Oh, no! We use e-mail instead of handwritten letters! That makes us the WORST GENERATION EVER!

Or, we could look at it this way. E-mail and the Internet allow us technological and economical freedom like never before and Internet-based businesses give families the ability to learn in kollel for unprecedented amounts of time. Nobody was learning in kollel for years and years when they were busy writing handwritten letters.

Computers in general raise awareness of issues that were taboo or kept quiet and are so valuable to our Jewish community: A T.I.M.E’s infertility message boards, for example, or tefilla.org for the davener on the go; Aish’s beautiful website or the thousands of web pages where men and women can go to learn some Torah, download shiurim and connect with other Jews. Or SeeYouOnShabbos where people can sign up for the express purpose of hosting Shabbos guests from around the country. Didn’t have that in the good ol’ days. In fact, the level of Torah knowledge, children’s education, and especially education for the Jewish woman, has exploded over the last couple of decades.

There are so many amazing things that have happened since the “good ol’ days” so many wonderful advances in medicine (nobody’s dying from polio anymore, Pops), Torah learning, yeshiva education, kids at risk, kiruv, molestation awareness and prevention, bikur cholim at hundreds of hospitals, videos and conventions about shidduchim, shidduch websites – the list goes on and on.

I’ll trade your hopscotch and stickball for a little chutzpah and modern day advancement any day. And just by the way, I’m sure YOUR grandparents would have had a little bit more to say about your behavior as children, too. We didn’t invent youthful arrogance, you know.

Get with the times!

Dear Get,

It is always good and healthy to see the positive side of things, and yes, as human beings we do have a tendency to look back with nostalgia at the good old days – irrespective of how good those days actually were.

However, while it is impossible to ignore the magnitude of the benefits we reap from hi-tech breakthroughs, there clearly is a downside. Take the Internet, for instance. One can make tremendous use of this all-encompassing international computer network, and as you point out, it has proven to be of immeasurable value to our own communities.

But G-d only knows how many individuals have been brought down and how many families have been torn apart by its negative influences – as easily accessible and available, unfortunately, as the positive.

To the best of my knowledge and recollection, Kollel has always existed for the truly sincere and ambitious of learners and tzedakah and kiruv organizations managed without the benefit of computer processing data, relying on a system network comprised of humans. (Some Bikur Cholim organizations still function super-efficiently, as they have for umpteen years, without robotic assistance.)

While many, like yourself, find it difficult to imagine life without e-mail and computers, there are families in orthodox communities today, believe it or not, that will not allow a computer to pass the threshold of their homes. Yes, there are parents who take great pains to protect their young and innocent from the pollution of an unfettered market of indecency. Whether this will serve to protect them in the long run is unknowable at the present time, but at least their formative years are off to a good start.

To the mature mind and in the right hands the tools we have today are, no question, a real boon. But I wouldn’t be so quick to knock Grandpa’s or Grandma’s “pining for the good old days.” There’s definitely something to be said for yesterday’s innocent simplicities. Those who haven’t experienced that quality of life may not be able to fathom it, but real it was.

And you better believe that the eagerly awaited letters written in longhand and delivered by postal mail were immensely more satisfying – to the eyes, to the heart and to the intellect – than are any one of the current cut-to-the-quick e-mail missives (if one manages to get to them all).

Oh, and by the way, the polio vaccine was invented over 55 years ago, a time that can be reckoned, I figure, as part of the good ol’ days.

Thank you for writing to tell it as you see it. Readers’ views are always welcome!

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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