When I was 10 years old, the school computer was wheeled in from a neighboring classroom every other week so our class could take short turns using it. In several countries, it’s still the case over three decades later that one device is shared among a class or even an entire school. This time last year, when my kids were in the throes of online learning, we discussed how some of their peers in other parts of the world had to share a computer with their siblings and parents – if they were lucky enough to have one at home. I shared with my kids that many teachers in impoverished countries didn’t have internet access at home, and even if they or their school had internet, they couldn’t afford to use the (very slow) dial-up access for very long, and the bandwidth wouldn’t be able to accommodate Zoom. This made it almost impossible to conduct remote lessons during Covid.
It was my mother’s yahrzeit this week, and though my kids never knew her, part of the legacy they inherited from her was not to ignore societal issues and to try to make a difference regardless of the obstacle, in the spirit of “It is not for you to complete the work… nor are you exempt from it.” After her first bout with cancer, she knew she may not live much longer and because of – or or in spite of – that, she taught us through her actions that just like G-d makes space for us in this world, we need to make space for and be hospitable to others. Further, if G-d makes space for creations that are so radically different from the Ein Sof (infinite G-d) then maybe, in an effort to be G-d-like, we need to find ways to embrace those that aren’t (remotely) similar to us and don’t have the same opportunities or privileges as we do.
I’m proud to say that my kids brainstormed how they could help give “the gift of Zoom” to peers that lacked the same educational opportunities as they did, and we then reached out to several communities to find out what type of support they needed. They took it upon themselves to raise money from family, friends and relatives, and last Purim we were able to send two Chromebooks to the Jewish community’s school in El Salvador. We also sent one to the growing Jewish community in Uganda to facilitate the connection of those Jews to the outside world. Finally, members of these communities were able to access the type of things we so often take for granted, like looking things up on the internet or attending an online shiur.
Fast forward to the present, and I’m preparing for a trip to El Salvador in 10 days time to visit the community that we donated to. When I asked the rabbi what we can bring with us, he asked for basics like toothpaste, over-the-counter medications and vitamins, mezuzahs, as well as 10-15 more Chromebooks. Their goal ultimately is for every teacher and classroom to have one. So here’s my pitch: If you are – or know – a pharmacist or medical professional that can help me fill a suitcase with over-the-counter medications or vitamins, or can contribute towards a mezuzah ($50) or refurbished/used Chromebook (less than $120), please reach out to me at email@example.com to support this cause. I also welcome monetary donations via check or venmo @taskRabbi so I can purchase these much needed supplies. Tizku L’mitzvos!