Undisputedly, one would need a powerful microscope to discern anything positive about the current situation we collectively find ourselves in, this “out of left field” plague that has caused humanity so much emotional, physical, financial and social misery and loss.
But there is a sliver of a silver lining to be found, even though it does not come close to compensating for the extreme traumatic outcomes that we have endured.
And that would be the enhanced ability to “see” and “participate” in many life milestones that we wouldn’t have previously. The fact is, our families and friends are dispersed all over the world. Parents and siblings and their respective families are separated by hundreds, if not thousands of miles, thereby limiting and weakening connections and bonds.
Our great-grandparents, back in the shtetl, likely lived a few doors away from siblings or at least close by, maybe the next town over. To put it in context, there were family members who lived mostly in the European equivalent of Borough Park and Flatbush. But those days of geographically close families are mostly a relic of the past.
A few years ago, when I picked up my American grandchild from her playgroup, I did a bit of Jewish geography (my forte) with the morah who strangely looked familiar. She revealed that her mother was from Toronto. I actually knew her grandparents and told her that she was the spitting image of her bubbie. Her mother was one of five sisters, and she told me her aunts lived in different countries. It struck me as unfortunate that the first cousins would know of each other – but not know each other – let alone be able to join in family simchas.
While we may have airplanes and cars and trains that can get us to our relatives’ simchas or yom tov celebrations, often it’s not feasible for members of the extended family to utilize these options. There are job or financial constraints, or other valid reasons that prevent them from attending.
I still feel sad years later, that I missed my oldest’s grandchild’s bas mitzvah because I needed several crucial medical tests at that time that would guide future treatment. I did get to hear her speak and saw her parents and other guests for a few minutes via FaceTime – but the view on my phone was limited.
Pre-Covid-19, many people did not get to see loved ones’ vorts, school performances, brisim, graduations or birthday parties. Many families didn’t have internet or just couldn’t leave their obligations for so many get togethers.
Covid-19, while insidiously separating families physically, ironically has been the impetus for baalei simcha to utilize various technologies that allow far away mishpacha to “partake” in family events they wouldn’t have before.
This past week, I saw a chuppah in Lakewood; watched a granddaughter and her classmates receive their first siddur, no doubt smiling behind their masks (luckily they wore hats with their names on them) singing their hearts out with pride; I enjoyed more than one insightful parsha and Torah shiur; and sadly watched a funeral and burial in Israel, with hespids being given by several relatives in various cities and countries. Over 200 people, both local and globally, were able to attend the funeral and show their respect virtually, many who otherwise could not have done so had the only option been coming in person.
People are using Zoom and YouTube channels and live streaming to include long distance guests who otherwise could not make it (remember the return cards that had a box to check – regretfully “unable to attend?” All invitees now literally have a front seat view of e.g. a wedding – the bedekin, the smorg, the chuppah ceremony, etc.
If one can’t watch the simcha live, there is the option to view it in its entirety at a more convenient time. In addition, Zoom video of you can be turned off and muted while you enjoy a coffee in your robe or peel potatoes as you watch and hear the proceedings.
How special it was that the siblings of the woman who was niftar were able to have closure – they could not travel to Israel, because they themselves are older with health issues – but heard the hespids and saw her laid to rest next to their parents.
I imagine that after life returns to normal, hosts of simchas and other events will continue using this technology so that far flung family and friends can enjoy milestone events they normally wouldn’t be able to attend. While, for example, it was unlikely extended family would undertake the physical and financial effort to fly in for an upsherin, they now will be able to participate in the hair cutting, wishing the boy a mazel tov, as someone cuts his hair by proxy. Their faces and voices will be seen by the newly shorn three-year-old, creating or enhancing familial connections and bonds.
How I wish technology would continue to evolve to the point that we could teleport ourselves anywhere in the world. How wonderful to be “beamed” Star Trek-style to our loved ones. Seems unlikely, but then again, people 200 years ago scoffed at the idea of a “flying machine.”
But having said that, when Moshiach comes, there will be a total reunion, and no need to be anywhere else. I pray we find out for ourselves soon.