many years, we called America “The Goldene Medineh.” We totally forgot how Hashem can dim the gold.
We have been hit hard. Very hard.
As individuals, as families, and as a community, we are reeling from a series of devastating losses related to the Covid-19 crisis. On every level, the anguish and destruction are crushing.
Our community has been plunged into mourning amid a mounting loss of life. Our shuls and schools are shuttered, and unfortunately, we are denied the opportunity to daven with a minyan.
Adding salt to our wounds is the severe financial crisis that we now find ourselves mired in, with so many families seeing a drastic decrease in, or even a total loss of, their income.
Further exacerbating an already excruciating situation is the uncertainty that clouds our horizon. For instance, New York State — which has been hit particularly hard — has now extended what is essentially a lockdown until May 15. And there is no guarantee that after that date any of the restrictions will be lifted, making any advance planning impossible. Without a clear end date, this nightmare is far more difficult to grapple with.
As Jews, we know well the meaning of “dina d’malchusa dina.”
We are obligated by halachah to obey the government’s regulations. But we don’t have an inkling of the long-lasting ramifications and the domino effect these regulations are likely to wreak on our lives.
In the meantime, when the phone rings, we are gripped with fear about what the new tidings may be.
When this state of turmoil will, with the help of Hashem, come to an end, we will not be able to turn back the page and return to life as we knew it two months ago. Rather, we will have to start anew, we will have to rebuild and recharge. We are a nation of survivors, and we have full belief that Hashem will grant us the koach and mo’ach to rehabilitate ourselves.
B’ezras Hashem, we will eventually reopen our shuls and mosdos hachinuch, repair our institutional infrastructure, and rebuild our businesses, small and big. However, the precious Yidden who were niftar are irreplaceable. Every life is the equivalent of an entire world. And we daven fervently that Klal Yisrael be spared any further loss.
Just when we so desperately need their leadership and sagacious advice, so many of our precious crown jewels, our manhigim — Rabbanim, Rebbes and Roshei Yeshivos — have been torn from us.
Our generation is orphaned by their petirah, and only the Ribbono shel Olam can console us for our losses.
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We know that with Hashem’s help, one day this mageifah will come to an end. And when it does, we will have to deal not only with the pain, but with the new young yesomim and yesomos, almanos and almonim. The heartrending sight of little boys standing on a porch to say Kaddish for their beloved parent symbolizes the fact that for these families and for us, life will never be the same again.
But not only is that day not yet here, we don’t yet know when it will arrive. For now, unpredictability and confusion reign supreme.
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In the past, our mindset has been, “After Pesach, we will take care of a long list of things.” “After Pesach” of 5780 things will never be the same.
The challenges that coronavirus has caused to the world of chinuch are massive. Now that Pesach has come to an end, the seriousness of the new situation is ever more apparent. As Yeshivos and Bais Yaakovs remain shuttered, our educators are making herculean efforts to provide some basic chinuch and structure to their children, under the most complicated and compromised circumstances.
But our world of chinuch has undergone a serious transformation. Whereas in the past we got used to entrusting the chinuch of our children to our respected mosdos, and holding the qualified educators carrying out their missions with mesirus nefesh fully responsible for the success of our children, the shoe is now on the other foot.
Suddenly, parents who are facing multi-faceted challenges on every front, are finding themselves the ones who are responsible for their children’s chinuch. While they are spending every waking hour with their children, and struggling to figure out where to draw the line between ‘home’ and ‘school,’ between discipline and flexibility, many parents realize that in order to properly be mechanech a child one needs the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech and the patience of Hillel — and who can claim they have that?
For the Yeshivos and schools, trying their best to provide remote learning under extremely difficult circumstances, this is a watershed moment. Some have opted to introduce zoom and other forms of video connections. Others, fearful of the precedent it would create as well as the limitations of even the best filters, have chosen audio learning, which is not optimal, to say the least.
It is not merely the Pre-1A child in need of visual aids to help him differentiate between the nekudos who is struggling in the new system. Students of all ages are affected, including yeshivah gedolah bachurim back from Eretz Yisrael who are now left with neither a Yeshivah nor any satisfactory type of structure, as well as girls whose year in Israeli seminaries was suddenly cut short, and are totally lost.
Things we took for granted for so long — such as summer camps and bungalow colonies, a lifeline for city dwellers — are now totally up in the air. Here too uncertainty reigns supreme.
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For many, and especially those who live in small apartments, there is real concern about the toll these circumstances may take on the emotional and mental wellbeing of families. For the mothers who from dawn to dusk are tasked with entertaining children who are climbing the walls from boredom, while juggling housework and other responsibilities, preparing and feeding wholesome meals three times a day and even trying to maintain some decorum for the fathers who are trying to daven, learn and work from home amidst the ear-splitting decibel level of noise emanating from lively youngsters. And what about the mothers who are also trying to juggle work responsibilities?
And what about the senior population, from the grandparents and great-grandparents who can’t see or visit with their families for weeks on end, cooped up in their apartments with no exercise or fresh air, forced to spend their days and nights deprived of the in-person company of their loved ones, who have every right to feel traumatized and shaken.
Add to the mix the general anxiety and sense of loss that everyone is feeling, and the concern about emotional wellbeing is unfortunately very legitimate.
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Then there is the crushing impact on parnassah, being felt at every level.
Without going into many details, the fallout is harrowing: Consider the young, penny-pinching couple who finally managed to buy their own condominium apartment. With their combined income they barely manage to pay the mortgage. Now that both the husband — a bus driver — and the wife — an occupational therapist for the NYC Board of Ed — are out of work, they are left without the means to pay for basic expenses. This picture repeats itself in different Jewish communities.
What about the businessman/woman who spent long years building up a company and took pride in always paying employees on time and now sees staggering financial losses? The business is classified as non-essential, and without sales, he has neither need for his workers nor a way to pay his own living expenses, and he is falling into a deep pit of debt because his bills for merchandise that he bought for the season have to be paid even though he didn’t have a chance to sell.
Some smaller communities seem to be exceptionally successful organizing the use of both existing chessed infrastructure and new initiatives, to provide struggling families with desperately needed help. May their resources be replenished until there is no further need for them.
Now is the time for all of us to fulfill the passuk (Yeshaya 41:6) “Ish es rayaihu yazoru ulachhiv yomar chazak — each man would help his fellow and to his brother he would say, ‘stay strong’.”
We, a generation who has so excelled in the realm of chessed, must come together as never before to be there for each other. As a community and as individuals, we must brainstorm, network, and undertake concrete actions to ensure that no child or adult goes to sleep hungry, and that every family has enough money for their basic needs.
In a first step to try to offer practical assistance for families at home, we are pleased to launch two new columns, one dealing with chinuch, and one with mental health. The first segment of these columns appears on the next page.
We open up the pages of this publication to this endeavor, and b’ezras Hashem we will do all we possibly can to facilitate these efforts: Please send us your practical ideas and offers to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ruth Lichtenstein, Publisher