It’s been over a month and a half that our lives here in Australia have been extraordinarily affected. In fact, our world has been turned inside out and upon its head.
Australians are friendly, social people. We are always out and about meeting up with others. We are a part of a big Aussie community. We belong to sporting clubs and associations. We have drinks with mates and go out for coffee. We are part of a Shule, belong to charities and volunteer organisations, and the community itself is the backbone of so much of our existence. We are ultra-connected to each other. Shabbat and festive meals together with family and friends is part of the very fibre of who we are and who we have been for millennia. Thus, as a Jewish community and family, social distancing has a profound impact on us.
There’s no doubt that our Corona-altered existence and world has a vast impact on our reality, and we are acutely aware that for many people, the impact is achingly difficult.
For example, the social distancing between extended family and, in particular, older family members and friends, can cause us to feel detached. In fact, there are those who might even feel trapped at home, almost claustrophobic, with a host of negative repercussions, such as increased domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse, poor mental health and numerous other challenges.
Whereas previously we all tried to limit our own and our children’s screen time, using our weekly screen use reports that appear on our phones, today our children are actually living their lives online in a virtual world. We might ask ourselves, what does that excessive screen time overdose do to their social skills, their ability to read facial cues and to be able to interact with each other on a face-to-face basis? What does it do to their eyes, their posture etc.?
In addition, the economic impact is vast. So many people have lost their jobs and are affected economically. Some are even finding it challenging to afford basic necessities.
There’s talk that children are ‘missing out’ as they have ‘no classrooms’ and very limited social interaction. In fact, many parents describe their children, particularly after a three-week holiday, as ‘bouncing-off-the-walls’ and being more terse with each other, as their fuses are shorter.
We live in a quarantined world staying apart from each other, because we are trying desperately to get on top of this new virus and the world is still facing so many unknowns. We want to know: When will we have a vaccination? When will it be over? When will we ever return to normal? Will there be a normal?
It’s easy to find many examples and focus on the bleak aspects of the challenge we’re all facing yet the power of positivity is an incredible gift. Being positive even during the greatest challenges, offers us the strength to deal with many situations.
Keeping the glass half full
While acknowledging the realities of our Corona-altered existence, finding the positives and opportunities is a way of keeping the glass half full. Rather than a time of isolation, we can look at this time as an opportunity to make an extra effort to connect with each other and create solidarity in ways we never thought possible. Rather than a time of being alone, it can be a time of being ‘all one’. The oneness we feel can extend way beyond our normal social circles, into the virtual world in which we live, making the unity almost unlimited. The social distancing has led to innovative and inventive new ways of connecting with each other. In fact, many of us find ourselves connecting with old friends and classmates and making new ones. The opportunities are endless; online dance classes, live-streamed exercise, synchronous music, book clubs, shiurim, virtual social visits and just creating tremendous joy together. Playing online games with family members all around the world and being connected as one big family, it’s fun and extraordinary. It’s a time during which we are strengthening the deep bonds of our familial relationships.
Many Rabbis have described their pre-Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat virtual services as having a greater attendance than their Synagogues have ever had in face-to-face attendance. We have created a sanctum and a safe space, consolidating our families’ deep sense of belonging and identity into our homes. We haven’t just lived virtually and experienced excessive screen time, we have blossomed into new ways of relating to each other via remote. Many of those who have lost jobs or had incomes impacted have taken the opportunity to do things they’ve always wanted to do but never thought possible, pursuing dreams and reawakening ambitions.
Its definitely not a time when children have ‘no classrooms’, in fact they have had so much more than a class. The very walls of classrooms have faded away, and students have been able to learn in a fluid environment from so many around them. Instead of bouncing off the walls, they are bouncing ideas off each other. They are learning online etiquette and how to be a contributing global cyber-citizen, to exercise cyber-ethics and meaningfully live in a global cyber connected world.
Our quarantined world has taught us to connect in unique and new ways, and has enabled us to appreciate the stillness, the quiet, tranquillity and beauty of our world that has become such a rarity in our fast-paced lives. It has forced us to slow down and notice the beauty in the environment and people around us. How many of us are getting out for walks and fresh air more than ever? Less shopping, less working, extra-curricular activities, and more time for just being.
Together with 1.4 billion children around the world, our children are now a part of one another’s lives, part of a community, part of society and a greater part of a global community than ever before. It is extraordinary to see how this microscopic virus, one of the smallest organisms in this world, has brought our world to its knees, yet brought us together in an unprecedented manner. To quote Bill Gates, it is another World War, except that we are all on the same side.
Through the eyes of Holocaust Survivors
Last week many of us had the pleasure of joining the Jewish Board of Deputies’, Yom Hashoah virtual presentation. One of the guests was journalist and author, Fiona Harari, who had a series of conversations and interviews with Holocaust survivors. She highlighted how during this time of Coronavirus, many of these Holocaust survivors, who are experiencing a deeper and longer isolation than any of us due to their advanced age and increase risk, spoke about how now more than ever, they value life, and all the big and little things and the freedoms that they have.
They claimed to be comfortable, to have shelter, food and all their basic needs even at this challenging time. Obviously, we can never compare COVID-19 to experiences in the Shoah, but the survivors, both those in their own homes or in the aged care facilities, sent such encouraging messages to us all. With their simplistic faith and unflailing optimism, their message was ‘this too shall pass’, ‘it will be okay’, ‘don’t worry, there is nothing you can do about it now.’ Control the controllables! To cope, they suggested to think about people who are worse off, to realise how fortunate we are.
Many of these survivors were overwhelmed with gratitude by the acts of chesed they were experiencing. Whether it was having volunteers deliver their shopping, caring for all their needs or providing them with virtual company.
Exit Coronavirus world, enter a new and improved world
We are all fortunate to live in such a benevolent society and country. Our community and our Government are looking after us.
While we don’t know exactly what will happen, what we are to endure and what will be the end, we can be assured that life will go on.
In truth, COVID-19 is a permanent turning point. If life goes back to the same as it was pre-Corona, then we have missed the point. We have missed one of the most valuable opportunities in our lives and in our world. An opportunity to rise, to grow, to change, to evolve into richer, deeper more empathetic, mindful and connected people and to do things in ways we never dreamed of before. It is an opportunity for us to synthesise our new experiences, talents and capabilities into an enriched existence. Now it is time to start to raise our heads above the hardships and the terrible challenges of Coronavirus. It is time to begin to see the silver lining as we dare to poke our head out of the Corona cocoon and look towards being reborn into a new and brighter post-Corona world.
Here at school we are inspired daily by your children, our students. Yes, it has been a challenge for us as adults and educators as we have to worry about both our own lives and families, and those of our children, but to watch and see how fluidly and effectively our children have adapted to this new world and this new environment inspires us. Yes, it is a difficult challenge, but we will rise individually, communally and globally stronger, and more as one than ever before.
Wishing you and your families a wonderful and successful Term 2.
About the Author
Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler is the College Principal at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.