Shavua Tov: Jewish Continuity in the Age of Zoom

As a child growing up in Boston, I used to eagerly await Grandparents Day at my Jewish Day School. My grandmother, Savta, would take the train from New York City (the center of the universe in her humble opinion) to visit my school in Newton. She would schmooze with the other grandparents, kvell when we performed Hebrew songs, and then go back to the Upper West Side with deep satisfaction, naches (pride), and some sort of existential confidence in Jewish continuity. I suspect the event also secured Savta serious bragging rights among the other Jewish grandmothers of the Upper West Side! For my part, upon reflection, so much of my emerging Jewish identity as a child became connected to Savta’s pride, to her immigrant life story, and to the beauty, rituals, and rhythms of her Shabbat and holiday table. While in some schools, Grandparents and Friends Day is a “nice to have,” at schools like Gann, connecting with grandparents is essential to our sacred mission of Jewish education.

While COVID-19 has led to so many disappointments, not being able to gather with grandparents felt particularly hard this year, as our grandparents are so isolated and alone. In typical Gann style, we pivoted and came up with a creative plan on how to create a virtual event via ZOOM. We kept the program lively, including song, poetry, student voice, and dialogue.  
 
As the ZOOM boxes popped up on our screens, I didn’t realize how very inspiring the experience would be for our team. We had over 120 grandparents and friends join us from Israel, Canada, Ohio, California, Florida, New York, and all over the globe. The virtual meeting allowed grandparents who, ordinarily, might not have been able to come to Waltham in person, to connect with Gann. It was particularly moving to see how the grandparents were interacting with one another and schmoozing and kvelling over ZOOM. They were waving, greeting old friends, and laughing. For many of our guests, this was the first time using ZOOM and they patiently maneuvered the technology, learned a new skill, and were not afraid.  
 
The Torah teaches us to "rise before the elderly and honor the aged" (Lev. 19:32). Rabbi Boruch Leff suggests that the Hebrew word for elderly, זקן ( zaken ) has its letters contained in the phrase זה שקנה חכמה ( zeh shekanah hokhmah ) -- a person who has acquired wisdom. The Talmud states that the respect we owe the aged applies to Torah scholars and non-Torah scholars, Jews and non-Jews (BT Kiddushin 32b).  
 
Watching the grandparents, our team realized that the essence of Grandparents’ Day had been achieved even in these trying times—our tradition is all about passing on values. And our elders showed us their strength, their resilience, their humor, and their commitment to Jewish community, at all costs. Now more than ever, our children can learn from their grandparents new life skills in resilience, perseverance, patience, and finding spirit and humor even in uncertain times.

Shavua Tov,
 
Dr. Dalia Hochman
Head of School
 
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