Finding Value

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INSIGHT OUT By Adina Morris

The pandemic has been going on for a long time now, longer than we could have imagined. There have been many challenges, along with some lessons learned. 

One of the things I have struggled with is maintaining connections with everyone in my local sphere. My friends and family that live out of state, we learned a long time ago that we need to talk on the phone often in order to keep the relationship going, or else it could fade away. Not from lack of interest, rather from lack of effort and convenience. We also did our best to visit in person a few times a year with each other.

But with my local sphere? We don’t talk on the phone. We see each other, in Shul, at events, in each other’s homes, in the neighborhood on a walk or in the grocery store. But what happens when that is shut down for many or severely limited? Then what happens to those connections? They too can disappear and fade, again not from lack of interest. Rather it is from a lack of effort and convenience. Because it would take effort to continue the relationships without the usual day to day interactions that our local lives afforded us without much effort on our part.

It is one thing to call or video chat with a few select out of state friends and family. But how do you do that with your entire community?

And so, I am struggling. 

Amidst this struggle, I have been trying to reach out to people, slowly, and reconnect. Among the conversations I have had, I have found a very interesting common thread among many.

There is so much virtual programming out there that one can participate in each day in order to stay connected and learn and grow. You could probably attend a shiur or social program on Zoom or the phone every minute of the day 6 days a week if you wanted to. But for many, myself included, it would not be fulfilling.

Don’t get me wrong. These are wonderful programs! I have participated in many, facilitated and been the main speaker at these events as well. And they are worthwhile and have a lot to give.

What I mean, is that for many people, if they only seek to collect valuable things and not give back value to others, it is not very valuable.

Let me say that again. If all you do is spend your time collecting valuable items or pearls of wisdom, and you do not do anything with those valuables to improve yourself or benefit others, what value does it really hold? If you sit at home and attend programming and are entertained, but do not have opportunity to interact with others and give value back to others, it can feel empty and unfulfilling. Now I like to be entertained just as much as the next person, and I love to receive gifts too, tis the season, after all!

So how do we help? Well, for one, I started thinking of ways to bring value to others. And even more so, help others think of ways to give value to other people.

It is kind of like the old phrase I learned in 3rd grade from my teacher Mrs. Abelow. It hung at the top of the wall in the front of the classroom above the alphabet:

If you give a man a fish, he has a meal. If you teach a man to fish, he will have a meal for life.

It is so true in so many ways, and I think of this phrase often.

I want to gain value from others, it is true. But even more than that, I love to give value back to others. Doing kindness makes you feel good not just about yourself- I did something nice, but you feel happy because now someone else is a little bit happier than they were before.

And therein lies the rub. With the pandemic, the usual ways in which we connected with other people and helped one another and shared with each other, has been disrupted. And we are trying our best to lead the same lives we did before, just virtually.

Instead of having big family chanukah parties in New York and New Jersey, we are having virtual zoom parties and mystery maccabee gift exchanges. Is it the same as always? No, but it is better than nothing. Will we be able to see everyone on Zoom? Yes. But we will miss out on those corner room schmoozes with aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews and mostly with parents, grandparents and grandchildren. It will be fun, I am sure, but it will not be the same. 

Those little cozy conversations will be difficult to mimic on a large Zoom setting which is mostly not personal. And I think that is what is bothering me. It is not personal. I am by nature a shy person. I get overwhelmed in crowded rooms of people, especially if I do not know most people well. Tough space to be for a Rebbetzin, but that is for another blog;) One on one conversations are much more comfortable for me and I find them so valuable. The added element of personal connection is sorely missed during COVID, particularly for me, as well as for many others, I know.

So how do we make our connections more personal?

This year, we can’t work with producing the same. We need to think out of the box and just plain different. But most importantly, as the winter months creep in, the virus still looms large, and many of us, if not most of us, are still shut in doors and hidden away from our local and long distance friends, family and community members, how are we bringing value to each other? What can every single person, no matter their age or situation, bring to another fellow human being in need of personal connection?

I don’t have any brilliant answers, although I wish I did. For now, I will continue to reach out personally as much as I can, although I know it is a slow process. Wishing you all a safe, healthy and enjoyable Chanukah. May it bring light and blessings into each of our homes.