In Maryland, where I live, we are still following stay at home orders due to the threat of COVID-19. The situation is difficult, but I often think about how it would be so much more unbearable if we did not have the Internet.
In very simple terms, the Internet is a worldwide system of computer networks in which a user at any one computer – if he or she has permission – can get information from any other computer and sometimes talk directly to other computers. Its life began in 1969 when computers at several universities in the US became connected for the first time. These universities included MIT, UCLA, Harvard, and Stanford. Originally the internet was called the ARPANET. ARPA is an acronym for the Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, founded in 1958, that developed the technology. The World Wide Web we know today was invented in 1989 by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, an English computer scientist. He put forward the idea in March and by the middle of November 1989 oversaw the first communication between a server and a user of HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol).
More important than the history, we really see that this is a case of הקדים רפואה למכה. The Internet has proven to be the refuah or cure which came before the makah or challenge (in this case) of isolation. For me personally, it has been a lifeline, both spiritually and personally.
In January, even before the Coronavirus, I took it upon myself to learn Nach Yomi every day with the OU Women’s Initiative, together with thousands of women across the globe. As a result, we are now in the sixth sefer of Neviim Rishonim, Melachim Bet. Each sefer is taught via an audio link by very learned teachers (all women), with a video introduction to each sefer by Rabbanit Shani Taragin. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic I was able to globally attend siyumim of many of the sefarim, sponsored by the OU.
Every week, in “real life” I attend a chug ivri, the purpose of which is to discuss current events while speaking Hebrew. Because we are on Zoom, we have been able to invite guest speakers, from all over. During one session, we discussed the amida, and a blog written by Rabbi Judah Kerbel, on the application of the brachot to the virus. (https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/fighting-covid-19-through-each-amidah-blessing/). He was able to join us and give insights on his thoughts, which we then discussed, b’ivrit (in Hebrew). We had the author Tami Lehman-Wilzig, who wrote Keeping the Promise: A Torah’s Journey. Our group first read the book in English, and the author then joined us, read from the Hebrew translated version, and told us about the differences in publishing in the United States and Israel. We also had a lawyer speak to us about her job, dealing with sexual harassment in the Israeli workplace.
Rabbi Binyomin Marwick, Rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Baltimore, has done a yeoman’s job keeping our Kehillah together via Zoom. We have taken advantage of his Pesach and sefirat haomer shiurim, post car pool shiurim for women, his weekly halacha shiurim, and his daily Mincha (which starts with learning Mesilat Yesharim.) Tehillim, and Mishna are learned in memory of those for whom kaddish can’t be said in a minyan. It was very gratifying to me to learn with the group on my father, z”l’s yahrzeit on bet Nisan. The shul has sponsored Kabbalat Shabbat or pre Shabbat kumsitz programs to bring us all together.
Personally, we have taken advantage of the Zoom platform to “meet” with our children, grandchildren, and siblings in Israel together with their children and grandchildren. We have had family “meetings.” I think I am seeing and speaking to my children and grandchildren more this way. We have been able to meet relatives over Zoom who we haven’t even met in person yet. My husband and I “attended” a live wedding of my Israeli neighbor on YouTube. We were part of the simcha, and able to comment as it were going on in front of us and they were thrilled to have us as part of the (minimal) celebration. If life were normal, my husband and I would not have been there, but this way we attended – even wearing pajamas since they couldn’t see us. We got up at 6:30 am Baltimore time to join them.
I have discovered one can even do chessed when “stuck” at home. I have taught so many people (mostly of my age group) how to use Zoom so they can use this fantastic tool also.
My neighbors have been so generous, offering to shop for us when they go to the store. They formed a “block WhatsApp” group for this purpose (among others). It is gratifying to me, that I can pay them immediately, without money changing hands, by utilizing Zelle or Paypal from my bank account to theirs.
I was even able to watch the Broadway show, “Bandstand” online and I hear that “Hamilton” will be streaming this summer!
In conclusion, I think the technology revolution which preceded the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic was truly a refuah that preceded the makah – a cure which preceded the challenge. I hope that very soon, we will be able to leave home and go out again, and even more so, I hope for a cure and full recovery for those who have been hit hardest by this terrible disease.