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Naomi Graetz

The Zooming Boomers

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BOOMERS

Technically speaking I am not a boomer.  I always thought I was of the generation of boomers, until I found out I was not. I missed being one by three years. The dictionary definition is someone who was born after 1946. And the truth of the matter, those three years are pivotal. After 1964, when I graduated college, revolutionary changes took place in society. My closest friends and relatives who are three years younger than me were much more radical than I in terms of political awareness. They were on the front-line demanding rights. They were the early feminists. In 1968, they protested loudly in Chicago against the Vietnam war. They closed down Columbia over student rights. Many went down South to protect the civil rights of black people and marched with them.

RE-ENTRY INTO SOCIETY

But that is not the subject of my blog. When I was in the US last week, I had long conversations with friends. The fact that these conversations were in person was a novelty to me after 3 years of communicating on Zoom. When I went to the airport, I was horrified by seeing close-up crowds of people and hoped that the special N95 mask that my friend gave me to wear was working. I realized that I have been in communication (and still am) mostly on Zoom for close to 3 years. Except for my children, and grandchildren and some very close friends (we are 4 couples all of the same age with children who are friends) I have not been in close contact with anyone unless I was masked. Yesterday, after waiting 3 days to make sure I had not contracted COVID, I went for my flu shot. On reflection, I realize that for almost 3 years, I and many of my cohorts — age-wise — have been organizing our lives around avoiding getting sick. We have become a reactive generation, rather than pro-active. On the other hand, because of technology, in contrast to other generations faced with disease (like the plagues of yesteryear and the influenza epidemic of the early 20th century) we may have retreated into our homes, but not from what is going on in the world.

ADVANTAGES OF ZOOMING

In my conversations with friends and family, it did not feel strange to be saying goodbye. We would be “seeing” each other virtually, as we have for the past three years. I have attended virtually quite a few conferences, and at some have presented papers, both in Europe and the US. I have been teaching on-line both in Hebrew and English as a volunteer. I start my day every morning by attending an extremely high-level class. I sometimes stay up late at night to attend classes in the US. Rather than deteriorating mentally, I have found these past years to be enriching. It is true that prior to COVID, we had already cut back going to the Beersheba theatre, Tel Aviv opera and the Sinfonietta. We also were using zoom before it became popular. So, the transition to becoming stay-at-home Zoomers was not so difficult. I feel someone apologetic saying how these years have been good for me. I did not expect to hear the same from others as well.

SHOULD ZOOMER BOOMERS FEEL GUILT?

It is the month of Elul, after all, a time of reflection; a time that we should feel guilty for all sorts of things and make amends! However, there is a  “guilty secret” of many boomer-zoomers.  I’m not the only one I discovered. There are many others out there, who, while feeling guilty, have also experienced what I have. We feel guilty, because so many lives have been lost, children’s education has been turned upside down, babies think it normal for care-givers to be masked. Just yesterday, I saw an adorable friendly toddler as I left kupat holim, after getting my flu shot. I was wearing a mask, and smiled at him and he said “koo-koo” to me, being accustomed to an adult being masked, fully expecting me to respond. Teachers are fleeing the profession, still traumatized by the aftermath of the demands placed on them. Doctors are rethinking their profession, workers want to stay home, rather than go back to the office. The list is endless of those who have been negatively impacted. So of course, our age group feels guilty that we have thrived.

There is definitely a down-side to working by staying at home. But there is also a plus: money and time is saved by not having to commute; by not having to replenish wardrobes; by being physically present for one’s children; by not having to pay extra rent money for office space. I witnessed close-up the pollution and mental aggravation caused by being in a stand-still traffic jam for two hours on the way to the airport on Thursday at 5 PM for the five blocks to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. I imagined how different it would be if all the commuters had worked from home and that only essential people would be leaving NYC for New Jersey. (Fortunately, the car-service was pre-paid and I did not have to pay extra for this trip.)

VIRTUAL REALITY

I googled zoomers and boomers and came across a wonderful quotation from an article about how boomers got so good at zooming:  “Zooms are what we do when everyone we know has nothing else to do.” I take issue with this quote which is from an article that appears at   https://www.vox.com/22307177/zoom-meetings-backgrounds-friendship  

There is a community of learners out there who regularly attend virtual events. I see the same faces daily or weekly depending on the forum and find it strangely comforting. Since I teach as a volunteer, I feel free to say what I want and do not censor myself. I find this to be very liberating. I have made friends while zooming. I have shared confidences. I initiated a 60th year high school class reunion and put together a power point with the help of my former classmates. I have attended funerals on zoom; attended weddings; paid meaningful shiva calls. I regularly pray at my daughter’s synagogue where she officiates as a rabbi.

Some of my fellow zoomers have visited me in person when they came to Israel—I was surprised that they looked the same as they did on zoom. I invited them into my home. They wanted to see my home “office”, the sacred space from which they saw me teaching for two years. When I came to the States, I visited with them in person. It was lovely being in the same room having lunch together, but not so different than sharing screen-time with them. In the same article I referred to above, the author writes: “I do feel closer with my friends, but the drawback is you don’t get to visit them.” Once again, I don’t agree. I sometimes wonder if something is wrong with me, or is it that I have entered a new age, in which physical presence is less important than mental engagement. I no longer feel guilty about my retreat from the “real” world.  It is a positive commandment to choose life so that we and our offspring can continue to live—ובחרת בחיים (Deut 30: 19). The choice of HOW we choose to live is up to each individual.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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