What I Learned about Relationships from a Zoom Shiva

My father-in-law, Judge Norman Krivosha (z’l), recently passed away. My family, and the Jewish and civic communities of which he was a part, lost a loving family man, a brilliant jurist, a proud and public Jew and supporter of Israel, and a public servant. Like others who have experienced a loss during COVID-19, we felt the pain of physical isolation. I’m far enough past shivah and well-enough into daily minyan (I’m saying kaddish for him for the year of mourning) to reflect on a Zoom shiva and services and ask: as bad as a COVID Shiva was, did anything positive happen that I can carry forward into a post-vaccine world? I won’t forget the extra measure of sadness of sitting shivah during the pandemic, but I want to share a few surprising and memorable insights for the future.

We’re very close with our Israeli family and friends, and my wife and I visited Israel several times a year (God willing, see you in September!) for the past decade. Before the pandemic, we wouldn’t have thought to invite our Israeli mishpacha to make a virtual shiva call despite how close we are. But we asked, “Why not take advantage of Zoom and connect with the people who mean so much to us?” and we timed the invitation-only visit to coincide with late afternoon Israel Time. We also set other times for more intimate invitation-only visits, in addition to holding hours that were open to our community. With Zoom, “our community” turned out to mean that friends from across the country that we had lost touch with popped up on our screen.

When we return to a new normal, I’ll remember to connect with family and friends who live in different time zones for life-cycle milestones. Live streaming and Zoom rooms, in addition to gathering physically, will be my new norm. And video chatting won’t only be for milestone events. We’ve WhatsApp’ed with several family and friends this past year, and I began studying parashat ha-shavua with a close Israeli friend. These are new traditions that I plan to continue.

I’ve often suggested to mourners to designate a friend or family member who will walk about and record stories about the person who has died during shiva. I sense that most families didn’t do so. However, we simply pressed “record” on Zoom and were able to capture stories of my father-in-law’s generosity, vitality, and enthusiasm for life, along with many humorous anecdotes. In this regard, shiva on Zoom did exactly what shiva in-person is designed for: to comfort the mourners. We take pictures on our smartphones at critical times spontaneously, but because of COVID-19, I’ll remember to add audio and video recordings in the future.

Going to even a limited in-person minyan is not an option for me now. Like many others, I’m immunocompromised. Until I’m fully vaccinated, Zoom daily tefilot are my only option. Although I live in Minneapolis, I’m attending four different minyanim outside of Minneapolis: Long Island for shacharit four mornings a week and Naples, Florida for the other two, and West Hartford for mincha/ma’ariv with a congregation, except for one night when I participate with close friends in a family-led minyan from West Hartford.

My father-in-law was a member of the Naples congregation, and it’s comforting being with his rabbi and friends and hearing their stories about him. I have close rabbinic friends in West Hartford and Long Island who recently lost an in-law, and they responded generously when I asked if I could participate in their minyanim. At first, I felt like I was only receiving from communities I was not a part of. But on many occasions, I’ve helped to make a minyan and glad to give in return by enabling others to say kaddish. I had difficulty with prayer on Zoom before taking on the obligation to say kaddish for my father-in-law. But I’ve come to appreciate the variety of these different minyanim. In the future, I won’t hesitate to join a Zoom minyan if I can’t participate in person.

I’m unsure who first said, “On Passover, we eat our history,” but it’s true. The commingling of bitter and sweet foods symbolizes a universal truth that takes on particular significance at Pesach: a moment in our collective and individual lives can be simultaneously bitter and sweet. The seder and haggadah form an intentional retelling of the Exodus. We narrate the bitter events of our history but consciously choose to highlight the joyful moments. As we head toward a post-vaccine world, I’ll take my cue from Pesach, acknowledge the heaviness of loss during the pandemic, and intentionally apply the surprisingly comforting experiences that lessened our grief.

In Memory of My Father-In-Law, Judge Norman Krivosha (z’l)

DAD K

He is, he was

He did, he does.

He does, he did

He died, he lived.

 

God must take,

God chose to give.

Dad gave and gave,

Dad still lives.

 

We grieve in groups,

The court adjourned.

A flash of memories,

We feel alone.

 

From person to picture,

Now pixel, not presence.

Still, each has gathered

Part of his essence.

About the Author
Rabbi Hayim Herring, Ph.D., is a national thought leader, organizational consultant and author on the American Jewish community with a specialty in synagogue life. He is President & CEO of the Herring Consulting Network.
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