May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Optimists say every cloud has a silver lining. Often, though, it takes time to see the silver. When the storm clouds of COVID blew in, and our shuls and yeshivas closed, I wondered how we would manage. I don’t merely refer to the practical challenges of being home with our kids every day, but also how would our family fare spiritually without minyanim and shul groups, rabbis and teachers?

For us, the answer appeared gradually, almost organically. One Friday night during Kabbalas Shabbos at home, I invited our young children down to our basement “shul.” No, not to recite with me the requisite pesukim, but to sing the corresponding Carlebach compositions. I taught them first the slow, measured nigun of “Mizmor, Mizmor Shir… The whole world is waiting to sing the song of Shabbos…” And then we continued to the quicker, jauntier “Tov Lehodos Lashem” as we rose and danced. If you’ve ever danced—I mean really danced—with little ones, then you know it’s something special. It’s the stuff our children (and we too) will always remember.

The other end of Shabbos, our sources convey, can be at least as magical, if we but make it so. Shalosh seudos, with mystical stories and soulful nigunim, holds a special place for many of us—at least in distant memories. In recent years, by contrast, I found myself rushing off to Mincha, and then eating in shul without the family, or alternately running home in time to eat with them quickly but running back again for Maariv… Technically, I have fulfilled the mitzvah of the third Shabbos meal, yet something got lost in that shuffle. I could bring the kids with me to shul, but the hour is often late, and sitting so long just isn’t workable for little ones.

During COVID days, though, it all changed. I dusted off the songs I remembered from yeshiva, and we sang together as a family in the way that can only happen at the final Shabbos meal. Better yet, we took turns telling stories, stories we remembered from long ago, stories we heard that very week from our (Zoom) rebbe and morah, stories we now had time to read in our seforim, during the long quarantine Shabbos day. One week my wife even said to me, “You saved Shabbos!” In many ways our family’s day of rest became more meaningful and influential than in pre-virus times.

Fast forward a few months. At least in our corner of the country, COVID numbers have declined. While the future is uncertain, our shuls are carefully reopening. This is certainly good news. As I write this, our kids are preparing their backpacks for a long-planned first day of school; and hopefully as you read this, the upbeat status quo remains in place. Baruch Hashem and bli ayin hara.

Pessimists say every silver lining has a cloud.

Now we are faced with a different challenge. How do we fit our newfound Shabbos, filled with renewed ruchniyus and marked by a greater focus on family, into this recently changed and mostly positive reality? Is it binary, a zero-sum game—as Shabbos broadens to again become more communal, must something else be lost?

In some ways our COVID customs can be adapted. For example, our newly invented Kabbalas Shabbos musical “dance” has instead found its place at our Shabbos meal. (Added bonus: The kids don’t fight when they’re dancing!)

But it should run deeper, I think, and to that end important questions must be asked:

How can parents better strive to meet their children’s spiritual needs so they look fondly on a Torah way of life?

Often forgotten is that spiritual growth is not only about young ones. After this long hiatus, I wonder how shuls and other institutions can evolve so that services and programming inspire all members of our communities anew?

I guess time will tell. The main thing is not to return to business as usual. Let’s apply lessons learned during quarantine to the post-COVID world we hope soon dawns.


Eliezer Schnall and his wife Shira live in Fair Lawn with their children, Tani, Gavi, and Bayla Lielle.

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