My high school years were a bit disjointed. I spent 9th grade as part of my elementary school yeshiva day school, which graduated students after 9th grade. I switched to a different yeshiva high school for 10th grade, but in 11th grade, the school decided to adapt its curriculum to a three-year high school program—and I graduated a year early. It was not exactly a fluid experience, even though I basically enjoyed this time of my life.
All of my current close friends and acquaintances are individuals who I have met after high school, and there are only a few former classmates who I have even seen or spoken to since we graduated.
So when I received an email from a member of my high school class in May 2020 that he was organizing a high school reunion via Zoom, I wasn’t terribly interested. But curiosity got the better of me, and I thought it would be interesting to reconnect with my former classmates from high school. So I signed up, sending the requisite photos and bio so everyone would know what I now look like and what I have been up to.
Our class was relatively small, but a sizable percentage of my classmates showed up for the reunion. There were also several students who left the school after eighth grade (who I didn’t know), but who also attended the Zoom reunion. A few of our favorite teachers joined the fray as well. The daughter of a student who passed away prematurely attended, in order to represent her mom. During the reunion, we talked about old times, of course...but also about the many things that have transpired in our lives during the last four decades.
The reunion lasted several hours, and I must admit that I enjoyed the program a lot more than I thought I would. However, I think the best part of our high school “re-Zoom-ion” is what happened afterwards.
A slew of emails from those who participated in the program arrived in my in-box during the days after the reunion. Everyone wanted to continue the conversation—and not lose the wonderful opportunity we all had to reconnect with one another.
We soon realized that a WhatsApp group was a more efficient way for us to communicate with each other. More than a year later, the group is still active. We share news about new grandchildren … articles of interest … politics … Israel … and, unfortunately, deaths in our families.We have celebrated together, argued constructively with each other, assisted each other with answers to questions and mourned together. This group was especially helpful during the months where COVID kept us physically apart, as we all felt a deep bond with each other, even if it was all accomplished online.
There are no famous people with true celebrity status in our class, but reviewing what our classmates have done professionally, I must say that I am really impressed. Many classmates have made major accomplishments in the health and medical fields. There are lawyers and businessmen who are working at top firms. And we even have a rabbi who decided to get semichah after getting his medical degree!
A couple of classmates are world-class photographers, and regularly share some of their fabulous photos with us. Two classmates were moved to write beautiful poems after the reunion, which they distributed to our group, and others take pride in articles that they have published.
One classmate is working to help the charedi community integrate more fully into Israeli society by encouraging them to engage in job training. He gave our group a very interesting presentation on the subject.
Other classmates have also given more traditional shiurim via Zoom (always on Sunday at 12 noon, the best time for a program because it allows both our classmates in Israel and America to participate at a reasonable hour). I myself have volunteered to give two shiurim to the group (which probably came as quite a surprise to some, as back then I would have been voted least likely to be able to give a shiur!)
Not surprisingly, given the Zionist feelings that were encouraged at our school, there are a sizable number of my former classmates who are living in Israel with their families, having moved there at some point in time after high school. Others have children who are now living in Israel. There has been some initial discussion about a 2022 in-person class reunion in Israel.
Our reunion has also encouraged a couple of important chesed projects. We raised $5,000 for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, in memory of our classmates who have died. And four students took the initiative to educate our group about, and raise money for, the Abuyadayan Jewish community in Uganda.
We have also organized one memorial tribute to the larger community. Velvel Pasternak, who passed away about a year ago, is acknowledged to be the king of Jewish music, having contributed an enormous amount of valuable research in this area. He also happened to have been our high school music teacher. Our class put together a beautiful Zoom tribute to memorialize him, in which many leaders in the Jewish music field paid their tributes to him, and others worldwide tuned in to offer their respects.
As a rule, I believe that we spend much too much time on Facebook, WhatsApp, and other social media outlets … and that our time could probably be spent more wisely. However, in terms of reconnecting with people who you haven’t spoken to for decades, social media is an amazing tool—and it has made this past year, which has been so difficult for so many, a much more enjoyable and pleasant time.
To all of my former classmates who I know so much better as a result of our reunion and follow-up communication … thank you for regularly sharing all of the things that are happening in your life, and making your lives a part of mine.
Michael Feldstein is a contributing editor for The Jewish Link. He owns his own marketing consulting firm, MGF Marketing, and can be reached at [email protected]