distance-davening-spirituality by the Forward

Diary of a Day-School Mom: screen-shy, yet finding spirituality on a device?

Week Two, and online prayer is still a hard sell for all of us.

It’s disappointing, because when my daughter and I dipped into it as part of the day-school distance-learning schedule, and it was such a blessing — for both her and me.

Such a powerful experience was a surprise. A capsule history of my spiritual life explains why.

Teens: Agony

20s: Ecstasy

30s: Nostalgia

40s: What?

But! I went to synagogue Hebrew School (see: agony, above), and my kids go to the Hannah Senesh Community Day School in Brooklyn. On Friday, I got a little bit of that ecstasy back, thanks to Sarah, my 10-year-old.

She was sitting around after breakfast, waiting for class to start, and decided to log on during davening.

“We have a minyan!” I heard one of the teachers say joyfully. So adorable, because the conventional definition of that word is 10 men in a room. This was 10 tweens on a screen, each in their little panel: the Brady Bunch meets Junior Congregation.

“Mah tovu,” the teacher said. “Ma tovu ohalekha Ya’akov, mishk’notekha Yisra’el … How great are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places, Israel!”

Now, the teacher said, we are going to think about the places where we dwell.

So I did. And it was that screen. I couldn’t believe it but I — a rigorous rationer of screen time for both myself and my kids — had found connection through a device.

There was a strange robotic burr to her voice, and all the figures were backlit and flickering. I saw my daughter’s friends, and also their siblings. A mom wearing a baby.

I felt so full of love and hope in that moment. I put my arm around my daughter and she smiled and snuggled in. We would make a change, I vowed. We would do this every day. It would help get us through this.

You know where this is going.

Monday came, and it didn’t play out that way. My daughter overslept. I was late getting breakfast for her and my 12-year-old son, Avi.. Our egg pan finally got so scratched we threw it away. I had to prepare for my morning staff meeting. Most crushingly, both kids spurned my suggestion that they sign in for prayers by saying: “There’s nobody there.” Tuesday? Same.

I know what to call this phenomenon. I learned it in graduate school: It’s a collective-action problem, and it’s coronavirus in a nutshell. Nobody does the thing, because they think nobody will do the thing, and so the thing — davening, or flattening the curve — does not get done.

And so, I will do the only thing I can do, which is try to do better tomorrow. Ecstasy would help, but it’s not essential. (See above, 30s and 40s.)

A screen-hating mom finds devices can be a good thing


Helen Chernikoff

Helen Chernikoff

Helen Chernikoff is the Forward’s News Editor. She came to the Forward from The Jewish Week, where she served as the first web director and created both a blog dedicated to disability issues and a food and wine website. Before that, she covered the housing, lodging and logistics industries for Reuters, where she could sit at her desk and watch her stories move the stock market. Helen has a Master’s of Public Administration from Columbia University and a BA in History and French from Amherst College. She is also a rabbinical school dropout. Contact her at chernikoff@forward.com and follow her on Twitter at @thesimplechild .

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Diary of a Day-School Mom: screen-shy, yet finding spirituality on a device?

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