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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.)

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