I am writing this piece just after sitting shivah for my beloved father Ira Beer, Yitzchok Dov ben Tzvi Mendel. I was sitting alone in my basement, separated from my mom, my brother, my aunt, and other beloved family. My dad was a humble guy and while we grieve that he didn’t get the funeral and shivah that he deserved, I truly believe that he got the funeral and shivah that he wanted, little fanfare and just close family.
Sitting shivah alone, and accepting shivah visits only via Zoom and telephone calls really feels like the first perek of Eichah, where it says several times “ein menachem,” “There is no one to comfort me.”
Zoom has become the go-to tool for distance learning, television interviews, and now for the socially distanced shivah visits. I must confess, while I am deeply moved by the outpouring of love and comfort offered by family and friends, I am missing the personal touch that I expected shivah would provide. Couple that with the fact that as the avail, I was sometimes relegated to the position of moderator, gently moving between the more talkative and more sedate visitors; this is definitely not your usual shivah process. Sometimes I actually dreaded the down time, when things got slow, only then did I realize that I also gave out my cell phone number and I have been ignoring the 20 messages left on the phone to focus on the more in-person Zoom visits.
I also realize that I am not alone. It’s sad to say that us COVID families are now brothers and sisters in this parashah. I’ve participated in so many Zoom funerals and shivah visits since just after Purim, I’ve become a Zoom expert. It’s an expertise that I could live without, but that my dad would have approved of, as he was a lover of new and innovative technology, and it’s opened the world to me. I doubt that during a more traditional shivah my old “mate” from Manchester England would have “visited” me or that my aunt’s children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren could have participated in a family Zoom visit from around the corner or as far away as Israel simultaneously.
So is this the new normal? Well first realize that in my house “normal” is a setting on the washing machine; everything else is just life, and life is full of curves and twists. Shivah at a distance will certainly be around for a while, till we feel comfortable having visitors in our house, or visiting someone else’s house. Maybe as restrictions are lifted and the weather improves curbside shivah visits will be the next big thing, with the avail sitting in their chair in the driveway while well-wishers drive by for a quick hamakom.
To all the COVID families I offer you my personal nechamah and hope that as we progress we will together, with love, strength, and most importantly with great memories of our dear ones.
A final word about my dad. I was recently learning Pirki Avot, firsh perek Mishnah 15. The Mishnah states, Shami says make time for Torah study, say little and do a lot, and be pleasant to all persons that you meet. This description totally sums up my dad. In his retirement years he learned Torah daily. When he worked he was a tireless worker on behalf of his business as well as Torah institutions but didn’t want accolades and he was renowned his whole life for his warm smile and handshake. That’s how I will remember my dad.