By Rabbi Yitzie Ross

Question:

Our son started yeshiva one day ago and is already miserable. You wouldn’t believe the restrictions being placed on the children. They wear masks all day. They have glass barriers. The rebbes and morahs are behind glass barriers and wearing masks. They’re being kept in separate groups all the time, and the environment fosters irritation. This will never work for my son who already gets frustrated easily. What can I do to keep him happy and focused on his learning with all these insane — and unnecessary — distractions?

I don’t believe masks are healthy, but I loved your article two weeks ago (“Theoretically Speaking,” August 21). I (and many others) don’t think masks are doing anything useful, but in case I’m wrong, I want to err on the side of caution. Most of us non-believers would agree that those who deliberately don’t wear masks inside public stores are just calling for attention. Kids? They’re not even carriers! Let them learn! Please advise us, as we love your guidance.

Simcha Rechter

Answer:

As most of my readers know, I don’t edit the emails I receive, thereby allowing the readers to get a feel for the mindset of the letter-writer. After receiving the above question, I had to reread it multiple times. There are a lot of points that were made, and although I don’t agree with many of them, there are many parents who are thinking along the same lines. Let’s start from the beginning.

We’re all miserable with the situation. I don’t know any school directors who said, “Hey! Let’s just put up some partitions and make all the kids and teachers wear masks!” The pandemic rules are causing serious issues for every yeshiva. They’re hurting financially, and it’s difficult for the rebbeim and teachers. This has also created logistical nightmares when it comes to transportation.

The reason that yeshivos are following all these restrictions seems to be twofold. First of all, there are rules being implemented by the counties and government. If these rules aren’t followed, the schools might suffer some serious consequences. Even if they were able to slip under the radar, do we really want to antagonize these people? The other reason is pretty obvious: It’s a smart move. Even though the chances of kids getting the virus are slim, if we can lower those odds, let’s go for it. The pros of being careful certainly outweigh the cons.

No, the kids don’t wear masks all day. They only have to wear them when they’re out of their seats or in common areas indoors (at least in New York). Recess outside is mask-free, and rebbeim and teachers don’t make federal issues when students forget to put on their masks. The barriers aren’t glass (which would be quite dangerous), they’re Plexiglas.

I am aware of how hard it is to teach with all these distractions — I am a rebbe in a yeshiva. However, I keep telling myself that Yidden have dealt with far worse, and, somehow, they managed to make it work.

Let’s keep things in perspective. As you pointed out so eloquently, this virus has not been affecting most children, baruch Hashem. Can you imagine how scary that would be? Yes, the barriers are an annoyance. It’s harder to hear the kids, handing out sefarim is more challenging, and even keeping the classroom neat has become a hassle. The partitions have a distracting reflection, which makes it more difficult for the kids to focus. I can go on and on. Ultimately, it’s not that big of a deal. Really.

You mentioned that the staff is “behind barriers and wearing masks.” Rebbeim and teachers are working overtime to make this work. It’s irritating at times, and the masks are uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we’re fine. Once we start learning, all the annoyances just melt away.

No, the kids aren’t being kept in secluded groups. All that’s happening is that the kids are not joining together with other classes for recess, when possible. It’s simple. If one kid ends up being positive, chas v’shalom, it’ll be much easier to deal with it from a damage-control perspective. This isn’t going to be long-term, and the kids don’t even think about it. These kids are so excited to be back in school with their friends, they don’t even seem to notice that they’re not combining with other classes.

You also mentioned your son gets frustrated easily. That’s a completely separate issue. Most of the kids I see aren’t frustrated at all, and the ones who are have parents who are also easily frustrated. If you keep griping about the issues with wearing masks, it’s quite likely your children will feel the same way. It doesn’t matter if you agree with wearing masks or not. You don’t need to project your feelings onto your children. I know many families in which both parents don’t think the masks are useful at all, and yet they tell their children to wear the masks like everyone else.

The article that you’re referencing wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I simply can’t understand those who are making mask-wearing a pivotal issue. It’s a simple request that has a chance of helping ourselves and others. You’re correct, though. Many people who don’t agree with the mask-wearing still wear them just in case. It’s only the truly selfish ones who are willing to risk other people’s health.

As for the point you mentioned about kids not being carriers, I couldn’t get enough data on that. Baruch Hashem, this isn’t affecting children as strongly, but we don’t know if they are passing it along. Let’s just be careful and see how things work out.

All in all, the kids are dealing with some minor inconveniences. I’ve been teaching for almost two weeks now, and the bigger issue is retraining the kids to sit in their seats and stay focused. They’ve had a six-month vacation from the classroom, and it shows.

We’re davening that we all stay healthy. It’s going to be an amazing year, be’H.

Rabbi Yitzie Ross is a well-known rebbe and parenting adviser. To sign up for the weekly emails and read the comments, visit YidParenting.com. 

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