"I have heard that some people are tired of the tech conversation. I say the tech conversation hasn’t even begun"
Not an Outside Problem [Fight to the Finish / Issue 892]
The interview with Yossie Strickman made this past week’s Mishpacha a hit. You see, this topic is something that means a lot to me. I can’t stand — and it really hurts me — seeing people who have so much potential, so much talent and brains, literally throwing their lives out the window through technology.
Yossie was quoted as saying, “It means appreciating the effects they can have, not only on one’s religious observance, but on one’s ability to interact with society and maintain healthy and durable relationships.” It’s sad how true that is. So many people are “underliving,” thanks to a connection to technology that brings them to the point where they’re weird, they missed the boat, no one’s home.
Your magazine was the start but it has to be something that everyone knows from a younger age: Smartphones aren’t an “outside” problem. Meaning, smartphone use is not an action that you do and move on from; it’s something that changes you. Internet isn’t something you just shouldn’t use; it’s a virus that infects your entire internal hardware.
In the secular world there are a minor few who realize this and don’t have smartphones, just for their mental health. There’s gotta be an awareness that it’s not a frum thing not to have a smartphone, it’s the best life. It’s a life of so much more yishuv hadaas. It’s freedom. And freedom does not mean doing whatever you want, being free means being in control of yourself and living your own life as your own self.
Not a Battle to Be Won [Fight to the Finish / Issue 892]
I read the recent article about Project Trust with a sense of admiration and appreciation for the incredible work Mr. Strickman is doing in this area of tech. Along with those feelings though, was a niggling something that I could not really pinpoint, but that stayed with me all Shabbos. After much thought, I better understand what aspect of the piece I am having difficulty with.
The tone of the article, as in many written pieces and speeches on technology, is one that speaks of a “battle” or “war,” with the resulting two options of winning and losing. While this may be a tempting and partially accurate analogy in terms of the scope and efforts necessary to “fight” (there it is again), I believe that not only is it a false metaphor, but it continues to mislead in its assumptions about the nature of this particular nisayon.
By way of explanation: If we see technology as a battle that we fight, and perhaps even win, what would winning actually look like? Having the bravery and staunchness to not allow the Internet into your house? Installing a filter on your device(s)? Banning smart devices for your children’s use? (And then, after that choice, have we won?)
This view gives the impression to ourselves and others that the main issue is the forbidden or inappropriate, easily addicting content that tech can bring into our lives, and that by preventing this watching we can protect ourselves. And while this is certainly a very large issue — huge, in fact — when we narrow down the nisayon to this one aspect, it gives a false impression that with a filter we have “won.” And that once we have convinced or bribed our children (or ourselves) to forgo the smart device, we are in the clear.
In my experience, and from my research, nothing can be further from the truth. Technology is not a battle that can be won; it’s a lifelong struggle and a constant need to be calibrating and then recalibrating our decisions as to how much tech we use, for what, and at what times.
To see the danger of our devices as a “smartphone issue” is to ignore the very real effects, sometimes subtle and other times not so, that technology wields on our psyche and relationships with other people, and ultimately, on our relationship toward and with Hashem.
I have seen many a teen girl’s relationship skills changed and sometimes stunted by effects of texting on her dumb phone; I have found mothers conducting something of a large-scale social experiment that they never consciously signed up for, raising a family while tethered to their completely filtered iPhones; and I have seen men who are completely detached from their “real” life while continuously checking and refreshing their work email apps.
There is no end to the ways in which technology infiltrates our lives and no end to the vigilance we need to prevent them. I completely agree that the only way through is education (and a brutally honest look at our own tech use), but I do not fool myself into thinking this is a battle to be won. This is an endless attempt to retain our autonomy and mindfulness.
I actually look at technology as a nonstop opportunity to choose what is important to us. It is one thing to expound on pretty values and quite another to choose to downgrade our tech, or program our phone to shut down in the evening hours while our kids are around (yes, that can be done), or power our devices off when with our spouses.
We need to fully understand how our tech use spreads its tentacles into every aspect of our lives. This is not a conversation (or a battle) against inappropriate content, or against social media, or against WhatsApp (though all three must be understood on many levels). It’s a conversation about what it means to be a tzelem Elokim, and how best to retain that most important aspect of ourselves.
I have heard that some people are tired of the tech conversation. I say the tech conversation hasn’t even begun.
Mrs. Aliza Feder
Author, Techtalk, Real people take an honest look at how technology affects their lives
Head Mechaneches, BY Machon Ora
Helpful, Not Harmful [Inbox / Issue 892]
I am writing in response to Y.M. from Lakewood and anyone else sharing the views expressed in last week’s letter concerning the column “Made in Heaven.”
I believe Rabbi Shafier has handled these sensitive topics with great discretion to the point where I not only wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with my teenagers reading the column, but would encourage it.
I sometimes think the way we skirt around this topic or deem it wholly taboo is detrimental, although I understand where it’s coming from. Rabbi Shafier’s column has opened the door to a tzniyusdig discussion about what a healthy, frum marriage should look like.
There is nothing unsavory or scandalous about “Made in Heaven.” I believe exposure to this kind of conversation is helpful, not harmful, to our children. This is especially the case for kids who have unfortunately grown up in homes without two loving parents. Reading about loving, happy frum marriages can be a positive and eye-opening experience, particularly when you contrast this column with the many stories of dysfunction that often appear in the frum weeklies.
Kol hakavod to Rabbi Shafier and to Mishpacha!
Never Too Great for a Compliment [Guestlines / Issue 892]
Permit me to add a footnote to Dr. Meir Wikler’s excellent piece on compliments.
Many years ago, my rebbi, Harav Moshe Wolfson shlita, wrote a letter of chizuk to a young woman who had suffered a miscarriage. Later, Rav Wolfson asked that I translate the original Yiddish letter into English. The translation was later published in The Jewish Observer, Binah magazine, and two ArtScroll books: Vistas of Challenge and Service of the Heart.
After it appeared in Binah, the magazine published a letter to the editor in which a woman wrote that Rav Wolfson’s letter finally brought her a measure of comfort after the loss she suffered. When I reported this to Rav Wolfson, his first comment was that giving chizuk to a Yid is a very big thing.
Then he thanked me for informing him about the woman’s letter, and proceeded to relate the following anecdote:
The Klausenberger Rebbe ztz”l delivered a famous Chumash shiur every Thursday night. One week, following the shiur, a chassid approached the Rebbe and said, “The Rebbe’s shiur tonight was outstanding!”
Another chassid who overheard this comment rebuked the first chassid, “What’s the matter with you? The Rebbe doesn’t need your approval!”
The Rebbe spoke up. “Nu, vos iz — So, what’s wrong? One can’t give a Rebbe a compliment?”
By relating the story, Rav Wolfson was telling me that he, too, appreciated hearing what his letter had accomplished.
Rabbi Shimon Finkelman
Let Our People In [Outlook / Issue 892]
Yonoson Rosenblum’s article in this past week’s issue was one of the most insightful I have read in quite some time. He teaches us some painful truths that we should be aware of and do our utmost to combat.
He asks how the nation formed as a haven for Jews worldwide, as a special place for all Jews, now refuses to admit anyone not a legal citizen. How can Jews be permitted to purchase property, come and go for Yamim Tovim, etc. when it’s convenient, and then be subject to the worldwide regulations put in place to fight a pandemic?
Do Israeli citizens returning from abroad have any less chance of bringing the Covid virus to Israel? Is Israel still a home under the right of return for all Jews? The Bennett government must stop pandering to the leftists as Rosenblum concludes, and remember what their nation is meant to be. Stop this nonsense and let us in. We will follow whatever isolation or quarantine they want; then we will visit with our family.
Even those without relatives should be allowed in. They can order in while quarantined, spend money online, stay in luxury hotels, etc. It’s a win-win.
Thank you to Yonoson Rosenblum for enlightening and educating us. Perhaps he can now give us suggestions on what we can do or whom we can contact to engender change.
Your Ticket is My Death Threat [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
In all the discussion about policies for tourists in the era of Covid-19, there has been one group that hasn’t been heard from. People like my husband and myself, who are at high risk, either because of age or medical conditions.
After a short and lovely hiatus where Covid-19 seemed to have come under control, Israel opened its skies — and let the Delta variant in. Open skies again, and in comes Omicron — and back go my husband and I into voluntary and melancholy lockdown.
Because of many different factors, Eretz Yisrael has proven to be able to control Covid-19 far better than many other places. But when we let our loved ones in, we’re also letting in a high possibility of more deadly variants.
Of course, I feel for the people who miss their loved ones’ simchahs. And yes, the bureaucracy must be improved. But remember: My husband and I — and the many senior citizens and sick people who are at risk — would like to live to see our family’s simchahs as well.
For many, Covid-19 is an inconvenience. For my husband and me, it is a death threat. Please remember us when you complain about not being allowed to come and visit. And let us all daven for an end to the mageifah, when we can welcome our loved ones from all over the world, without fearing for our own health and safety.
Don’t Downplay Our Pain [Closed Borders, Closed Ears / Issue 891]
I was shocked to read a letter from a woman who was “shocked by the article about Israel’s closed borders.” Just because she was lucky enough to come in to visit her son does not mean she can downplay anyone else’s pain of missing out on family occasions, celebrations, and challenges.
She writes that until the spread of Omicron, anyone with a first degree relatives could come visit Israel. Well, that was true but only for a short amount of time. Not when Covid first hit, not when the British mutation came out, not when Delta came out, and now not again!
I can list countless people who had planned to make the trip here to visit first-degree relative, spent hours completing all the paperwork, only to have their dreams dashed in an instant when Israel suddenly slammed the borders shut from one second to the next. People had received ishurim, booked tickets and travel insurance just to get told hours before the flight that the ishurim have been canceled.
Until Covid hit, I had been thinking seriously of settling here. Yes, it is hard to be away from all my family, but there was always someone flying back and forth. Now I no longer know what to think. I gave birth alone here, I missed my brother’s bar mitzvah, I have a sibling’s wedding abroad soon that I don’t know if I will be allowed to get to… I don’t think I could handle living the rest of my life with so many dashed hopes!
Thank you Gedalia Guttentag for bringing up this issue. I found it an extremely validating read.
Change the Mindset [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 890]
Thank you to Rabbi Yisroel Besser for a great article once again. We should definitely work on our empathy and heartfelt tefillah for our single girls. However, it seems that the questioner he quoted is not asking for pity or tefillah. She is asking what is her avodah and her place in the community.
It is vital to remind ourselves and the singles in our midst that they are indeed valued members of our community, just as they are treasured by HaKadosh Baruch Hu. There are many women who are divorced, widowed, single, or in unfulfilling marriages. They need to know that their worth as servants of Hashem is not dependent on other people, including their spouse or children.
Everyone is meant to develop their own neshamah and relationship with Hashem on a personal level. As a community, we must bear this in mind and change our current narrow mindset. Truly believing this will prevent us from making insensitive comments.
In fact, we should pour out our hearts in tefillah for our single bochurim and men as well. After all, they have a lot more to lose as Jews than a woman who remains single. As many sifrei machshavah note, a woman’s neshamah is naturally inclined to develop a connection with Hashem, while a man’s neshamah requires more mitzvos, some mitzvos related specifically to marriage.
Perhaps realigning our view will help us accept and value our single girls for who they are as people: Bright, energetic, capable, incredible members of Klal Yisrael!
Rivka Gross, Inwood
There Is a Way [Not in My Backyard / Double Take — Issue 891]
This past week’s Double Take was all too true — and disappointing.
I, too, had the outlook of Dov before I got married. Why associate with people who can bring you down? Let the people who are cut out for such work handle the struggling teens… jumping into dirty waters always leaves you with a smell, they say. It’s impossible not to be influenced while working with such people.
And then I met my husband.
On our second date he asked me my opinion on his involvement with teens at risk. I, like Dov, immediately jumped to the “I think it’s nice, but at what expense?” attitude. We discussed it, and when I heard the extent of his passion and the true problem we are facing today, my view suddenly started shifting.
Throughout our marriage I have gotten more and more exposure to the unfortunate reality: the overwhelming population of struggling girls and boys that come from mainstream families and schools, just like Dov’s family. I resonated with Zalman’s praise of the boys very much — it’s how my husband sounds quite often when people ask him why he does what he does.
I have had boys crash my Shabbos table for Seudah Shlishis, their first meal of Shabbos. I have heard my husband talking to boys who use language I wouldn’t dream of using. I have listened to painful stories my husband told me about the severity of some of these kids’ challenges and lack of fire for Yiddishkeit. I have given permission for my husband to go pick up a boy from a crazy place at a crazy hour because he just needed someone in his state of loneliness and pain.
The more people who pride themselves with Dov’s attitude, the more desperate children we are turning away. The more people who are so confident that their sheltered mentality comes before opening their hands and hearts to Hashem’s children, the more people need hands and hearts. Just because Hashem didn’t decide to give you a child with such struggles, it means you can view it as “us vs. them” and create this elitist feeling among your children too? The parents of these children are not at fault! This is their nisayon!
There is a way to give chinuch when your children see things that don’t happen in their own home. There is a way to explain to children that some people don’t feel as strong of a connection to Yiddishkeit as they do, and they have to feel so lucky they have a home where they feel wanted and accepted, and to reach out. Chinuch is about modeling, not always teaching. If you use refined language in your home, your children will understand which words are for the streets. There is a way to model the behavior to your family that we love every Jew because he is simply that — a Jew.
Dov could have invited some boys for a Shabbos meal or a Thursday night kumzitz. He could have sat down with his children and explained to them that Hashem gives everyone different nisyonos, and this is what these boys are facing. His wife could have made them fresh potato kugel or cholent and made them feel wanted and welcomed. He could have told his kids to always smile at the boys, and wish them good morning and good Shabbos. He could have walked over with his children to introduce his family to the boys and given them an open invitation if they ever needed anything. But instead, he did what I have seen many people who claim to be right-wing do — categorize, judge, hold themselves higher, and distance themselves.
The minute you hold yourself higher than another Jew, you aren’t. It’s so unfortunate that the biggest divisions come from within us.
Trust me, I came from the same perspective he has. And my outlook has so drastically changed after I’ve seen what’s out there and how so many people are so needy of our help and love.
May we all open our hearts to Hashem’s children and be zocheh to bring the geulah.
B. R. K.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 893)
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