The truth was very far from the facade of composure that appeared on the screen daily
Yitzchok remembers the day well.
It was on Shabbos, March 14. Yitzchok went to shul early to learn. He noticed Dr. Goldberg coming toward him. Dr. Goldberg asked if he had been in a different shul the night before. Yitzchok confirmed that he was.
It was then that Yitzchok first heard the words that would soon become part of everyone’s lexicon. “There was someone at that shul who has the coronavirus. I need you to quarantine and go home.”
Little did Yitzchok realize that the next time he would daven with a minyan would be June 13.
He could never have imagined that the shul would shut down from that Shabbos for the next hundred days. That over the next few days, the entire country would shut down.
Yitzchok was a teacher. He gave some shiurim in his local shul, and he taught in schools around the New York area. Not willing to give up on his shiurim, he began teaching via the medium of Zoom, offering a short daily class so people should stay connected to Torah. Every day he did his best to teach via Zoom, although privately, as the severity of the virus became known and the restrictions and shutdowns became pervasive, he began to worry.
A sense of fear gripped him as the number of tragedies in the frum community increased. Inwardly, he began to fret as stories of people losing their parnassah overnight became commonplace. An uneasy feeling of confusion caused Yitzchok’s insides to churn with distress and dread.
Nevertheless, he continued giving his daily shiur, and as time went on, he disguised his true feelings of fear by placing an artificial emotional mask of solace and comfort atop his fearful face.
One Friday evening, a neighbor came by and remarked, “I don’t know how you manage to keep calm. All of us are in panic mode, and you radiate a glow of tranquility.”
The truth was very far from the facade of composure that appeared on the screen daily.
Yitzchok had the complete support of his wife and friends. However, being in a position of teaching, he felt uncomfortable reaching out to his shiur attendees to share his angst.
He needed a friend he could confide in without fear and without being judged. A person who could understand him yet was not quite a peer, but, preferably, an “older” friend.
However, who has time nowadays to sit down and connect with another person? We communicate via three-word texts and four-word emails; who has the time to spend “quality time” listening to another Yid?
Over the years, Yitzchok and Yankel had become friends. How the friendship blossomed is another story, yet Yitzchok felt that Yankel might be the person he could confide in.
On a Thursday evening, Yitzchok took a deep breath and called Yankel, while doubting Yankel would answer or that Yankel would have time, as Yankel is a very accomplished talmid chacham, and many turn to him for advice and chizuk. He is the spiritual leader of a major operation serving thousands of Yidden.
Yankel answered, however, and soon enough, Yankel and Yitzchok were engaged in a long, meaningful conversation.
Yitzchok opened up to Yankel, and he knew Yankel cared.
Yankel followed up with Yitzchok until Yitzchok had indeed regained his emotional equilibrium.
In these days of frantic communication, Yankel proved to be a true chaver to Yitzchok, and gave Yitzchok all the time he needed.
Yitzchok will always feel indebted to and appreciative of Yankel. He is thankful for his compassion and his concern and, most of all, his friendship. Yitzchok knows he can always count on Yankel to be there for him.
And I should know.
After all, I am Yitzchok, and Yankel is Rabbi Yaakov Bender.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 827)
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