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A Lost Custom

For most of my life, I was accustomed to visiting people in their homes and in receiving visitors in my own home. My generation communicated with each other by letter correspondence or face-to-face personal visits.
Rabbi Berel WeinIyar 21 5781
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For most of my life, I was accustomed to visiting people in their homes and in receiving visitors in my own home. My generation communicated with each other by letter correspondence or face-to-face personal visits. I remember as a child how the colleagues and friends of my father and mother would come to visit us in our home on long Friday night winters in Chicago and how we would reciprocate.

As a child I did not contribute very much to the conversation, and to tell you the truth I was not always interested – though there were subjects that certainly did draw my attention and pique my interest – I nevertheless kept dutifully quiet during the entire visit. It seemed to be perfectly natural that people should talk to each other, share ideas and experiences, view different opinions, tell stories, and otherwise interact one with another on a personal basis.

When I married and had my own home, my wife and I continued this practice of personal visitations of others to our own home (the home of a rabbi is pretty much public property) and of us visiting others. It was a social evening without script or agenda; it was just human beings gathering and behaving as the social animals that we, by our very nature, are.

In effect, my parents had convinced me that receiving visitors or going to visit others was having a good time and was something to look forward to and appreciate whenever it happened. And as I grew older, I began to appreciate it more and more and I admit that I learned a great deal simply by listening to the conversations that my parents and their friends conducted amongst themselves.

Since they were all Eastern European Jews, they were updating subconsciously a portal of entry into a life in society that would soon disappear completely and become only a matter of nostalgia. But as long as those people were still alive and talking to one another, their society was still vibrant and alive and that was what I learned simply by overhearing their conversations.

This attractive social more has unfortunately gone by the wayside. Personal communication today is relegated to emails, texting and, because of the Corona pandemic, zoom sessions. None of these methods of communication, miraculous as they may be, equal face-to-face social encounters and learning sessions. And we are at a loss because the idea of visiting people just for the sake of pleasant conversation and human interaction, no longer prevalent in much of modern society.

Certainly we have people over for a meal, especially on Shabbat and the holidays, but simply to visit someone on a Wednesday night for an hour of friendly conversation is pretty much a lost art and extinct custom. Communication between individuals today is pretty much short, restricted and usually contains many spelling mistakes. In fact, spelling itself has become a lost art due to the ravages of social media on our lives.

Because of my declining eyesight, I find it difficult to read lengthy and important emails that are sent. I resort to a stock reply, asking the sender of the email to please call me on the telephone so that he or she can tell me what their email contains and then we can discuss what if anything can be done about it. I notice that the older generation is quite sympathetic to my plight and in the main, they are the ones who call me and explain the issue involved. However, I also notice that the younger generation, so absorbed in curt texting and short sentences, finds it more difficult to really express themselves personally regarding the issue that they originally wrote to me about. It is as though they are taken aback, having to communicate with another human being on a more direct and personal level than the electronic media platform that they are accustomed to.

I realize that I am somewhat of a social dinosaur but even we are entitled to have direct communications with those who seek our advice or wish to receive a response to a particular request.

There is no question that the Corona pandemic caused great shifts in our society and that even to get back to the so-called normal, it will not be the normal that existed before the pandemic had its affect upon us. We have become accustomed to dealing with each other as strangers, masked and wary of personal human contact and interaction. I hope that this does not become the new normal, but I am afraid that casual visitations and conversation with others are things of the past.
Rabbi Berel Wein
The rabbi of the "HANASI" congregation in Yerushalim, head of the Destiny foundation, former head of the OU, Rosh Yeshiva of 'sharai Tora" and rabbi of the "Beit Tora" congregation, Monsey, New York.
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