Here’s a riddle: Has COVID-19 been good for the Jews or bad? The answer is: Yes. (Classic Jewish answer!)
You surely know how hard it’s been for our yeshivos to weather the storm of this too-long pandemic. First, they were closed, and when they finally opened, it was with restrictions and the ever-present ominous cloud of possible closure. But do you also know how COVID has helped yeshivos? We at Netzach Outreach have the answer. Ever since the pandemic began, we have literally doubled the number of Jewish boys and girls we enrolled in yeshiva from public schools! Let’s repeat that: We at Netzach have literally doubled the number of students we enrolled in yeshiva since this pandemic began.
Take Joseph, for example. Joseph has been part of Netzach for a while, and even started the Intensive Program last year. But since March, he’s really gotten serious. He hasn’t been attending public school, so he’s been free from all the negative influences that exist there. True, he’s been in public school over Zoom, but he hasn’t been able to interact with his secular friends like he always has. Without all his friends’ impurity being shoved down his throat, his neshamah was finally able to breath. After a few months, he decided he wanted to go to yeshiva. A month later, he really wanted to go to yeshiva. After another month, he was begging his mother to let him go. She resisted mightily, but he wouldn’t let up until she gave in. She was quite unhappy about his choice, but no less than a month later, she was praising the yeshiva. Here’s a direct quote: “He’s so happy there; it was definitely the right choice.” Joseph is now on his way to becoming a real ben Torah.
Or we can talk about Leah. She’s been attending Netzach classes for over two years now. She’s always been serious about her learning, but never had any real thoughts about making any major steps in her Jewish education. It just wasn’t part of her mindset; after all, she was only in elementary school. This year, Leah began 9th grade. It’s been a rough start of high school. Is there school, is there no school, is it on Zoom? But there was always one thing that was certain in her life – the fact that Netzach would continue (in one way or another). She’s really buckled down since March. Lockdowns have a way of making people get serious about what they value. Leah started growing at a much more rapid clip. Then, on her own volition, she reached out to Netzach’s office. She explained that she decided to go to yeshiva. She did her own research (!) and had decided on which place would be the right fit. The Netzach staff agreed that it would be a good fit. “But there’s one problem,” Leah says. “There’s no way my parents can pay all the tuition.” Netzach assured her that would be no problem. And so it was. A scholarship was arranged, and another of Hashem’s children came home.
The two aforementioned examples were dealing with high-school teens. But Netzach doesn’t only deal with that age. We also reach and teach post-high-school teens. For example, there’s the case of Rebecca and Sabrina. Rebecca has been with us for five years, and Sabrina has been with us for three. They’ve attended classes, learned a lot, and really grown over these years. But we’ve seen a change in them since March. Social distancing led to a release in the social pressure to do what all their friends were doing. They no longer felt that they had to have an overly-active social life, and they no longer felt the pressure to earn a degree without delay. Now, they signed up to go for a few months to learn Torah in Neve Yerushalayim.
So let’s go back to our original question: Has COVID-19 been good for the Jews or bad? Honestly, we can never know why Hashem does what He does. Everything can be a challenge or a benefit, and in this case there were surely many challenges. However, we are grateful for all the benefits we accrued. Joseph, Leah, Rebecca, and Sabrina are all gearing up to learn Torah full-time. Through them, we catch a glimpse of Hashem’s Hidden Hand.
Netzach Outreach is a 501c3 kiruv organization based in Queens. It is one of the largest outreach programs in the United States geared towards high-school students of the public school system. Please go to www.charidy.com/netzach2020/qjl to donate to this worthy cause and help us reach our goal of raising $500,000 this Chanukah!
By Rabbi Shaya Winiarz