I recently got up from Shiva for another of Corona’s victims and immediately sat down to write this short article in the hope that my family’s experience using Zoom for the Shiva will help others during this unfortunate time. May it never be necessary, but should someone have to sit Shiva, the lessons we learned from our experience may prove very helpful.
As a member of a large family בלע”ה with many siblings located around the world, each of whom was sitting alone in their own home, it was imperative that we find a way to connect with mutual relatives and friends, and each other. None of us wanted to act as an overburdened switchboard operator struggling to process an overwhelming call load and it was unreasonable to expect our relatives to call every single family member separately.
Instead, we turned to Zoom and the results were spectacular.
For the women, a single Zoom meeting was held every day in the early afternoon, and another one in the evening where all the sisters joined as well as many of our female relatives and friends. Anyone could join at any time and much like a regular Shiva home, this allowed everyone to hear what others from outside their social circle had to say about our dear niftar. It also allowed the women in particular to experience the love and support that is so important to an avel.
Another benefit was that many of the grandchildren and nieces who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to be present at the Shiva home for more than a few moments were able to join the virtual Shiva home for hours at a time. Many joined and muted themselves and turned off their cameras but listened in as friends and relatives shared their words of encouragement and memories. This was a great and unexpected benefit.
For the men, the joint zoom meeting was less practical for a number of reasons. Instead, most of the male children had their own Zoom meetings open for a number of hours each afternoon and evening where friends and relatives could join.
In the late evenings when our phones were off, all the siblings joined each other for a joint meeting where we shared the days events and stories and memories. Those were incredibly meaningful times for us all.
Our phones still rang off the hook. Most calls were missed of course. The love and caring was certainly felt, and the voicemails were all appreciated. The Zoom meetings, however, were particularly precious as they enabled us to see and experience something resembling a real Shiva experience. It also allowed us to speak to multiple people at once. At times, as many as fifty people were on the meeting simultaneously. Imagine receiving all those as separate calls!
What Does It Require?
For this to be successful, there are a number of points that are essential to be aware of:
• A Zoom Pro account which allows meetings to go beyond the 40-minute limit on meetings that is imposed on the free accounts. A Pro license costs $14 a month and can be purchased for one month only. Only the host needs the license. Everyone else can use a free account.
• A moderator who sends a chat message welcoming people as they join and who invites the participants to speak. Otherwise there will be multiple people speaking at once and the meeting is disjointed. The moderator also helps a person who may be speaking for too long wind it down gracefully to allow others to have a turn. In our case, the moderator was always one of the aveilim (they took turns) and this arrangement worked out beautifully.
• The Zoom meeting should not be widely publicized (e.g. Misaskim) and should be reserved for family and close friends. Otherwise it becomes too overwhelming and hard to manage. Anyone other than the inner circle was free to call on the phone. Folks with a very limited social circle may not find this necessary.
• There should be specific hours (preferably the same each day) for Zoom meetings each to allow for the aveilim to catch a break and take phone calls. Otherwise, it’s very stressful to know that people are trying repeatedly to reach you by phone and are being ignored.
Be’ezras Hashem no one should need this, and we should speedily be able to perform all mitzvos in the most ideal manner, but in the meantime, much nechamah can be gained from using a tool that is widely available and already being used by so many.
May we only have simchas to share with each other.
Name withheld upon request.
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