By Ilana Benzaquen
The world at large has gone through monumental changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We all know that many countries and communities were hit hard, with people passing away or suffering from critical illness. We still have not seen yet the light at the end of the tunnel. During this time, many people have spent their time in isolation reflecting on their lifestyle and priorities and how COVID-19 has reshaped the way we view the future. But human beings are naturally social, and isolation takes a toll on our mental health. Beyond reflection, virtual work, household chores and browsing through Netflix, how can we spend more time with others and beyond our bubble of people, and reach out for more human connection?
In addition to my full-time virtual work and regular home-bound activities, I decided to reach out to Partners in Torah to volunteer my time teaching Judaism to others. I was paired with a learning partner from Toronto and, since May, have been having one-hour learning sessions with her weekly via Zoom.
I realized my learning partner needed foundational questions about Judaism to be answered and has introduced notions such as why suffering exists and why God’s justice may appear unequal from our perspective. As such, I decided to start with the Torah’s principles of faith from Maimonides and the foundation of our existence in this world. My learning partner not only listens deeply but also integrates her learning in her day-to-day life. She uses the Torah language when asking questions, makes the appropriate blessings on food, and recites the nightly prayer of Shema when she goes to sleep.
But the relationship between the teacher and student is a two-way street. I have learned a lot about my learning partner, such as family history and background, and her connection to Judaism. We all experience difficulties in life, no matter what our situation. But, in sharing Torah, and learning from the life experiences of others, we can pierce through the intense isolation of COVID-19 and grow in the process.
Visit the Partners in Torah website – www.partnersintorah.org – for more information or to register for learning or teaching opportunities.
Photo: Ilana Benzaquen (right) and her Partners in Torah learning partner.