When the pandemic brought in-person gatherings to a sharp halt in March 2020, volunteer organizations were forced to come up with new, innovative ways to perform mitzvot (loving acts of kindness). The result was a new system of mitzvah-giving that could be completed from one’s home: virtual volunteering. I have had the pleasure of volunteering in two of these organizations, and I believe that in some ways, volunteering has never been more efficient or effective.
In May, I joined Dorot’s University Without Walls program, where I called senior citizens weekly and had two-hour long conversations. These discussions enlightened me on the contrasting and congruent aspects of Judaism throughout generations and taught me that religion and its traditions are evolving with humans. Coming from my Jewish bubble in Manhattan, I was curious about the experiences of many of these elders, who grew up as the sole Jewish person in a community. These were just some of the stories I heard from my new friends. These conversations appeared to be the most successful when orchestrated over the phone, where volume levels can be adjusted for each participant and outside noises are blocked out. In contrast to in-person meetings and the confusing logistics that come with it, volunteering virtually made fulfilling this mitzvah easier and more beneficial for both me and the elders.
I have also been volunteering virtually with Friendship Circle. Before the pandemic, I would go to a classroom or auditorium and be paired to play with a special needs friend every Sunday. The transition to an online forum proved to be the best case scenario because it removed all distractions and helped me form a strong relationship with my buddy. Meetings in person are often distracted, and I have to spend almost half the time keeping my buddy on task. However, when we were both sitting behind a computer screen in our respective homes, we were able to get rid of all distractions and truly focus on each other. It was the best possible outcome, and I can attest that I have grown closer to my buddy in the past six months than I have in the two years we have been friends.
Although most charities that focus on physical giving, such as food pantries and homeless shelters, face extreme adversity during the pandemic, volunteer organizations that focus on psychological connection are thriving in the virtual sphere. This is due to the fact that emotional connection can occur through any forum, whether it be through a screen or in-person. The use of a virtual platform got rid of distractions and allowed all participants to genuinely focus on each other.