A common concern and complaint of parents today is that children are captives of technology. The computer, the cell phone, video games, television have all emerged as first line companions of the young. Endless hours are spent in the company of these machines. Much is positive-easy access to a wealth of information and ideas; much is harmful-knowledge and concepts that are detrimental or inappropriate to minds incapable of discriminating effectively in the ocean of stimuli and input.
Parents bemoan the loss of human contact, fearful that their progeny will somehow mature as disconnected hearts and souls. The mind may progress beyond the intellectual boundaries of yesteryear; what about the child’s psyche, the inner spirit of feeling and humanity?
Yesterday was a moment of reassurance and hope, a beam of light in the midst of an ever- dominating darkness of technology’s undue influence on our young. About 30 children from the ages of six to sixteen sat around beautifully decorated tables covered with paper plates of fruits and nuts, white and red grape juice, and booklets containing the Tu Beshvat Seder, a celebration of the New Year of Trees, a time of planting in Israel, a time of spiritual renewal of people’s spirits everywhere which are rooted in the reaches of heaven. Children sat alongside parents and teachers of the religious school of a small congregation in Annapolis, Md., singing songs of planting and reaping, songs of seasonal change and the renewal of earth, sun, and sky. Serious moments were interspersed with injections of jest and humor, children’s skits pertaining to the holiday, and the good cheer of people simply being together and sharing in the visceral gratitude of nature’s bounty. It was assort of Thanksgiving, and at the center of our rituals was the awareness of a Source of all things, a God whom we praised and blessed with each bite of fruit and each sip of juice.
I sat opposite several young children and their parents and was deeply moved by the smiles and sense of inner security and peace reflected in each joyful face. I was struck by the renewed recognition of the power of religious ritual to bind individuals and families into a community of caring and nurturing souls. It became evident again of how indispensable the presence of people is to the human development of human beings, both young and old. The setting was simple, almost primitive. Nothing inordinately ostentatious, costly or technologically complex. Handmade decorations, paper cups and plates, natural fruits and nuts unembellished by a gourmet’s hand, and an awful lot of commitment and love by parents, teachers and volunteers, created an indelible moment of magic and enchantment.
I left this simple celebration enriched and inspired. It was an abiding reminder of the eternal power of ritual and spiritual connections to enhance our sense of ourselves and rediscover the wonder of intimate human relationship.
In the midst of a freezing wintry day, I began to look forward to Passover when once again, children and adults will share ancient rituals and thereby renew not only their Jewish ness, but their humanity as well.
PS."All children need a laptop.Not a computer, but a human laptop...someone to hold them, read to them and teach them..loved ones who will pass to the next generation their expectations of them, their hopes, and their dreams."-General Colin L. Powell, inscribed on the side of a Starbucks coffee cup.