By: Shuie Berger  | 

The Good Ol’ Days

There was an unspoken panic among the students, especially those on my floor: someone had tested positive for a strange new “coronavirus.” Two additional students were being tested and we had heard that we might all have to test for it. Being in its infant stage, COVID-19 was a novel virus that had just entered the U.S. and was reportedly more deadly than the flu. The doctors didn’t know exactly how it spread, its side effects, its symptoms, really anything. The lack of knowledge of the virus meant the testing was not perfect, and to me, the invasive procedure sounded harrowing. As I reached out to the two students about their experiences being tested, my fear grew. I hate anything being stuck deep up my nose, and their descriptions of the test’s nasal probing admittedly worried me. Ultimately, we were “let go” the next day after the two students tested negative, making my quarantine experience short but still anxiety-filled. I was extremely relieved to have avoided the testing. I remember thinking how I had gotten over the hump and how it was all smooth sailing from here. Little did I know what the following weeks and months had in store.

The world went crazy pretty quickly. I flew home to Atlanta after Purim, and spent the next two weeks quarantining in my own house. I finished up the spring semester on a program called Zoom, trying my best to adapt to the new platform for my studies. The teachers were also trying to adjust, and everyone had a hard time since none of us had ever experienced anything like this. Personally, I despised online schooling, left unable to see my friends or hang out with anyone while I was cooped up in my room over 600 miles from campus. There was no shul, no traffic and no one was in the streets. The spontaneous ghost towns across America made for a very chilling experience. As the summer came and COVID cases went down, some shuls started reopening, masked and socially distanced, bringing about a semblance of normalcy. There was still worry and confusion around the whole ordeal, though, and to my chagrin, school was still online.

In the summer of 2020, before the vaccines, the university notified us that after the chagim, we would be back in person for a select few classes, as well as for seder and shiur. A student was only able to return once they sent in proof of a negative test to the COVID Monitoring Team. I put off getting tested for almost a month because I was still so afraid. Finally convinced I could not put it off anymore, I worked up the courage and went to a testing center in the Heights, nervously waiting in line for the ability to return to YU (thank G-d my wife was there to keep me sane). After the friendly nurse swabbed my nose, I thought to myself, “Wow, I am such a wuss. That wasn’t so bad!” Leaving the testing center I was proud of myself and I told myself that I could do this twice a week. As the university patched the system and tweaked the process, testing, nasal swabs and a general feeling of living under the umbrella of COVID became a part of my life.

Fast forward to this past summer: The school informed us that vaccinated students could return in person, without masks. I was elated, just jumping for joy. Not only would I enjoy the learning style that I can actually function in, but I would also get to see people I hadn’t seen in over a year, and hang out with them in and out of class. I know not everyone hated online school as much as I did, as it did have many benefits that were desirable for a wide variety of reasons. However, I also know I wasn’t alone in desperately wishing to return to in-person instruction. This sentiment united most of the student body, and I happily prepared to go back to campus and sit in classes with friends, attentively listening to the teacher, without the lingering threat of the distraction that is my phone.

When they announced that there would be a mask mandate after only a few days, I was a bit bummed, but I was still happy they hadn’t moved online. I could tolerate wearing a mask on campus. At least we didn’t have to social distance or test twice a week like in Spring 2021. When they added biweekly testing due to case numbers, I was still optimistic. At least we didn’t have to social distance. They did eventually revert the testing to once a week, which was convenient, but I didn’t mind either way. I was just glad to have in-person classes and see my friends. That once daunting and petrifying nasal swab was now just another aspect of my weekly routine. It always made me tear up, but it was worth it. I had what I wanted and needed: in-person classes.

On Dec. 20, then, when I got an email informing us that the remainder of classes and finals were moving online, my heart sank. For a moment, I even thought the email was fake. I couldn’t believe it. At the time, I had not heard of new cases on campus, and I thought it was premature to shut down the school because the city had high positivity rates. I did not want to let go of one of the most important aspects of my schooling experience, the ability to speak face to face with a teacher and take classes in an academic setting without all the distraction of my newsfeed. After having some time to think about it and to see the situation develop, while I wish we were still in person, I still look back at the semester that was the most normal out of the last four and appreciate what it was. Even leaving on a sad note, I can still be grateful for the school’s enabling us to have in-person classes at all. And while YU is planning, as of now, to be in person next semester, we know that could change with the click of a send button. So, although we plan for in-person learning, anything can happen in this crazy world, and I smile when I think of what we were able to experience this semester, glad to have had at least that. While cases continue to rise, I implore everyone to try to cherish our experiences while we have them in person, in school and out of it. As Andy Bernard once wisely said, “I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.”

Photo Caption: Students learning in Wilf Campus

Photo Credit: Yeshiva University