Growing up during the pandemic is a strange time, leaving many children and teens feeling powerless. One local teen is using her bat mitzvah project to inform others of the truth and falsehoods of the coronavirus.
“It’s something that means a lot to me, and that’s what you’re supposed to do for your project,” said Ruby Persky, who will be celebrating her bat mitzvah at Congregation Olam Tikvah on March 5, a year after it was originally planned for.
Her project is a series of videos during which she asks Shmuel Shoham, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, questions about COVID and the pandemic. The pair have done two videos so far, and Ruby is planning a third for March. She said filming the videos gave her a sense of peace in the chaos of the pandemic.
“It helped me have control in a situation where I had little control,” she said. “I felt like I was actually doing something to help instead of watching it happen.”
Ruby wasn’t even thinking about her bat mitzvah in the summer of 2020, just months after the pandemic started. The then-12 year old felt frustrated at her
peers for not taking CDC guidelines seriously.
“I feel like a lot of my friends were sort of doing their own thing and weren’t wearing masks or social distancing. I wasn’t on social media at the time, but I was in a couple of group chats where people would post photos of themselves still hanging out with their friends.”
Ruby wasn’t just disappointed in some of the behaviors of her classmates, but also with her neighbors.
“I would see them walking around the neighborhood not wearing masks. They were even having parties and stuff,” she said.
Ruby’s mother, Anna Persky, noticed her daughter’s frustration and suggested that they reach out to Shoham, her former high school classmate. They emailed him and he agreed to do a Zoom. He provided a “good moderate voice” for Ruby, Anna Persky said.
“It was cool to get answers from an actual doctor who has had scientific research and who knows what he’s talking about instead of random people on the internet,” Ruby said.
The first video, “Ruby interviews infectious disease specialist about wearing masks,” has more than 500 views on YouTube. Ruby said the questions mostly just came to her; others were from her observations.
“It was kind of correlated to things that I had seen and was curious about,” Ruby said.
She asked Shoham about social distancing and mask wearing. A year later, during the summer of 2021, Ruby decided to sit down (virtually) again with Shoham to speak about vaccines and their effectiveness. Ruby said she was surprised that people were receptive to her videos.
“People who watched the video were actually listening to what I said. It was kind of cool to see people commenting and saying ‘Oh, I didn’t know that,” she said.
Ruby’s mom said that although it was nice for the videos to gain traction on social media, it’s the impact that really matters.
“It did get a lot of views and neighbors saw it,” Anna said. “But even if it was just one person, that’s a positive. And that’s the biggest takeaway.”
For her next video, Ruby plans to ask Shoham about the current state of the pandemic and how we as a society should move forward. Guests at her bat mitzvah will find out the answers to these questions then.