Yearly archives "2020"

To Window to the Outside World

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Rabbi Corinne preparing for teaching via Zoom

Over the past view months, Zoom online programming has been my window to the outside world. As it has with many of you, this new technology has made the viewpoints of my colleagues and friends available to me in these difficult pandemic times. I have learned so much from the thinking process and knowledge of others and offered my own as well. It has enabled me to see friendly faces I know, as well as those new to me, in mosaic tiles. And on Zoom, we can actually “see” one another, full face, for a while. We don’t need masks when we’re on the screen.

As a senior citizen in my eighties, I have the good fortune to live with two of my grown children and now a grandchild home from college as well. I do not have to watch television or have a Sabbath dinner alone. We have a beautiful garden in which to relax and have family meals outside. However, as a diabetic for the last 25 years, I do have a compromised immune system. So I have listened faithfully to the advice of our California government and our dedicated health experts and remained indoors since the beginning of March. It’s going on five months now. Apart from a daily walk around the block or so, and one quick visit to the beach on a day that it was “open,” I have not been “outside” since the “stay safe at home” instruction was issued.

At first I watched a lot of television, especially the daily comments of New York governor Andrew Cuomo, whose service to our nation has been invaluable. As a family, we caught up on recent TV series with “binge-watching.” We cooked and baked a lot. Courtesy of the Los Angeles library, I have read some thirty or so books online. Good books. I visited my doctor for an online appointment.

Perhaps most important, I have included in my daily schedule attending at least one Zoom lecture or teaching on a particular topic every single day. When it became too overwhelming—and tiring as well, because learning on Zoom requires a constant, single-focus attention, I restricted my Zoom screen time to one lecture a day. Gradually, I developed the confidence to successfully host and teach ten of my own sessions for my Beit Kulam adult education classes.

And I am proud to have mastered, at least to some small extent, and an online class helped, a new technology that can be a very “cold” medium for teaching—unless you learn how to make it “warm.” Recorded lectures tend to be on the cold side, and I have found that it’s best to have shorter bursts of “teaching,” with a lot of discussion, or guided discussion, in between. 

Also, I find it takes away from concentration on what the main speaker is saying to have written material, or even visual material, on the screen while the speaker is talking. Better, in my experience, to use it, as an aid to discussion, before or after the topic at hand. At the moment, I’m not an enthusiast of the breakaway groups feature; so far, I have found this “small group” discussion experience rather limited in the time allowed. Still much to be learned about using it, so this reaction may change.

When I virtually presented my new book, “A Rabbi at Sea” in New York for the Jewish Book Council network, I saw how meticulous preparation and engagement could make a large scale event very successful. Where there’s a will—and a need that could otherwise be overwhelming—there’s a way!

Preparing for virtual book launch of A Rabbi at Sea

* * * *

In the meantime, I have made myself available to my Beit Kulam members, should they have the need to talk about personal issues, on Friday mornings, and on Friday afternoons I virtually teach a private Torah class to my own daughter (I have four of them) and her non-Jewish partner in Vancouver. It has proved to be both a beautiful and calming experience before greeting Shabbat. Their “homework” is to read various commentaries about each week’s parsha before we read it aloud together. This past week we gave the gift of increasing strength to one another by reciting the traditional  “Hazak, hazak, v’nitkazek” as the Book of Numbers ended and began Deuteronomy, the last book in the Torah, which largely summarizes what has happened in the previous four books.

So, for some people, the new technologies drive them nuts. For me, it has been a wonderful way to preserve my sanity amidst the labyrinth of dark and conflicting news broadcasts that now permeate our wonderful world. For me, the new technologies, bringing with them exposure to many points of views, are a saving grace. Can I help it if I’m naturally hopeful and optimistic?

I remember the devastating polio epidemic of my youth that so badly affected my mother’s cousin, Libbele, that she was paralyzed from the waist down for the rest of her life, confined to a wheelchair. But she had an indomitable spirit. She mastered many crafts, through which she made a small living, and her loving relatives made sure she was well supported, emotionally and financially, throughout her life. 

Like the many other pandemics that permeate our world history (one of the four disasters that the Jewish holiday, Tisha B’Av, memorializes is the plague that killed 24,000 students of Rabbi Akivah), polio was eventually overcome (even though late age, second stage polio has unexpectedly entered our world) when Dr. Salk developed a vaccine. As I write this, our scientists around the world are working furiously to find the right vaccine to overcome Covid-19. With God’s help, they will. As Dr. Salk is famously quoted, Hope lies in dreams, in imagination and in the courage of those who dare to make dreams into reality (”

Presenting for a U.S. Audience—and Maybe Next Year the World!

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

It was joyful, fantastic, overwhelming, and reinforced my belief that the catastrophic disaster called Covid-19 will eventually lead to world-shaping innovations that will improve our present society’s quality of life immeasurably. Call it a justification anew of that old adage: “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” Call it the manifestation of a new, “woke” generation taking charge, sometimes overcharge. Call it a combination of education, science, ethics, the arts, and government—and a new regard for authentic historical experience of the past century and earlier (and the expertise of an older generation to which I belong that remembers it accurately because we’ve lived through it and its after-effects)—all working hand-in-hand to make life for human beings globally the best it can be in this new decade, the 2020s. Call it people have amazing inner resources when they are put to the test.

What great event stimulated my current overflow of optimism? It was the three-day conference of The Jewish Book Council (JBC), based in New York, but open to participants from all over the US and even beyond this year. Pre-Covid 19, for years this conference has been held in-person, providing an opportunity for writers accepted as touring writers of the JBC “network,” which, along with its many acclaimed authors, consists of member Jewish organizations from all over the country. It’s an exceptional opportunity not only to promote their new books, to present them in carefully-timed “pitches” and gain bookings before new audiences, but also to meet and greet, and feel that they are part of a literary whole that gives them new energy and inspiration to keep on writing.

Writing can be a very lonely business. So opportunities for writers to get together, especially in this year of Covid-19, where authors have been limited in large measure to telephone and computer screens, have loomed larger than ever. That is why the JBC in its wisdom, but taking on a huge task, decided to hold the conference virtually this year. Not only would the various member sessions be held virtually, but its writers also would present virtually. The outpouring of people who wanted to be included was phenomenal.

Making the virtual conference successful required meticulous and lengthy preparation, both for the technical aspects of such a large enterprise, for the member organizations, and for the writers. As a JBC network touring author, I had the benefit of Council staff working with me on two occasions to refine my presentation to the best it could be within the two minute requirement.

Why two minutes? Because over three days, eight groups of approximately 25 authors, each with substantial resumes and literary accomplishments, presented virtually to a member audience, also virtual, of a few hundred people taking notes. That’s a lot of authors to remember, even with a presenting cap of 2 minutes each (with a ding when your two minutes is up, just like the Academy Awards). For this reason, the JBC also put out a its own virtual (Pdf) book containing the details of each Council touring author’s offering and bio. In order to book an author for an event, the member organizations have to contact the Jewish Book Council.

We authors also were treated to a detailed technical rehearsal involving sound, lighting, when to keep our own video cameras and sound system on and off, an orderly procedure for each presentation, and so on. The technical people and administration throughout were not only supportive but very kind to people of different ages who had varied levels of experience with Zoom techniques. Everyone concerned put in their best effort. That’s why the conference—whose administration only a few months earlier could have conveniently canceled the event, was so successful that it is considering the possibility of going global next year. Wow!

And I think every single one of us who participated in making the conference successful, both for the organization and personally, feels very, very proud. Who’s going to let a virus, one that will probably be around for a long time, get us down? Of course, “broadcasting” from my own dining room table, with the technical assistance of my daughter, I didn’t have to wear a mask. But you can bet your bottom dollar I do and will wear one whenever it’s essential for me to leave the house (where I have mainly been sitting right beside my similarly housebound computer since the beginning of March). I want to be in good health to participate in next year’s conference.

Thank you once again to those who made it possible for me, mainly Miri, Suzanne, Naomi, and Jake—the personnel with whom I interacted, as well as all the writers who were in my presenting “cohort.”

Now we need some virtual bookings.