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.