(JTA) – Next month will mark three years since the Covid outbreak was officially declared a pandemic, which is 30 in Zoom years. For those lucky enough to be spared the worst of the pandemic, it nevertheless changed how they worked, played and socialized. Very few businesses — especially in the nonprofit sector that includes synagogues and other Jewish institutions — didn’t move at least part of their operations online.
“We were living in a world that changed overnight,” Tiffany Shlain, the artist, activist and Emmy-nominated filmmaker told me recently. “On the more technical side, we were forced to live on our screens in a way that made us realize how much better the real thing is. However, this move to online spaces did expand what Jewish learning and organizations we can tap into.”
I spoke to Shlain ahead of the Jewish Digital Summit, which begins next Tuesday. It’s a three-day, fully virtual conference run by 70 Faces Media, the parent company of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the New York Jewish Week and other sites. (Go here to register and for more information.) Shlain will be among the industry leaders helping individuals and organizations working in Jewish spaces to boost their digital expertise.
A pioneer in both realms, Shlain is the founder of The Webby Awards for excellence on the internet. She is also the author of the 2019 bestseller, “24/6: Giving up Screens One Day a Week to Get More Time, Creativity, and Connection,” which calls for a 24-hour “Tech Shabbat” for people glued to their screens
“During Covid, it was a lifesaver,” she said, referring to her family’s experience taking breaks from technology at their home in Northern California. “At a time when it felt like all the days were the same, blurring together, we got a hard stop every week, and a chance to spend time with each other, off screens, in nature, doing things we loved. When we got back online afterward, the internet felt fresh (and we did too). This is still what keeps me balanced in today’s 24/7 world.”
For the times people are plugged in, and want to be better creators and consumers of digital content, I asked Shlain to share her recommendations for various sites, projects and organizations that are getting it right. Who’s succeeded in keeping people connected, or reimagining what ritual and community look like now?
“Now that we are in this new phase of the pandemic, we need to reconsider what works best online and what’s better in person,” she said.
Here are her recommendations for the hybrid future:
The culture site and online community calls itself “Jewish, feminist, and full of chutzpah” and is part of 70 Faces Media.
“If you want to see how to ‘do’ Instagram, check out HeyAlma. It’s always witty, insightful, funny, and ironic — it’s my favorite Jewish Instagram handle. My daughter Odessa, who’s in college, and I are constantly sending each other their posts. I love their spot-on tone. It feels like we’re all in on the same joke, which is exactly what it feels like when you meet another Jew.”
Comedy writer David Adam Javerbaum ran the satiric Twitter account, which had 6.2 million followers before shutting down last November.
“Twitter used to be my preferred social media, although now I am on Instagram much more. One of my favorite Twitter handles of all time was TheTweetOfGod. Once Elon Musk started destroying Twitter, TheTweetOfGod sadly left, but there’s still a record there of all his posts. I highly recommend checking it out for his pure brilliance at taking a concept and using the medium in all its holy glory. The creator (ha!) ran with this concept of God tweeting in so many brilliant directions, even down to the one person he follows. It’s a great example of taking a new format and using all its different constraints for maximum entertainment and engagement.”
An arts and culture non-profit that helps foster experiential Jewish projects and programs, including podcasts, film, multimedia, art projects and holiday events.
“I am a firm believer that arts move society in a way that creates important changes, which is what Reboot is all about. Reboot is a thriving, provocative hotbed of creativity. I love Reboot’s ambitious rethinking of Jewish rituals, their podcasts and newsletter, and now their Reboot Studios, which funds new Jewish media content. I was part of the first cohort when it was very much an experiment and I have collaborated on many projects with people in their network. It’s also been great to see it grow into this amazing community of artists and culture leaders. Covid activated this network both internally and for great public experiences in a whole new way that continues today.”
A national nonprofit that empowers people 21-39 to host Shabbat meals and build community.
“I love the way OneTable brings young Jews together to organize and facilitate Shabbat experiences.They have a great Mad Lib-like questionnaire to help users figure out how they want to experience Shabbat. They also offer DIY tools for hosting and attending Shabbat dinners. I highly recommend exploring their site. We’ve worked together on a couple of films about the value of Shabbat you can see while you’re there. Rethinking Shabbat for the 21st century has been a big focus of my Jewish work, and I love the way OneTable scales this online. We are working on a cool four-week online program for people to try screen-free Shabbats in 2023. Stay tuned.”
Shlain’s own newsletter offers a highly curated combination of her own projects, arts events and “things I think you’ll find interesting.”
“I’ve been writing a monthly newsletter called ‘Breakfast @ Tiffany’s’ for over 25 years. Each month, I share both the project that I’m working on and a selection of books, films, podcasts, art exhibits, events and articles to inform and inspire, make you laugh and think. It always features a lot of Jewish work. I love sharing my perspective on what’s going on in the world through my lens as a Jew, mother, wife and human on this planet. It’s also my laboratory as I am both sharing what I think is best online and in the real world. So many organizations focus primarily on social media posts but as we repeatedly see, the social media company can change the algorithm and what we see with a switch of a business plan or CEO. No one gets between me and my community in my newsletter. It’s a straight connection, and I love the call-and-response feedback I get from readers who have been with me a long time and new ones. It’s a way to ensure you can communicate with your audience with no one else in control of who sees what.”
The conversational chatbot uses artificial intelligence to create everything from poems and cover letters to film scripts and term papers.
Chat GPT is basically a digital golem. People may have read about it but everyone should try it to get an experience of its capabilities. Could this be the ultimate Jewish online experience — where it’s all about knowing how to ask questions and decipher and wrestle with the truth?
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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