Steve Zipperstein: The Silver Lining in the Covid Cloud

The pandemic arrived slowly. We heard about it in January. No one thought it posed a threat. “Very low risk for North America,” we were told.

I went to Europe during the third week of February for a conference, where I hugged and kissed many old friends who had traveled there from across the globe. None of us felt any danger.

Less three weeks later we were in full shutdown mode. UCLA, where I teach, closed on March 4. The pandemic had overtaken us with stunning speed and ferocity. Trying to grasp the true impact was difficult and confusing.

I watched my wife Diane suddenly consumed with nonstop Zoom meetings, dealing with the impact of the pandemic on CBB. I wondered if we would be able to see our children and our grandchildren. I worried about my parents, who live at Valle Verde. I missed seeing our many friends. I began feeling depressed.

But a few days into the shutdown Rabbi Brenner called and asked if I would be willing to host some sort of occasional Zoom “lunch and learn” session for the congregation. Rabbi Brenner invited me to propose some ideas. Off the top of my head I said, “how about a course on Israeli history and Israeli current eventsIsrael Then and Now.Rabbi Brenner agreed. I felt energized.

The first session was Monday, March 23. The sessions have continued every Monday since then. The last session will be this Monday, July 27. For the past month we have had guest speakers from Israel, Jordan and Dubai. Zoom, it turns out, has been an amazing way to bring people from the Middle East directly into our homes.

For me, Zooming every Monday at lunch with CBB members has meant much more than just teaching a class. The weekly sessions have allowed me to “meet” people in the congregation I never knew before the pandemic. People who, for whatever reason, I never said hello to or never met in person at CBB. But now I know them all, such wonderful people, and I feel connected and close to everyone in ways I could never have imagined.

The same is true of our weekly “Daf Yomi” class on Sunday evenings with Rabbi Cohen and now Rabbi Brenner. I knew very few of the people who attend those classes, but now, thanks again to Zoom, I have made connections to a whole new group of people, all of whom are brilliant and interesting.

And of course Friday night services on Zoom have become surprisingly intimate and meaningful, offering a beautiful new way to welcome the Shabbat every week.

None of this would have happened, ironically, but for the pandemic and the forced switch to “Zoomlife.” While the pandemic has been so awful – in so many ways, for so many people – for me it has offered a unique chance to connect much more closely with our wonderful CBB community. For that I will be forever grateful.

When this is over, our congregation will emerge stronger, more cohesive, and more united than ever. I admire everyone in our congregation for fighting through the enforced isolation to stay connected with and help each other. That, for me, is the silver lining in the dark cloud of Covid-19.

Steve Zipperstein teaches at UCLA, UC Santa Barbara and Tel Aviv University. He is the author of Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Trials of Palestine (Routledge 2020).