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Zooming into perspective

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On Sunday, we celebrated the Barmitzvah of the son of a close friend. It took place on Zoom, as has been the 2020 way. Although I initially felt saddened that I couldn’t be at the leining and the party, I was quickly drawn into the energy and simcha, and surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it. I somehow felt part of the function and connected to the family, all through the lens of my Macbook Pro.

At the end of the session, which lasted exactly an hour, family and friends were invited to hang around (if they wanted to) and share their wishes and thoughts. The camera whipped around the world from Australia to Israel, over to the United States, popped into Cape Town, headed off to the United Kingdom, before settling back in Glenhazel, Johannesburg.

And it was here, in the neighbourhood, where the most profound words of 2020 were uttered by a “Joburg Jewish mom”. “It’s been a divine Zoom guys!” said “M” of Ridge Road. (I have used “M” to protect Melanie’s real identity). And it was, indeed, a “divine Zoom”.

Earlier in the week, I sat down (on Zoom) to record a podcast with Batya Bricker who is general manager of books and brands at Exclusive Books. I wanted to get a sense how reading habits and styles have changed during the lockdown. What she said was fascinating. She called them “perspective” books, and said that they are what people are engaging with.

I was shocked to hear that Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is on the top-20 list, as well as books like The Choice. Both are Holocaust-focused. What’s interesting to me is that although we can hardly compare a temporary alcohol ban (now over) with Auschwitz, there seems to be a need for people to make peace with and understand the world that we are now living in.

One of the books that Bricker referenced was Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse. It’s a delight, and the kind of book that everyone should own and give to someone they care about. It’s one of those books aimed at readers from 8 to 80, and is a delight of perspective on every page. Perspective, it seems, is all the rage. And everyone’s doing it.

It’s perspective that allows us to adjust our thinking and enjoy a Zoom Barmitzvah, where six months ago, we would have found the concept bizarre. It’s perspective that gives us the permission to appreciate the time spent in lockdown with our family, and to celebrate the return (albeit cautiously) to school, shuls, and life outside the home. It’s perspective that clears up some of the confusion as to what is and what isn’t important.

It’s perspective that allows “M” (Melanie), to say, “that was a divine Zoom”. And if that doesn’t do it, then perhaps this quote from the The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horsemight:

“Is your glass half empty or half full?” asked the mole.

“I think I’m grateful to have a glass,” said the boy.

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