Barry Kanarek is the cantor at the Nanuet Hebrew Center in New City, and he is the director of adult Jewish education at the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County.
He also has become a one-person self-trained IT help line.
“Like everyone else, we’ve been moving our classes online to Zoom over the last week,” he said. Those classes are the federation’s Melton and Midreshet programs; many of its students are elderly, some are not native English speakers, and many are far more comfortable off- than online.
“One of the challenges we’ve been facing is how to make that technology available to people who have computers that are maybe 10 years old,” Cantor Kanarek said. “And they might have language problems.”
Zoom is a remarkably useful platform, but the way to get into a meeting is through an emailed invitation, and “not only do we sometimes have problems setting up the conference, we had to set up the email,” and explain it to people who are not used to the concept of clicking on a link to enter a new program, he said. “Before I invite them by email, sometimes I call to tell them about the invitation.
“I had ‘office hours’” — by phone, of course — “where people could talk to me before the class to try it out.”
One of Zoom’s many advantages is that it works on a whole range of devices, including not-particularly-smart phones, although then, of course, there’s just a voice, not an image. “But you can hear what’s going on,” and that works for some of his students, Cantor Kanarek said.
“We have one person who signed up for a couple of different classes. The first time, she was only able to listen, not to participate. So I talked her through how to mute and unmute her phone, and how to raise her hand. And then I had her call into a practice session, so she could practice muting and unmuting and talking, so that when the next class happened, she was able to participate fully, although all she had was a telephone.”
It’s not wise to make assumptions about what it is that people know, even when you know who they are, but they bring a range of experiences and background that add greatly to the class, even when it’s remote. “All of the students are above 60, but there is a big age range,” Cantor Kanarek said. “There’s also a big range in terms of their knowledge of technology. I have one student who is a retired computer science professor. There’s another one, an older woman, who is a Holocaust survivor. She is not technologically savvy.
“And there are a couple of language issues,” he added. Even though everyone is fluent in conversational English, “there are some vocabulary words that can be tricky if you’re not a native English speaker. Words like ‘muting,’ for a phone — if English is not your first language, that can be tricky.”
As a result of his experiences, Cantor Kanarek now is offering online classes in how to use Zoom for the federation. To learn how to join them, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Still, he knows that his students are a tough and determined lot, and by the end of the quarantine, Cantor Kanarek likely will be able to leave his newest job, as tech support, behind him. He’ll have taught his students well.