A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 7/31/2020

Two critics recently debated whether the coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting impact on the arts. Mick LaSalle reviews movies for the San Francisco Chronicle and Joshua Kosman is the paper’s classical music critic.

They address the question of whether the havoc of COVID-19 on the cultural landscape represents a “true sea change, or a momentary realignment that only feels monumental because we’re in the middle of it?”

Mick LaSalle thinks the long-term effect of the virus will be minimal. He states that “in about a year, we’ll have a vaccine, and this will be a memory. And then life – and the arts – will return to something close to normal.”

He concedes that if the pandemic lasts for years it will be more impactful but it’s more likely to be like “the 1918 Spanish flu. It killed millions and yet had little or no impact on the arts. Why? Because once it was over, people just wanted to forget about it.”

Joshua Kosman is far more pessimistic. “If, as I gloomily expect, this pandemic mushrooms into a huge, epochal shift in the social, economical and political landscape of the United States, then history teaches us perfectly clearly that there will be mirroring changes in the arts. That’s why we have concepts like ‘post-war literature’ or ‘Restoration theater’ or ‘Socialist realism.’”

Kosman further states, “And that’s true of every art form, in every era. Whether the pandemic lingers or passes away quickly, people in 50 years are going to watch the movies, listen to the music, read the books, from 2020 and say, ‘Oh yeah, that’s corona culture.’”

I’m drawn to this debate because I am asking similar questions about Jewish life. What will be the long-term effect of the coronavirus on synagogues, JCCs, and other American Jewish organizations? In what ways will our prayers, music, and other religious and cultural expressions be influenced in the years to come by the pandemic?

Of course, no one knows at this time the answers to these questions. But it is fair to ask, are you like Mick LaSalle and think the virus’s long-term impact will be minimal? Or is your view more pessimistic like Joshua Kosman?

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