Our Living Room Virtual Synagogue

We’re now 6 months into COVID-19 and we’ve found ways to cope and manage with the numerous restrictions in place. This week marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year, known as Rosh Hashanah and it’s a holiday unlike we’ve ever experienced. For many in Jewish communities around the world this is a time to gather with our families with large groups for dinner and at synagogue. A large synagogue may have over 1000 people in the same building, a definite no-no during the social distancing required during a pandemic. Creative thinking and problem solving has resulted in numerous synagogues developing ways to bring the service into members homes, in the form of a virtual synagogue experience. With the right technology in place, you can experience synagogue, or any other experience in such a way that it feels like you are there.

Before the pandemic began, our synagogue was fortunate to have a bequest in a member’s will leaving sufficient funds to purchase professional video streaming equipment. Over the past 6 months, the equipment was installed and after fixing a few glitches, it’s been working extremely well. Now during services, one may watch the proceedings from a smart phone, tablet or computer. As the holidays approached, I thought about how I could set up a place in our home so that we could experience Rosh Hashanah as close to what we have had being there in person.

The service is all about seeing and hearing what is going on. This meant that watching on a small screen wouldn’t be ideal. These formed the primary components of our Rosh Hashanah virtual experience:

  • set up in our living room
  • 42 inch TV
  • desktop computer connected to TV
  • speakers connected to computer
with a lifesize picture, it was almost like being there

On the 2 mornings of Rosh Hashanah, the 4 of us gathered in our living room in front of the TV that was running the service. The sound was exactly as we hear it in the synagogue, sharp and clear with all of the emotion of the service coming through. The picture was crystal clear, the result of a high quality video streaming system. You could even see the text on the pages when of the prayer book was shown!

a high resolution video stream means you can almost read the prayer book on the screen

So after 2 days of our living room virtual synagogue, was it a positive experience? Our family definitely says yes. Of course, it can’t be like the real thing:

  • The ambiance of synagogue
  • Seeing our friends and family in person
  • Being part of a community experience

But on the positive side, there were some unexpected benefits:

  • We could wear anything we wanted, ie comfy clothes – the reality is you can dress up as much as you want (or not) at home
  • Very comfortable sitting on our couch
  • Lots of leg room with no one kicking your seat from behind
  • Don’t need to spend time driving and parking
  • While the weather was clear and sunny, on a rainy day we wouldn’t have had to deal with the rain and dampness

This pandemic of COVID-19 has been a challenge in so many ways, but it’s also been an opportunity to try new ones of doing things. Not everything works, but we found that our virtual synagogue experience was still meaningful. Of course, we look forward to the day that we are able to return in person but there may be others who due to physical incapacity are not able to go back. A virtual religious service opens up an opportunity to accessibility for all.


Make Your Old Computer New Again

My late grandmother Betty, known to all of us as Nanny, had an eye for art and design. Many years ago, Nanny came across a tarnished jug in a second hand shop. Her intuition told her that this was more than what it looked like on the surface. She brought it home and gave it a super polishing. This transformed the jug into a beautiful piece of art, that now sits in a prominent position in my parents’ living room.

The always stylish and well dressed Betty Richler on the left; her polished work of art on the right, in its current home in my parents’ living room

You may have your own tarnished jug in the form of an older computer. Most computers purchased in the past 10 or so years may still have lots of life left in them. All they need is for you to “polish” and fix them up appropriately. Most importantly at this time of COVID-19, your older computer may be a perfect tool for a health care worker or a student.

The problem with Windows

Do you remember when you got your new computer and it ran so fast? All your programs opened instantly, videos played without skipping and everything just seemed to run smoothly. After a few years, the computer slowed down to a crawl. You would launch your programs and then go make yourself a coffee waiting for everything to open. Eventually you got a new computer and new and fast eventually led to old and slow again. While it’s true that there have been numerous advances in computers in the past decade, a laptop purchased 8 years ago may be more than sufficient for many tasks.

The problem with hard drives

Even if you knew how to make Windows run faster, the weakest link in the chain is still the hard drive. Hard drives were traditionally built with moving parts, and therefore were the slowest part of the computer. Eventually newer hard drives, called Solid State Drives (known as SSD) came out. These do not have any moving parts and are much faster than typical older hard drives.

Can I fix Windows and my hard drive?

What if you could make Windows work the way it did when you first got your computer and make your hard drive run like an SSD? Guess what? You can do this! Here is the method to “polish the tarnish” from your old computer:

  1. Reset your computer to its factory settings
  2. Upgrade to Windows 10 if you haven’t already done so.
  3. Replace the hard drive with an SSD.

The first two steps are relatively straightforward. In order to replace your hard drive, you’ll need the following:

Once the hard drive is copied over, you need to open the case of your desktop or laptop and replace the hard drive with the new SSD. When the computer starts up with a fresh install of Windows and a new SSD, it will run as fast or faster than it did when it was new.

What good is an older computer when I have a new one that is working well?

During this COVID-19 pandemic, there are many people who need computers to work remotely. Schools are closed everywhere and many households don’t have enough computers so that the kids can have a dedicated computer for school. A close relative of mine works in health care and will now be able to work remotely because I was able to fully reset and clean up an old computer that will now be re-purposed for work.

  • Your older computer may allow a student to finish their year and graduate
  • Your older computer may enable a social worker to work on their critical caseload from the safety of home

Besides social distancing, there are many ways we can help out during this COVID-19 pandemic. They say one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. That old computer in your basement that you haven’t touched in 5 years may be the perfect solution.

If you have a computer that you think might be able to be fixed up, let me know. I can help you determine if it can be upgraded and have its hard drive changed. If we all keep our eyes out for treasures like Nanny did with that jug so many years ago, we’ll find that with a bit of elbow grease and polish, we’ll have some treasures that can make a real difference to others in this crazy world.

Stay safe and keep your distance!


How to log in to student school wifi for York Region (YRDSB)

My daughter started in grade 9 at Westmount Collegiate Institute in Thornhill in September 2019. Trying to find the right information to connect to school wifi proved to be quite difficult. There is nothing online that tells you how, or if it’s there they’ve hidden it really well. My son has been in the York Region school system for a few years and must have somehow figured out how to connect as his Chromebook connects. We ended up going to the school with both Chromebooks and I checked the settings of the one that does connect and entered the right information and it worked.

The directions below are for a Chromebook but should work for any Windows or Mac too. The field names may be different.

To save others the same trouble we went through, here is what you need to fill out on the wifi settings.

  • First, make sure to connect to the YRDSB-S wifi network.
  • Choose EAP security, EAP method PEAP.
  • You may be able to choose automatic for EAP Phase 2 authentication but I saw that it used MSCHAPv2 so selected that.
  • Do not check for Server CA certificate
  • Identity is your 9 digit student number
  • Password you should already have for Google Classroom

Click Connect and you should be good to go.