Eshkol Nevo is one of Israel’s leading contemporary novelists. His body of work includes Three Floors Up, Neuland, and The Last Interview, which comes out this fall in English. As part of my interview series, The Meaning Creators, I sat down with Eshkol (via Zoom, of course) to talk about creativity and writing during this very difficult period.
What Eshkol told me about his experience—and in particular the decision he made with his partner Orit Gidali with whom he runs the Tel Aviv-based writing school, Sadnaot Habait, to move classes onto Zoom—really struck a chord.
“The minute Israel went into lockdown,” Eshkol says, “we decided to move all our workshops to Zoom. This was not a clearcut decision. We could have just shut down the school. We could have done it, and fire everyone, like many other firms in Israel have done. We had a late night conversation after Netanyahu’s press conference and Orit said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s do it because it’s new. Because we never did this before. Because it’s proactive. It’s not surrendering to reality.’
“Our estimation was that 30-40% of students would refuse and ask for their money back. That’s something we took into consideration. And then Orit developed this special method of teaching online, and taught the other teachers how to do it.
“In the end, out of 200 students only three left the course. The rest remained. Talking about meaning—and here’s my confession: I don’t like teaching on Zoom. There’s no sense of human kindness. There’s no feeling you get of a room, the nuances. You don’t get back from the class like you do when you see them in person.”
I asked Eshkol why, if Zoom creates so much distance, the experience turned out to be so impactful. Here’s what he said:
“But I must say I never felt as meaningful as I have in these two months, because you give a workshop and you see 15 people who are, generally speaking, down, depressed, anxious, and troubled. Pale. They have too much time with their families or too much time alone. They’re about to go crazy and you see it in their faces.
“And then class begins and you give them writing exercises and you give them energy, and slowly, slowly they give you energy back. And amazing enough they become a group. We had a group on Tuesdays which started with one real workshop then switched to Zoom. I don’t know how it happened but they became a real group. Now they’re completely with each other, next week we’re going to do our first physical meeting after two months of lockdown, and we finished every class and they say to each other that was extremely important to them. Maybe we have less fun but you can see how writing—giving people the opportunity to write, giving people the opportunity to be creative, to connect to themselves, to connect to their imagination—you see how meaningful that is to them.”
You can read the interview in full over at TheMeaningCreators.com.