From the Rabbi’s Desk

 From the Rabbi’s Desk August 2020

Rabbi Carla Freedman


By the time you read this, we will have been celebrating Shabbat together via Zoom for more than four full months. Thanks to the technical skills, patience, and perseverance of our “tech team,” Nina Malinak and Robin Kitzmiller, these events have become better and better as time has passed. And that is all the more remarkable since we are all working with home equipment, not the tools that are created to accomplish these specific tasks.

From my end, the goal was originally simple: to create an experience that would bring some comfort to us all, as we are going through this long stretch of isolation. But as we grew familiar with the resources available to us, and the limitations placed upon us, it became clear that there could be another goal: to bring new things to our Shabbat gatherings.

Since most people do not have at home the siddur (prayer book) we use, we were able to obtain the electronic version of that book, so we can see familiar-looking pages on the screen. That gave us the flexibility to move around the prayer book, to use both familiar and some not-so-familiar readings, hopefully to cause us to think about the meaning of the words we are saying.

We have chosen to ask temple members to light Shabbat candles for us from their homes, to add a personal touch to this experience. So for a few minutes early in each Shabbat experience, we visit someone’s home and see candles glowing there but reaching all the way to our own homes…a neat trick, you must admit.

The biggest change we have made is, of course, the music we are using. As you know, I am musically VERY limited. But I am acquainted with lots of music I cannot personally deliver, and so I search YouTube each week for different melodies, presented by very talented people, to broaden our appreciation of the creativity at work in liturgical music today. The result is an extremely eclectic mix, hopefully offering something to suit many tastes. And there’s something of a mystery in it as well, since you can never know in advance what the music will be.

We are, through the wonders of modern technology, able to experience some of the very best people in Jewish liturgical music today, from the major synagogues in New York and from other places, even as far away as Australia. And they, in turn, work with composers and musicians at the top of their game, bringing new meanings to familiar prayers.

Another high point of our Shabbat evenings is the half hour during which people sign in, before the formal part of the evening begins. We greet each other, and though it is not an opportunity for actual schmoozing, it is delightful to see so many friends. It reminds us, during this prolonged period of isolation, that we are still part of a community, that we are not really alone, and that we’re all in this together…separately.

I know that there are still many people who have not “tuned in” to our Shabbat evenings; alas, there is no end in sight for our “out of temple” gatherings, since the virus is surging in our area currently, and premature reopening of venues, including religious facilities, has contributed to that in many places. I hope that folks who have not yet joined us for a Shabbat evening will choose to do so soon, because it will probably be months yet till we can return to our building safely. While it is certainly true that what we are doing via Zoom is not the same as what we have done in temple, it is what we can do now. And “now” has no visible end-date.

Besides, what we are doing now is, apparently, accomplishing even more than we hoped it would: it provides some time and stimulation for reflection; it connects us with our heritage; it introduces us to music which enriches our appreciation of the diversity of the Jewish people; it offers us the opportunity to pray for the health of those dear to us and for so many others; and it allows us to remember those we have lost, in our families and our community itself, in the time-honored fashion of our people.

And we have recently encouraged attendees to make your own little Oneg Shabbat…delight of the Sabbath…at home, directly afterward…with whatever treat brings a smile to your face.

Many people have observed that staying at home, without our usual routines, has made the days indistinguishable from one other. But Friday evenings are different, for us of Beth Israel, SCC…in a good way. And that’s the silver lining to this dark cloud of the coronavirus.


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