I would like to share some thoughts I wrote for this week’s Australian Jewish News.
Many Shules have closed but the show must go on. To state that these are unprecedented times is an understatement. I have been watching messages all week on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram from colleagues across the globe telling of the sad but responsible duty to cease physical services and activities across our Shules.
It has been an extremely difficult decision which I myself experienced but one which is calmed by the knowledge that these choices will save lives. This is the greatest Mitzvah that any of us can do.
The fascinating thing is that while it was the modern world which allowed the virus to spread across nations, with air travel being part of our daily lives, it is also the modern world which will keep us connected. Many industries are going online, people are working from home, virtual meetings are the norm and technology is keeping things moving.
But how does technology assist us in the religious world? Are we able to maintain and possibly even strengthen our connection to a Shule or community and God during times of lockdown, quarantine and social distancing? There are many in the community for whom the Shule is a second home. It is a place of spirituality, connectedness and also provides a strong social aspect. It was heartbreaking to watch some of my Shule members with tears streaming down their cheeks when it was announced the doors would be temporarily shut. I don’t believe anything can replace the human connection, meeting with others in the flesh, or praying together under the same roof.
However, this is an opportunity to tap into the resources and abilities that we have at this time. Unfortunately, and it must be stated, there are many in the older demographic who may not know how to operate the various devices or join on the various platforms. They must not be forgotten! Perhaps phone calls should be made to keep in touch and each family needs to ensure their relatives are in constant communication.
Like anything in life, it is the challenges that spark innovation. This current world crisis is no different. I am already seeing exciting innovation in other industries and rabbis and Shule are no different. Virtual minyanim are now being spread all over the world. Whilst one cannot recite certain prayers as we would in a physical minyan, it keeps the connection and spirit of praying together alive. Virtual Musical Kabbalat Shabbat services, Havdallah services are spreading like wildfire! It is marvellous to witness how so many are rising to the call of the hour. I cannot remember a time in history when so much Torah study and so many Torah classes are being offered across the globe.
I am excited to see what further innovation arises and I myself am constantly brainstorming ways and means to keep people “plugged in”. There is of course an entire other dimension to this in regards to the education of our children. With schools closing on a daily basis, there is an opportunity to assist parents to keep children occupied and engaged. Sure the schools themselves are working at a rapid pace to move the education online but there is a place for informal education that can be provided by shules. At South Caulfield Shule where I serve, we have started an entire YouTube channel to bring content engaging in this space. There is a limitless potential and it is up to us to utilise the resources and options at our disposal.
There is one final point to mention. When the virus crisis ends, may it be soon, I believe we will be in a new age of connection. The next few months will bring with it another dimension in relation to how people will be able to connect with their rabbi, Shule and community. People will want more of this and we should continue to offer it.
However, we must once again bring people together in person. The human bond is like no other and the day when we will sing, pray, celebrate, hand in hand, must return. We won’t allow this virus to break our spirit and I look forward to the day when I see the seats in my Shule filled once again, hearing all those present singing the melodies of our beautiful prayers!