Zoom isn’t all bad. For Selichot this coming Saturday night, I am part of a program addressing Reform Jews throughout all of Canada; and 23 hours earlier (6:00 am, my time, gulp!) I am part of a similar effort for Australians (hosted by North Shore Temple Emanuel in Sydney). People need not come to us; we get to go to them, reaching into homes not just locally here and there, but all across the world.
On a humorous note, I confess to wondering whether keeping Selichot twice gives me a pass for Yom Kippur.
More substantively, I continue to marvel at the wonder of virtual community across the miles, a phenomenon everyone has noted, although not always appreciated. Many prominent Christians who are focused on the mass (Catholics) eucharist (Episcopalians) or holy communion (Lutherans) – all the same thing – have denied that God’s presence can be found in virtual communities; they will have to do without it until they can return to church. In the Australian Selichot program, the noted author, columnist, and historian of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass, and I discuss all this theologically; we both value actual community, but agree that, however we define God, God cannot limited by the internet.
Jews have it easier here. We fought the “God is present” battle when the Temple fell and decided God goes into exile with us. When Christianity became empowered as a world religion, it planted churches everywhere, established an elaborate public worship there, and forgot its lowly origins as a faith to be celebrated around ordinary kitchen tables. Jews lost the “world prominence” battle but kept the focus of table and home. Synagogues didn’t actually become centers for prayer until at least the 4th century, maybe even the 6th! So while churches eclipsed Christian homes, the synagogue arose as just one of two sacred foci for Jews, who even now celebrate Shabbat and holidays in our homes (Shabbat and holiday dinners, Passover seder, building a sukkah) as much as in synagogues.
We ought to use Covid times not just to remember all we miss at synagogue but all we have at home. A few months ago, I urged people to join Zoom services from a place in their homes decorated to reflect whatever is sacred to them: a virtual bimah – no Torah ark and scrolls, perhaps, but an aesthetic arrangement of such things as candles, flowers, and pictures of those we love. If you want to see what can be done, check out Rabbi Elyse Goldstein’s very helpful article, illustration, and even a background poster, saying, “May this space be a sanctuary.”
The poster can be ordered : www.alephtechnology.com/shiviti.html
Her article can be referenced: https://reformjudaism.org/blog/how-turn-your-home-sanctuary-high-holidays
The Australia link is: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83127046661
The Canadian program requires registration. See my Facebook page for it.