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we never really closed

02/04/2021 11:20:38 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

The incredible amount of immediate shifting that teachers had to do as schools quickly closed has been remarkable to behold, as they pivoted to previously unknown and unfamiliar technologies, creating engaging classrooms to continue the education process. Alas in many communities, the failure to provide Wi-Fi infrastructure to underserved neighborhoods and some sort of portable device for every child has demonstrated inequalities in education that demand addressing.

Synagogues, churches and mosques also quickly pivoted to livestreaming, as we too had to take the quick dive and master previously unfamiliar technologies literally overnight, to provide an unbroken array of religious services. As I like to say, and no doubt others have as well, the Tree of Life never closed. We merely changed the delivery system. When it became abundantly clear that in-person services were no longer safe (March 12, 2020), I had to quickly figure out how to livestream. Over time, I acquired a USB microphone more suitable than the built-in microphone in the computer, as well as additional lighting. Through coincidence, I happened to be in contact with a producer in Los Angeles, as I was asked to tape a message. He spent one hour with me looking at the various lighting set-ups in my living room, to create what he thought was the best possible lighting for the viewers, and I am grateful for his generosity of time and talents. I have been live-streaming Friday evening services continuously since March 13, 2020, and began Shabbat morning the following week. We also partner with another synagogue and join their daily morning and evening minyan. Religious services never stopped; they are just being offered in a different way.

Adult education has continued, and we have been holding game nights on Saturday evenings since Shabbat ends early enough to commence the event at 7:00PM. As people hear or read of potentially interesting cultural events, we explore the option of offering them to the congregation, as we would if we were in-person. We have had baby-namings during services, and even had a properly distanced Bar Mitzvah. We have had some funerals and shiva minyanim, celebrated birthdays and anniversaries, and are officially doing so this coming Shabbat as we begin our monthly “Celebration Shabbat”. While we hope that our records are accurate, if your birthday or wedding anniversary occurs during January or February, please contact our office to let us know, and plan on joining us this coming Shabbat, February 6, so that I may offer a special Misheberach to joyously mark this moment in your life.

Alas, for some, because we are not yet in-person, they have determined that they will wait. I can respect that decision if you tried our virtual services, although I certainly would want to hear from you. I too miss the human contact, but I must confess, just seeing congregants virtually, talking, singing and studying with each other brightens my Shabbat. Permit me to share a brief tale: The wealthiest man in the town has always been miserly. No matter the need, he always refused. The town Rebbe was determined, and went to the man’s home. After knocking on the door, the town miser answered, recognized the Rebbe, and said, “I know why you are here, and the answer is no.” The Rebbe saw a magnificent fire burning in the fireplace, and asked, “Might I just sit by the fire to warm up for a few moments?” The man assented and the Rebbe took a seat near the fire, warming his bones. He watched the fire deeply, taking in the entire scene. The Rebbe picked up the poker, and gently nudged one of the burning coals away from the larger pile. Both men watched as the bright red ember slowly turned orange, then yellow, and then seemed to glow no more. The Rebbe looked at the man, expressed his thanks, and went on his way. The next day, the miser went to the Rebbe’s house, handed him a large sack of coins, and went on his way.

The Mishnah teaches us the following: Al Tifrosh Min Ha-Tzibur.  Do not separate yourself from the community. Although our community is meeting virtually, we are still the Tree of Life, and we are still a sacred community committed to each other and to the teachings of God’s Torah. And that will never change. You are warmly invited to join the beautiful fire. I saved you a seat next to me, virtually.   

Sun, February 28 2021 16 Adar 5781