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one year later

03/11/2021 08:22:09 AM

Mar11

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

I first began live-streaming Friday evening services from my living room on March 13, 2020. I had never done so before, but when our host building decided on the prior day not to hold Friday evening services that following evening, I had no choice. I felt deep down that despite how little I knew about live-streaming or about COVID at that time, people will need stability and continuity in their lives, to find the familiar amidst the unfamiliar to grasp hold of, with no warning or preparation. I quickly searched and found useful articles on-line that provided both technical information as well as helpful tips. I tried a brief broadcast to make sure that everything worked properly, which it did, and then spent all of Friday worrying about the what-ifs. I adjusted the angle of the monitor so that the built-in camera would not cut off the top of my head. I did not own special lighting, a green screen, nor a USB microphone at the time, so I winged it as best as I could. I set up a small table to hold the Shabbat candlesticks and the Kiddush cup. I strategically placed my brass music stand to hold my prayer book. As the time crept closer and closer, trepidation took over as the what-ifs were the only thing on my mind. I took a deep breath, clicked the right tabs, and presto: my first live stream.

A funny moment occurred. As I went through the parts of the service, people were streaming hearts and smiley faces on the screen, which I had never seen before and had no idea this option existed. From the angle I was standing, with the flames of the Shabbat candles to my right (despite everything being reversed on the monitor!), it seemed as though these hearts and smiley faces were streaming upwards out of the candles. For a quick moment, I thought that my tallit was on fire! After the quick panic retreated, I came to see this effect as love pouring out from the silent worshippers on the other side, since live-streaming is one-way. I will never forget what reassurance and uplift all of those emojis did for me that evening.

I decided to share my evening’s remarks by sitting down in front of the monitor, as I thought of the geography of so many synagogues with the clergy up on a bima seemingly one mile away, detached from their congregants. I wanted a closer connection to the people watching, even though I could not see any of them. I could quickly make out their loving comments, but there was no time to scan through that column. For a brief moment, I thought of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and his fireside radio chats, broadcast to all Americans during WWII to offer hope and reassurance. As I sat down, I sort of channeled him and welcomed everyone to my fireside chat.

Over the many weeks, thanks to a Los Angeles video producer that I met while recording a video for the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum, we talked about the quality of my video and the lighting. In the end, he recommended that I purchase a ring light, a USB microphone and a green screen. After all of the equipment arrived and I set it up, he spent one hour of his valuable time working on the best placement for lighting, how to effectively utilize a green screen, and the microphone volume. I will be forever grateful for his generosity of time.

So here we are one year later, never expecting that one year ago I would be saying “one year later” from the exact same place, but it is not exactly the same place. Yes, it is my living room, with the same equipment, but that is all that is the same. We are all permanently changed by this experience. All of us know of someone who has died from COVID-19. All of us know families permanently impacted. We are all changed, but I’d like to think that, to quote the lyrics from the Broadway show “Wicked”, ‘we are changed for the better’. We have had the time to take stock and really, truly learn what matters the most. No matter how bad things seem to be in our personal situations, there are people who are far worse, that being kind to others is a full-time calling, and that hope does spring eternal. I pray that each of us can look in the mirror, and reflect on the past year, and be able to say: “I’ve been changed for the better.”

Wed, April 21 2021 9 Iyyar 5781