Creating Community through Zoom

(via Techspot)
(via Techspot)

The last portion of the Torah- זאת הברכה  has the verse which we recite each morning, as part of the morning blessings.  It is  also the first verse we teach our children once they learn to talk: תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה קהילת יעקב

“Moses taught us the Torah, It is an inheritance to the nation of Jacob”  (Devarim 33/2)

The Torah was given to all of us-not to one person and we are a Kehillah- a community.

 From the time of Creation, we hear the words (Beraishit 2:18) לא טוב היות אדם לבדו– it is not good for man to be alone. Togetherness and community have always been part of the human story and, indeed, of the entire Jewish story. Family and community are the basis of Jewish tradition.

During this Covid -19 crisis, the community was faced with a challenge. We could not pray collectively, we could not study together nor could we join together with our families.

But, we as a Kehillah, as a community, cannot be alone. We depend upon one another for strength. So, we became creative. In Israel, synagogue prayers moved to porches, parking lots, any open space where social distancing could be maintained  and still pray as a community.

Our Jewish Kehillah thrives on the study of Torah. We certainly could continue to study alone, but who would be our chavruta-our partner in learning? Who would be our teacher, someone we could turn to ask questions? Thanks to Zoom- the Kehillah was able to quickly create an online community of study and so much more.

During the early morning hours of Thursday March 12th,2020,  Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a lockdown of the country, in an effort to combat the virus. Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies quickly mobilized and by Sunday morning had successfully moved to online teaching via Zoom, for the year long students.

The next challenge was moving the Community Education classes to Zoom. This adult education component at Pardes has been providing learning opportunities for a group of people mostly 60+ who live in Israel, spend time in Israel and look for short term learning opportunities. Not everyone is computer savvy.

An email was sent to all of the participants in the program that the final 2 weeks of the spring semester would be moved online. Without missing a beat, not only did all of the participants join, but we welcomed newcomers, people, eager to learn and not able to leave the house.

After Passover, as the crisis continued, we moved our 5 week Omer series online. We had a record number of participants, from young adults to a 98 year old Professor. 

We discovered that more than the learning, our participants entered the meeting room early to talk to friends- to “see” one another. A new kind of community was created. It may look like Hollywood Squares, as each square comes alive and talks to one another. As much as the learning is an important component, the check in has become equally important as we redefine community during this time.

It looks as though the program will continue at least for Elul and the fall on Zoom. For our Kehillah it works. It does not necessarily work for everyone.

One participant shared: Thank you for the wonderful work you have done keeping the learning going for us old folks during this challenging time of Coronavirus. You have no idea what a blessing it has been for those of us who are in that high risk category and are basically stuck at home. I think I’ve done more learning in these last 3 months since I was last in grad school! In addition to doing your job so well, you have both done a real mitzvah. Thank you! Stay well!

We long for the day that we can once again study in the Beit midrash but in the meantime our Zoom learning and community is what provides us with the feeling of kehillah.

About the Author
Debra Weiner-Solomont is the coordinator of the Pardes Institute Community Education Program. She received her MSW from Wurzweiler School of Social Work. Debra along with her husband and sons came on aliyah from Brookline, MA, 27 years ago.
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