Whilst synagogues have closed their buildings. Our communities are very much open. In some ways more open and more responsive than ever.
Their programme has changed as the leadership teams work with communal volunteers to help the sick, the elderly, the isolated and the isolating. Not with pastoral visits but with shopping services, arranging medicine drops, with phonecalls, with online pastoral services and more. Online they offer content but also look for people to play chess, bridge, scrabble and other activities. Social distancing or physical distancing has created new ways of interacting.
Online worldwide synagogue services are being streamed. For some it is familiar as they have already streamed shabbat services for many years. For others it is totally new. The possibilities differ from an Orthodox service now streaming services 3 times a day but not doing so much on Shabbat to a Reform service on shabbat. But beyond services so much else is being streamed. Torah Study. Healing services. Hespeth. Shivahs. Even bedtime stories from your rabbi.
Over recent days I have joined in communities across the spectrum and I am amazed at what they are offering. I have davened mincha with Rabbi Daniel Epstein of Cockfosters and North Southgate United. I have learnt from Rabbi Jeremy Gordon of New London Synagogue. I have studied with Rabbinic Seminaries in the USA.
Last Shabbat I started with a livestream from a shul in Israel, then watched the Kabbalat Shabbat service live from Finchley Reform. On shabbat morning and during the day I watched services in the UK but also from across the USA.
Our communities are not closed they are being creative and within their own traditions and how they can work within the halacha as they see it they are creating vibrant Judaism online. Pray, Chat, Study, Song and Stories.
The strength and comfort we take from this can make this moment and the difficulties we all face an opportunity to support and be supported physically, but also with nourishment for the soul too
- Andrew Gilbert is Co-Lead of the London Jewish Forum