Virtual Egalitarian Iraqi Shabbat Service – An Upside of Social Isolation

This Friday, I’m leading an egalitarian Iraqi Shabbat service, then teaching Iraqi Shabbat songs, in a virtual program on Zoom – sponsored by Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington DC. I actually had plans in the works to offer a class on Iraqi Jewish songs in person at that synagogue, as part of my visit to the East Coast with my band, Iraqis in Pajamas. But with the onset of COVID19, all live events were canceled.

That was that, it seemed, until the coronavirus pandemic was over. But then I got a call from the synagogue, asking if I would do a virtual event. HELL YES. Not only was I happy to find an innovative way of offering this program to the synagogue, but for many years, I have dreamed of creating a virtual Jewish multicultural, all-inclusive, egalitarian community online. I just didn’t have the energy, because I was busy healing holistically from cancer, not to mention caregiving for my mother, who had a traumatic brain injury.

Because of various health considerations over the years, in fact, I barely noticed a change in  lifestyle during lockdown, other than the cancellation of my gigs. Social isolation and chronic health issues go hand in hand, and in some ways, lockdown has made my life a whole lot easier. By way of example, while the only Sephardi synagogues near me are Orthodox, there are egalitarian Sephardi and Mizrahi prayer services going on worldwide – which, suddenly, I can join on Zoom. AWESOME.

That said, Iraqis in Pajamas had made a lot of progress in the months prior to the coronavirus pandemic – culminating in some big gigs, including one replete with a chauffeur and luxury hotel – and everything came to a grinding halt overnight. I was flailing around for about six weeks, unsure what to do next. I was feeling increasingly called to offer up music- and dance-based programs on healing, but I didn’t have clarity on how to manifest them.

Then, as my mother would put it, I turned a corner. Among other catalysts, I received an email from the Tifereth Israel synagogue representative, letting me know that we were going ahead with the Iraqi Shabbat service, which she was calling “Zoom with Khazzoom.” WHAT?! I can’t believe I didn’t come up with that name myself.

Everything fell into place from there. Among other things, I promptly launched the “Zoom with Khazzoom for Joyful Living” program series, through which I have been offering virtual programs since last week – singing, drumming, dancing, prayers, conversations with thought leaders and change makers, and classes on a whole-foods, plant-based diet.

Ironically, being socially isolated has brought the world closer together in so many ways. On that note, no matter where you are in the world, I invite you to join me for this Iraqi Shabbat service, at 6:30 pm Eastern Time in the USA. I have also requested that the synagogue record the service, so that people can watch after-the-fact, for those who live where it will be too late to join live.

About the Author
Loolwa Khazzoom (loolwa.com) founded the band Iraqis in Pajamas (iraqisinpajamas.com), which combines Iraqi Jewish prayers with original punk rock. Her work has been featured in NY Times, CNN, Rolling Stone, and other top media. Her two books, The Flying Camel: Essays on Identity by Women of North African and Middle Eastern Jewish Heritage and Consequence: Beyond Resisting Rape, have been taught at Ivy League schools and universities throughout the USA.
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