Zoom shul-goers: a field guide

Zoom shul (courtesy)

Many shuls struggled with the question of whether to stream High Holiday services or use the interactive approach of a Zoom session in which members of the “kahal” (congregation) are visible.

To support Zoom davening for the festivals, the company created an option to keep sessions from timing-out during the holiday.  This was good enough for many of those who leave lights on for Shabbat, or grew up doing “A Montrealer Seder” with the Stanley Cup game left on in another room.

For the interactive approach, experts warn organizers about all the things that could go wrong with many people visible and some being unmuted at times.  The interactive approach doesn’t optimize for decorum, but it does optimize for experiencing the holiday with your community.  For many, that was the key goal.

Zoom davening is also great for people watching.  You will find the following types of Zoom shul-goers:

Olim: they are in front of an obviously Israeli scene, yet the sun doesn’t set.

Eliayahu HaNavi: ghostly images that appear and disappear, one limb at a time.  Will we see Eliyahu this way during the Seder?

Headless: when they stand up, their heads are off-camera.

Shlumps (or is it Zionism?): they appear in casual clothes but would never do so in shul.  But maybe they are dreaming of being in Israel, where such attire is normal.

Sitters: people who remain sitting, when in normal times they would stand at appropriate points in a service.  This tells us how important it is to see the opening of the Ark and see others standing.

Anonymous: if we wore name tags in shul, would yours read “Owner”?  Such glitches with Zoom screen names underscore the importance of name tags for community-building.  We should bring the tradition of name tags back with us when “everything is back to norbal” after the pandemic.

Unmuted dogs: what dogs do during blowing of the shofar is left as an exercise for the reader.

Writers: those who smile time after time and make note of what happened.  What could be so remarkable in the service as to drive someone to do so?

Zoom services don’t feel like the real experience.  But one of the lessons that observant Jews learn from the constraints of religion is that constraints are also a prod to creativity.  They push you to accomplish important things despite major restrictions.  The constraints of Zoom shul are a blessing because they teach you resilience through innovation.  This is particularly important in an era in which there are other pressures to respond to adversity with grievance.

L’Shana HaBa’ah BaKahal.

About the Author
Michael Segal is a neurologist and neuroscientist in the United States.
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