Dear WJC Family,
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created a need for the WJC community to continue to adapt to serve the spiritual needs of our community. As we wrote last week, we are exploring how we might safely begin gathering together 10 adults in person for prayer, which New York State has now permitted. Today, we want to share with you another way we hope to meet the spiritual needs of our community while adjusting to the environment in which we find ourselves—live streaming Shabbat and holiday services.
With our building closed we have provided virtual weekday minyan and pre- and post-Shabbat and Holiday services online. Passover and Shavuot were more challenging with multiple days of Yom Tov and no setting for services like Yizkor and Hallel on the holidays themselves. While these virtual observances are worthwhile and meaningful for many in our community, we recognize that many people miss the opportunity for observances on the actual days of Shabbat and holidays.
The closure of our building has proceeded far longer than most people expected. Continued restrictions on large gatherings and health concerns will likely continue to impact synagogue attendance for the foreseeable future including the High Holidays. Even after we are able to open, many of you have expressed that you are likely to continue to avoid large gatherings. We understand the need for this level of caution. You are all precious members of our WJC family and we want to make sure we are serving your spiritual and communal needs as safely as we can in this difficult time.
In light of these factors and after extensive discussion, at a meeting on Sunday, May 24, the Spiritual Life Committee unanimously decided to allow the streaming of services on Shabbat and Yom Tov during the period of this pandemic under a strict set of parameters, which will allow congregants to participate without violating the rules of Shabbat. This decision comes after months of serious discussion about the aspects of Jewish law involved, including a recent ruling of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement, the possible long-term impacts of this choice for the synagogue and the needs of our community.
Though the Conservative Movement has now allowed streaming of services on Shabbat, it is up to each individual synagogue and rabbi to decide whether and how to do so in a way that is true to the spiritual needs and halachic approach of that community. WJC has always prided itself on serious engagement with halacha while being sensitive to and providing an outlet for the different modes of engagement and levels of religious observance of our members. We want to meet the needs of our entire community by providing streaming of services for those who would like to participate in that way while also continuing to provide the alternate, pre- and post- Shabbat and Yom Tov options for those who choose not to participate virtually.
One of the major challenges to streaming services is doing so in a way that the end-user (you) can log in before Shabbat or on a timer so that you are able to join and participate without actually touching your computer on Shabbat. This requires using the right platform and having the right technology in place at the synagogue. We are not sure when this technology will be in place, but we expect that it will be this month. The timing of Shabbat streaming is on a separate timeline from the question of having 10 adults together in-person for a physical minyan and each will begin when all necessary measures are in-place. Ideally, we will have both ready to go in the near future. Please pay attention to the regular Shabbat messages for details on which Saturday morning we are starting and the best practices for logging in without violating the rules of Shabbat.
Please bear in mind that our plan is to present a simple stream of the service that is going on in the shul. It is not intended to change our services into a production or impressive Shabbat show. It will be a reflection of who we are at WJC—a simple stream of our regular service with some adjustments for the medium and the situation. For example, the D’var Torah/Sermon will continue to be shared at the Ta’am Shabbat Zoom service and by video before Shabbat, not as part of the Saturday morning service.
We know that this is not the ideal way to experience Shabbat and long for the time that we can be together in our building once more. Until then however, we are committed to providing this alternative. These summer months will also give us an opportunity to experiment with the services so that we can provide the most meaningful experience possible whatever the state of things in September for the High Holidays. This will be a work in progress and we appreciate your feedback as we start this practice.
For those of you who are interested, the current proposal for our service streaming as passed by the Spiritual Life committee is included below. If you have additional questions and/or suggestions regarding the streaming of services, please reach out by email and we will arrange a time to talk. During these difficult times we are also here for you for spiritual support and counseling.
With blessings for health and spiritual connection,