Re­form shuls wel­come vir­tual con­gre­gants

The Jewish Chronicle - - Community - BY JESSICA ELGOT ‘We’ve had peo­ple watch­ing in Nova Scotia’

CON­GRE­GANTS UN­ABLE to get to synagogue are singing the praises of the Re­form com­mu­ni­ties which are stream­ing Shab­bat and High Holy-Day ser­vices on­line.

Finch­ley, Glas­gow, Alyth in Gold­ers Green and Sha’arei Tsedek in Whet- stone are the Re­form con­gre­ga­tions lead­ing the way and West Lon­don Synagogue plans to join them.

Glas­gow Re­form streams au­dio from its ser­vices ev­ery Shab­bat. Con­gre­gant Jim Jarvie put the tech­nol­ogy in place af­ter equip­ment was do­nated by an­other mem­ber, Martin Morris.

“We set it up be­cause a few con­gre- gants were very ill and house­bound,” Mr Jarvie ex­plained. “Any­one can log into it.

“Now I get so many let­ters and emails, some from peo­ple in Is­rael, orig­i­nally from Glas­gow, who want to keep in touch. It’s very touch­ing. We’ve had peo­ple log in from the US and South Amer­ica. There’s such a va­ri­ety.

“There’s around 10 at any one time, with the most on the High Holy-Days, but peo­ple go off and on dur­ing the ser­vice. There’s also a li­brary of some past ser­vices.”

Re­strict­ing the ser­vice to au­dio meant things were “much less com­pli­cated. No one’s re­ally seen it as con­tro­ver­sial, it’s about help­ing peo­ple out.”

Alyth’s Rabbi Mark Gold­smith said 100 peo­ple watched its Yom Kip­pur ser­vice in 2010, five times the num­ber who tuned in the pre­vi­ous year.

“We’ve had peo­ple watch­ing from as far away as Nova Scotia. We only stream High Holy-Day ser­vices at present. We think it’s too much to ask some­one to op­er­ate it ev­ery Shab­bat.

“I’ve spo­ken to peo­ple who say it has rekin­dled their in­ter­est in Ju­daism. We had a mem­ber who was very ill who passed away last year. He told me how he had par­tic­i­pated in the whole ser­vice, with his book propped on his lap, singing and read­ing along.

“We had an­other el­derly mem­ber who was in charge of mak­ing Rosh Hashanah l unch last year, but was so cap­ti­vated watch­ing on­line that he for­got to do any cook­ing.”

Rabbi Gold­smith saw the pro­vi­sion as “a mitz­vah. It’s a way of reach­ing out to peo­ple.”

In 18 months, more than 300 peo­ple have logged into the Finch­ley Re­form au­dio-vis­ual stream­ing, cov­er­ing Fri­day and Satur­day ser­vices. Num­bers in­crease if there is a bar­mitz­vah.

With the launch of a new web­site, the fa­cil­ity is now open to the pub­lic, hav­ing pre­vi­ously been pass­word pro­tected for mem­bers.

The stream­ing is co-or­di­nated by Laura To­bias, who said it ben­e­fited “those who have no choice — whether dis­tant from a synagogue, or due to ill­ness. We have pro­vided them with an op­por­tu­nity to be with a com­mu­nity.

“Some mem­bers use it when they are trav­el­ling and it’s great for sim­chahs when fam­ily or friends can’t travel.”

At West Lon­don, the sys­tem is be­ing tested with the aim of go­ing live in Septem­ber.

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Si­mon My­ers said it would be use­ful to have the ex­pe­ri­ence of stream­ing Shab­bat ser­vices be­fore Yom Kip­pur, when he an­tic­i­pated high de­mand.

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