It is hard to comprehend that we are coming to the completion of a year, in the Jewish calendar, connecting with our CBI community, via Zoom. The last time we met in person at our synagogue was to celebrate Purim a year ago, and now we are poised to do so again, this Thursday, at 7PM, at your local computer or connecting device.
While it is unfortunate that a number of our households have not been able, or feeling okay, to adopt this means of communication, many of us who have done so have experienced surprising benefits. Apart from the easier commute to activities, as we each find our way to a computer or device, we have discovered other benefits. Indeed, with commute no longer a factor, our community now includes folks in Florida, Wisconsin as well as extended parts of the Bay Area, Southern California, and other locales. Numbers of attendees at services and programs have grown. And as we adapted to seeing ourselves in boxes, after years of encouragement to think outside the box, we discovered how nice it was to see each other, even while respecting those preferring not to be seen.
Ironically, beyond the constrictive boxes are broader presences, with each participant feeling connected as community, up close and personal. Sitting in the sanctuary limits who you see, and where you look, which is not at all the case seeing one another in this electronic format. Seeing your faces, as I do a drash/teaching, is energizing, especially when it appears in your faces that something I am saying is touching you in some way. The added advantage is that anyone preferring not to be seen has that option.
I still remember my surprise coming out of our online Days of Awe services, not that they worked (that didn’t surprise me because we had so many of our core CBI participants from months of Shabbat together, having figured out how to be comfortable and functional on Zoom), but that so many reported feeling strong community and connection, as I personally felt on the facilitative end.
As we come to the anniversary of lockdown, with hopes that, with the vaccine and more immunizations on the way, we are coming closer to meeting again in person, when we can sing out loud (not permitted in religious settings at this time) and without masks, it is instructive to appreciate how well we have done with each other, as community, while in the isolation of our homes. CBI has increased membership in this period, in uniquely providing, valuing, and celebrating community, even when we cannot physically meet.
With Judaism’s infrastructure including rituals and observances for both individual settings and for the community, with each having its unique function, place and strength, those parameters empowered us to access our historic teachings and timeless observances to monitor our own times and try to make sense of the historic conditions we have been living, through the lens of Judaism. Such perspective has been at times comforting and insightful.
More importantly, we have experienced the power of Judaism as community, in accentuating and keeping intact our unique CBI community, regardless of obstacles.
Last year we chose not to attempt an online 2nd night Seder for Passover. We were too new to this Zoom phenomenon, and the thought of attempting to connect all our households with an online Seder seemed overly daunting. This year, it feels right. This year, we have Zoom as part of our community toolbox, and we have the experience of members reaching out to members to assure that all who wanted had Machzors for the Days of Awe, and candles and goodies for online Chanukah, and now for Passover, access to our Haggadah and some Passover treats.
When the day comes for our Pesach Sheni celebration, that day when we can gather again without mask or self-consciousness, with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, we will come to that moment as a community enriched, not only with deep appreciation for having community, and a place to gather to celebrate and observe sacred times and memories, but with knowledge of other ways to connect as community. In addition to physical attendees, our community will have grown to include our many Virtual Members, that have joined from a distance, yet, from this time forward, will always be welcome to participate through the wonders of technology. Ironically, we traditionally have detached from technology on Shabbat and Holy Days, yet now we appreciate it having saved us as community in a time we had to be apart.
Enjoy Purim beginning this Thursday evening! Wear a costume on your top half that you are willing to share on Zoom! And those not allergic to alcohol can this year honor the tradition of drinking to the point of not being able to distinguish between Cursed be Haman and Blessed be Mordecai, without worrying about any possibility of being stopped on the way home!
Happy Purim and continue to enjoy this happy month of Adar!