In many places, mostly prematurely in my opinion, people are talking about “opening up” America again. We don’t need to get into that debate here, but I do think we can begin to speculate on what the new normal is going to look like after COVID-19 is relegated to the annals of history, whenever that may be. For sure, the look, feel and function of American Judaism is going to be different. Here are some of my observations about some of the adaptations we have been making during the pandemic and why they probably will stay with us into the future.
First and foremost, increased online communication. We were already developing this area but several populations within the congregation were either techno-phobic or just psychologically resistant. That has changed. My sense is we can now reach 80% or more of our congregation online anytime in a number of platforms.
Second, Zoom is the new room at the synagogue. While a number of people are not going on Facebook, just about everybody online is going on Zoom. The more we use it, the better we get at it both in terms of production and access.
Third, watching services online. Everybody is by definition in the first row. At synagogue, most of us like to sit somewhere between the middle and the back of the worship space. No more. We are all occupying Seat A-1 for every event.
Fourth, remember all those discussions from twenty years ago about dress code and synagogue. Forgetaboutit! Online Judaism is totally informal. Yes, I put a tallit on to lead services, but I have not worn a pair of gray slacks for months.
Fifth, cancelling programs or school due to bad weather is a thing of the past. Everything can be online at any time so long as there isn’t a power blackout.
Sixth, we can increase our offerings, as anyone can address us online from anywhere without travelling.
Seventh, recorded services. For several years, people have been asking for earlier services. Well, Friday night Zoom services now start at 6:00 p.m. We probably could continue that forever even once we have “real” services back in our building.
Eight, increased engagement. Remember all those times you sort of wanted to go to services but just couldn’t get it together or were in Florida or were running late. No more. Services are available 24/7. Go click and pray. In fact, I believe synagogue engagement has statistically increased since the lockdown began.
Ninth, synagogue surfing. I know I have wanted to see how other congregations run their services but could not because I had to be on my pulpit. No more. We can go and visit as we please. We can also learn new ideas to improve or just tweak what we normally do.
Tenth, pastoral care. It does not matter if you are ambulatory or not, you can have the benefit of an online meeting with clergy. However, always “book it.” Random meetings rarely work.
Finally, monetizing online religious life. We still need your support. Over the years, many people have come to expect everything online as free. This will not work. Commitment to a congregation and its ideals and practices must prevail as the number one reason for continued financial support. Again, we are reaching more people than ever in ever significant ways. So please, help us help you, and continue to be your generous selves.
One day, we will meet again in our building. At that point it will be part of a bigger conversation and a broader band of engaged generations. The 21st century has arrived courtesy of COVID-19. Welcome to the Zoom Generation of American Jews.
Shabbat Shalom and see you online.
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.