In Featured at HBT, Our Virtual Mishkan, splansky

Temple of Zoom*

Its been a month now since turning Holy Blossom into a virtual congregation. The on-line gatherings will never replace being together in-person. I miss hearing the voices of the congregation at prayer. I miss embracing the Torah Scroll. I miss the intimacy of informal, spontaneous conversations over bagels after services. I miss the free-flowing discussions at one study table or another. I miss the free exchange of ideas at our weekly Senior Leadership table, at our monthly board table. There is a rhythm to face to face interactions that are now clumsy over Zoom. There is nuance in facial expressions that are lost on the screen.

And yet….

Our on-line gatherings are not nothing. They are something. They are not virtual. They are very real. And can even create moments of sacred connection.

I officiated at a Zoom funeral. The sound of that alone sounds just awful. And yet, for the family to deliver their eulogies and be met in their hour of grief by one hundred faces of loved ones was remarkably moving. For friends and relatives — square by square – to offer loving words of condolences was a real comfort for the mourners.

Our Little Blossoms classes on Friday mornings with our youngest members from newborns to toddlers are as delightful as ever on Zoom. More people can participate without having to bundle up and fight through traffic. Three generations of grandparents, parents, and babies can have a weekly reunion filled with music.

Together with Dr. Yoel Abells I met with eighteen congregants, all medical professionals. We provided a safe space for them to speak about the fears and frustrations on the frontlines. There was instant connection, immediate comradery, and confidence in one another. There was prayer for their patients and prayer for their own strength of body and strength of spirit. We concluded by lifting a glass or a teacup and affirming: L’Chayim! To life!

Our virtual seder saw none of the spilled wine or side-line jokes of the in-person family seders we know and love. But more than 700 or perhaps 800 people joined for the rituals and together fulfilled the mitzvah of retelling the story of our people’s exodus from slavery to freedom. Mayor Tory was an honoured guest with a seder plate of his own, held up to the screen for all to see. For the meal, hundreds gathered in Zoom Dining Rooms. The matches were made randomly. New friendships were forged, and some long-ago connections were reinforced. Most of all, isolation gave way to the power of community. That night, we knew we were a part of something larger beyond our own homes. We reconfirmed that we are a part of a People and players in the unfolding of Jewish history.

Our Yizkor service included a photograph of our sanctuary empty and dark, but aglow with the lights of the Memorial Lights. Many congregants wrote to say how moved they were by the prayers and melodies. It was not at all the same as being together in person, but still uplifting, still transcending.

I dream of the day we can return to our beautiful sanctuary and our magnificent Schwartz/Reisman Atrium. It will be so good to reclaim many of the practices and patterns of congregational life. Some things will change, of course. We will grow from this experience and somethings will inevitably shift. So much is still unpredictable, but one innovation I expect will remain will be our ability to livestream our services and opportunities for learning. In this way, we will continue to extend our reach, share our many strengths, and multiply the lines of connections that bind us together.

Shabbat Shalom.


*I thank my colleague, Rabbi Lisa Grushcow from our sister congregation, Temple Emanu-El of Montreal for this title. It was too good not to borrow.

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  • MartySteinhouse

    Rabbi I can’t thank you and all of the Clergy enough for this amazing transformation. Who would have thought that prayer in a virtual setting can be so meaningful. The HBT clergy have made each service better than the last with your obvious love and caring for the congregation and by explaining the T’filot and their significance, you have allowed us the congregants to gain further insight into our davening allowing us to delve deeper into our souls and feel God’s presence. As a Cantor myself I know the importance of being able to be a true Shaliach Tzibur a conduit which helps our congregants prayers become elevated to reach God’s ears. Kol Hakavod to all of our wonderful spiritual leaders and I wish you all continue in your caring service with love and good health.

    Cantor Marty Steinhouse proud HBT member.

  • Rosemarie Berman

    Your comments are always a pleasure to read. They resonate with me and I cant express how much I appreciate them – and you.
    Keep well & be safe.

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