A few weeks ago there was an Op-Ed in the New York Times by Tish Harrison Warren, a Times columnist and Anglican priest, saying that churches (and presumably by extension other houses of worship) should drop their online services. She acknowledges that “no longer offering a streaming option will unfortunately mean that those who are homebound or sick will not be able to participate in a service.” But she feels that the benefits of meeting in person, encountering other people in their full humanity, and sitting with other people is worth the cost.
There were many Letters to the Editor disagreeing with this article. I disagree with it as well although I understand the underlying concern. There is something about gathering together in person that simply cannot be replicated online. As some of our congregants said in a discussion after my sermon a couple of weeks ago on Saturday morning, for many of us the kiddush after services is almost as important as the service itself. The humorist Harry Golden used to say that his father was an atheist who went to synagogue every Shabbat. When asked why he went to shul if he was an atheist, he responded “my friend Cohen goes to synagogue to talk to God. I go to synagogue to talk to Cohen.”
I believe that at a minimum, hybrid or streaming worship is here to stay. We will need to find a way to encourage people to come to services in person as often as they can, while making some sort of online option available to those who cannot -- whether that means due to illness or disability, a weakened immune system, or travel. We even have congregants who have moved out of the area but continue to be part of our community because they can participate in services and classes digitally. This is a sea change in how congregations do things and we are still figuring it out but I do not believe this trend can or should be fully rolled back.
Next Thursday night for my “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” class we’ll discuss this in more depth. If this question is of importance to you, please join us.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian