Please watch your email inbox throughout this week for updates on our plans to begin hybrid Shabbat morning services. We are hoping to have our first such service this coming Shabbat morning but there is a lot to be done between now and then to make this happen.
A “hybrid” service -- or to use another term which is becoming popular, a “multi-access” service -- means that it’s possible to fully participate either in person in the Sanctuary or from home on Zoom. In order for this to happen, the “Roomers” (those in the Sanctuary) need to be able to see and hear the “Zoomers” as well as vice-versa. This is more complicated than a service which is simply livestreamed, meaning that only those who are in the Sanctuary can participate actively but others can watch and listen remotely.
We recently finished installing an upgraded wi-fi network in both the Sanctuary and the Chapel to provide the necessary bandwidth for hybrid services but we are still working on cameras, microphones, and monitors for the service. We are also still finalizing protocols both as to how the service will be conducted and for things like masks, social distancing, and other COVID protections. A number of people have been working hard on all of these things for some time and continue to do so.
There was an interesting article in yesterday’s Washington Post about Catholics in our area deciding whether or not they are ready to come back to church services in person. I of course understand that there are significant differences between the Catholic approach to this question and ours, since Mass and Communion are the most significant parts of the Catholic service. While one can certainly watch a priest celebrate Mass remotely, there is no way to actually partake of Communion unless you are present in the Church. There is nothing analogous to this in Judaism and of course we consider ten people on Zoom to be a minyan. We are still not reading from the Torah scroll since that requires a minyan of ten physically present in the same place, but we will begin doing this if during our hybrid services we have ten adult Jews in the Sanctuary.
With all due respect to the importance of attending Mass in person for the Catholic church, there was one line in the article which I found really disturbing. The DC-area Catholic bishops issued a statement reinstituting the obligation to attend Mass in-person as of June 26, with an exemption for those who are confined to their homes or a medical facility and wrote that “(o)ne should consult his or her local pastor if questions arise about the obligation to attend Mass.” While I am happy to discuss with any congregant the question of whether or not they should attend services in person, it seems to me that this is a question not for a rabbi or pastor but rather for the congregant in consultation with his or her physician. For this reason I will never try to convince someone to come to services in person if they feel that they aren’t ready. The process of reentry or as I called it a few weeks ago “coming out of the cave” is very individual and people need to be given the space to figure this out for themselves without being judged negatively by others.
As always, if you need to talk or I can do anything for you, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via phone at 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office as at the moment I continue to work mostly from home, although having been vaccinated I am available for in-person meetings in my synagogue office by request.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian