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Reform Judaism hosts ‘powerful, relevant and honest’ Northern Communities’ Shabbat Morning Service

As told by Sarah Glatherine of Sinai Reform Synagogue, Leeds

I’ve been on quite a journey with Zoom this past year. Last year I had only just heard of Zoom and hated being plugged in on Shabbat. By this year I was excited to see the flyer for this service on facebook and in the e-newsletter. Zoom remains something I find easier as an individual than as part of a family, and I have had to compromise – Friday nights we are together as a household, Shabbat mornings and lunch is dominated by the one time in the week I can gather with community. On the other hand, I can get to shul without children having to find their shoes, I can pop the camera off so shyer members of my household are only seen when they want to be, and mute is ever so handy for those times when family interaction gets a bit, well, real. I like the straight forwardness of being able to be present on Shabbat without being plugged in – especially as technology can be glitchy and then I need to decide whether to accept that or fix it. Virtual services are very valuable and still not easy.

Matzah’s paradoxical role as bread of affliction/bread of freedom definitely resonates with Zoom’s swings and roundabouts. I much prefer Zoom to streaming services. It feels like the difference between watching a service performed (even with my tallit on and my siddur out, open, and being used) and counting as part of the minyan. This year I have even had the privilege to still access our virtual community from a hospital ward (Kaddish and Kiddush people did see a lot of the ceiling as well as Dasi and I). Having people’s name displayed with their face is wonderful for me. I also have developed a bit of a habit that if I have paper and a pencil next to me I jot down notes or phrases that resonate during the service – something I would never do in person. This is great for food for thought and it really deepens my thinking and learning – especially because Covid/lockdown has affected my concentration so much. It also means that I have something other than a blank page to go on if I want to write something for my synagogue’s newsletter! It’s also amazing to gather remotely without the carbon footprint, time, and financial implications of travel (in Malta? In disparate Northern communities? Let’s be together anyway!). It isn’t perfect. Security remains an issue (as it would in person), and Zoom is data hungry, fussy about wifi, and battery hungry (especially if you leave your camera on), on top of willingness and ability to be plugged in on Shabbat or a Chag. I wouldn’t like to lose people over the digital divide.

I had forgotten and wasn’t expecting to be part of a Yizkor service during the Seventh Day Pesach service. It was big to take time and say kaddish, not just to remember those people whose yahrzeit is was, but who are no longer with us after this year. It took a long time to read out the many, many names from different communities. I am glad that Menorah’s Rabbi Sborovsky had the sensitivity and confidence not to rush, and grateful for the silence for refection before kaddish. My screen became blurry when I looked through my big, hot tears. It was big and it was necessary. This was an emotionally eloquent service whose sermon, delivered by Rabbi Reuven Silverman of Manchester Reform Synagogue, included discussion of survivor guilt and mixed feelings about going back out into the world after lockdown as well, and an unforced gentle link to the symbolism of Pesach, Matzah and Maror amongst other things. It was powerful, relevant and honest, and led with much integrity and humanity. It had become a safe space to both feel and start to process my grief.

There was also much space for joy. The joy of being together with people who want to be together, the joy of realising that we needed to pull up more chairs and increase capacity, the joy of singing with our 3 choirs, 179 screens of people, many leaders (including both lay and rabbinic leadership), at least 4 rabbis on zoom plus those who accessed the service by streaming rather than on zoom. The phrase ‘please rise physically or spiritually’ was also a delight.

Meeting together as Northern Communities was a joy to be able to hear our voices being represented in a multitude of accents (both Northerners and Northerners by choice!). We could have been anywhere; we were absolutely grounded in our geography. Other people are welcome (there was talk of Cornish communities being invited, for example), this is our space that we had made. This is a wonderful (re)introduction to some of the people we will study together with for Tikkul Leyl Shavuot (studying in celebration of being given the Torah Sunday 16th May 2021) and some of the people we will celebrate together with at Northern Chagigah (5th-7th November 2021). It is also one of the things that I hope we don’t lose after we are able to meet together in person.

I am still on a learning curve with zoom, and repeated dipping into (always optional!) break out rooms after kiddush together that were timed by someone else felt a bit dizzying (I am yet to master small talk even in person). I find zoom much more tiring than meeting in real life, and after zoom meetings I sometimes have had to check if my smile has become a rictus grin. Luckily I was spotted by a couple of members of Sinai, who gloriously invited me to a post kiddush virtual meet up, where I got to experience proper conversation and real connection, all whilst finishing cutting Matzah Crack (a very necessary Glatherine Pesach traditional delicacy, according to Ariella). Yes the ‘after party’ took more time, though it made a very satisfying end to the morning and was well worth the effort.

You might like to think that post-Pesach-Pizza is best consumed with Doctor Who reruns and cut-price Kosher l’Pesach fizzy drinks from little Sainsburys left over from Shabbat, I couldn’t possibly comment. Just as at the start of the Pesach, we could eat this (ritual?) food whilst continuing the discussion of whether we are slaves to carbs. It definitely tasted better to me for having enjoyed 1st day and 7th day of Pesach virtual services. Feeling connected to something bigger than me that is both relevant and matters definitely leaves a good taste in my mouth.

You can watch a recording of the service on our Facebook here.

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