There was some discussion about Sophia coming to New York for Rosh Hashanah, but I said I wasn’t in the mood, because when she is here, it requires a big readjustment in my mind, so we ended up being separated during the holidays — again. I was home with my mother during Rosh Hashanah, and was too unorganized to find a temple to go to for services. Luckily, I follow a female rabbi on Twitter of all places, named @RabbiBaum, who is involved with an organization named ourJewishCommunity.org . During the High Holidays this organization video streams Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services from Congregation Beth Adam in Greater Cincinnati . So, for the first time in my life, I (and my mother) participated in Rosh Hashanah services via the Internet! Talk about being geeky with God!
Conservative or certain religious Jews who won’t be thrilled with this concept of a streaming service. It is not exactly “kosher” to be making a video of a live service on Rosh Hashanah or on Shabbat. This temple’s brand of Judaism also wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of Manischevitz. This is a temple serving “Judaism with a Humanistic Perspective,” and the first thing I noticed is that most of the men were without yarmulkes. Over the Torah ark were stain-glass windows, which isn’t unusual in a synagogue, except when one is an image of the Big Bang, signifying the congregation’s adherence to science over Biblical thought.
I’ll let others get involved in the religious arguments. I thought it was a cool and generous gesture on the part of this unorthodox temple, and it brought a bit of Rosh Hashanah into our home when otherwise we would have just ignored the holiday. And that is a mitzvah in itself.
If you are Rabbi Baum and you are reading this post, you might want to skip the next paragraph. No, I changed my mind. You should read it. You might as well know the true story of how we experienced your temples’ unique experiment.
As we all know, whether you go to synagogue or church, there is a social dimension to attending a religious service. There is the connection to God or something bigger in ourselves, but there is also the human contact, which elicits the eternal questions about our fellow congregants, ranging from, “What type of shoes is HE wearing?” to “”She’s pregnant AGAIN?!” Normally, you save all this gossiping until you get back home, or at least into your car. When you are watching a service in a streaming video, the experience is more akin to watching the Oscars on TV, and you feel you have the right to talk about Nicole Kidman’s latest gown.
“No one is wearing yarmulkes in this temple. They must be very reform.” said my mother. “I don’t like it.”
“There’s a guy in the front row wearing a yarmulke.”
“Good for him!”
My mother is not religious at all, but she seems to be stuck in thinking that only those doing things the old-fashioned ways are the “real” ones. The choir began to sing. One of the women in the choir was wearing a sleeveless dress.
“She shouldn’t wear that dress to temple.”
“You don’t show your arms like that on Rosh Hashanah.”
“She’s not wearing a bikini.”
“It’s just disrespectful.”
“She’s in temple singing in a choir, and we are sitting here eating breakfast, and SHE’S disrespectful?”
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, even though we had already finished our real breakfast, we were munching on toast and jam, and drinking coffee as we were at “services.”
“Did you know when I was in Rome…” continued my mother, “…before you go into the Vatican, if you are a woman who is sleeveless, they give you a shawl to cover your arms?”
“I thought you never made it into the Vatican?”
“I heard about it from some other couple on the ship.”
“This temple is not the Vatican in Rome. It is in Cincinnati.”
Eventually, the woman in the choir put on a sweater. Either she was cold or she felt the evil eye of my mother on her from the streaming internet. Whatever it was, it made my mother happy.
The synagogue had two rabbis, Rabbi Barr and Rabbi Baum. Rabbi Baum read from the Torah. In the temple, this is a time when most of the congregation is quiet, listening intently.
“So, this Rabbi Baum…” asked my mother. “Is she single?”
“I don’t know.”
“I thought she was your friend.”
“I follow her on Twitter.”
“So you don’t know if she’s single?”
“Do you know all the details of everyone you talk to on email?”
“Yes. Isn’t that the normal way?”
There were about 330 people following the service. We know that because there was a counter on the video feed. Sometimes the counter went up, and sometimes the counter went down, especially during a lull in the service. This made my mother chuckle.
“Uh-oh, the rabbi better tell a joke,” she said. “We just lost two viewers.”
Thank you Rabbi Baum and Congregation Beth Adam for letting us participate. There were other virtual congregants on Twitter during the service, which was somewhat odd, but added to a sense of a community. I hope my talking about the experience in a true, and somewhat humorous manner, doesn’t take away from the feelings of gratitude. The sermons about the Torah passage were inspiring, and the choir was excellent. It was a innovative and refreshing high-tech religiously geeky experience, and actually made me WANT to attend your service in real life!
For a good year — here’s a repeat of my fake Hassidic tale from August.