Congregations stay connected

Technology helps meet the challenges of COVID-19 restrictions

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COVID-19 has brought many changes to our daily routines. Because so much of Jewish life involves gathering together in prayer and fellowship, social distancing precautions pose particular challenges to the Jewish community. Local congregations have been working hard to meet those challenges, doing everything they can to maintain provide normalcy, solace and consistency.

Although synagogues have suspended in-person services for the time being, many of them have initiated online programs whose offerings include virtual prayer services, Hebrew school, Torah study, pastoral counseling, and much more.

Rabbi Marc Mandel, of Newport’s Touro Synagogue, commented via email, “These programs…are going great, and…we are fortunate to have this technology available for us to use, to keep our communities strong.”

As COVID-19 precautions began, Rabbi Michael Fel of Providence’s Temple Emanu-El reported having “between 20 and 30 people at the AM and PM [online] meet-ups.”

A more recent report from Judy Mosely, executive director at Providence’s Temple Beth-El, says that the synagogue’s online Shabbat services have hosted more than 80 people at once.

Rabbi Fel said, “the Zoom platform has allowed us to feel connected during this difficult time.”

The sentiment was echoed by Chabad of Barrington’s Rabbi Moshe Laufer, who said by email that one of the greatest rewards of providing online programming comes from “keeping a feeling of connection and bringing hope.” He continued, saying that because of these programs, “Community members are reaching out to each other offering support.”

With Passover fast approaching, congregations are finding ways to adapt to the challenges of celebrating collectively but at a distance. Rabbi Laufer said that Chabad of Barrington is planning an online Passover prep workshop and a “Seder Kit To-Go,” which is expected to contain matzah, grape juice, a comprehensive seder plate and a Haggadah.

Jessica Berndt, office manager at Providence’s Congregation Beth Sholom, remarked via email that “Rabbi [Dolinger] has been posting on YouTube a series of Pesach videos on how to observe during these unusual times.”

We will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.

Synagogues with existing online programming (listed alphabetically):

  • Chabad of Barrington – online Hebrew School, with plans for an online Passover prep workshop and “Seder Kit To-Go.” (JewishBarrington.com)
  • Chabad of West Bay – online courses and resources (rijewishkids.com)
  • Congregation Agudas Achim – online Shabbat services, religious school, discussions (agudasachimma.org)
  • Congregation Beth David – virtual Shabbat, Havdalah, religious school, and more (cbdri.org)
  • Congregation Beth Sholom – virtual Shabbat & classes, plus links to other resources (bethsholom-ri.org)
  • Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Touro Synagogue) – please email Rabbi Marc Mandel for information (tourosynagogue.org)
  • Project Shoresh has online Talmud Study – for information, please email Rabbi Naftali Karp (naftalikarp@gmail.com)
  • Sha’arei Tefilla – for information, please email Rabbi Dovid Schwartz (rds@shaareitefillaprov.org)
  • Temple Beth-El – online services, minyan, religious school (temple-beth-el.org)
  • Temple Emanu-El – Temple Emanu-El TV (TETV), with a variety of online programming scheduled through April 19 (teprov.org)
  • Temple Habonim – streaming Shabbat services (templehabonim.org)
  • Temple Shalom – virtual Shabbat services (templeshalomrhodeisland.org)
  • Temple Sinai – online services, Torah study, religious school (templesinairi.org)
  • Temple Torat Yisrael – Shabbat & Havdalah services, Lunch & Learn Zoom chats (toratyisrael.org)

 MICHAEL SCHEMAILLE (mschemaille@jewishallianceri.org) writes for Jewish Rhode Island and the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.