The formulations of the highest truth needs a constant revision, and even more surely do the forms in which that truth is clothed.” So wrote the distinguished 19/20th century scholar Israel Abrahams in ‘Aspects of Judaism.’
One of the highest truths is the power of living in relationship, community. It is one of Judaism’s superpowers. Struck down by a horrible virus this Shabbat, three households of our family did not miss out. We were able to join our congregation, wish everyone Shabbat Shalom and if we chose to ‘join’ Kiddush and Havdalah.
How could we do this whilst we were spluttering and without infecting our fellow congregants? We were, of course, online.
From the first Shabbat of lockdown, The Ark Synagogue, moved online. We have just celebrated our 200th Havdalah online, our adult learning numbers have increased tenfold and our congregations for services more than doubled. We are now a fully hybrid community, meeting and valuing our personal connections in the Ark Sanctuary and fusing all the small Ark Sanctuaries of our homes.
Technology, at its best, is there to support the development of human life, including Judaism. The emergence of online tools such as Sefaria is a good example. The challenges of technology are more about overcoming our fear of it, for nearly every solution is available to us if we can ask.
The benefits are profound. Amongst our members, there is a clear efficacy in mental wellbeing for those who are housebound or isolated and accessed or built their community online.
A principle by which the Ark Synagogue has practiced, is founded on the Proverb (22:6), “Educate children each according to their own way, they will not swerve from it even in old age.” It is very clear that for our young people, Cheder has to be in person. For adults the story is different. For the housebound, infirm, traveller, student or time-challenged, hybrid has enabled Jewish community to flourish.
What we do know is that whilst we ‘provide’ weekly online activities such as Singing for the Soul, Armchair Yoga, and Shared Reading, Torah and Hebrew study, we also know the real power of caring for each other – creating a caring community.
Judaism provides a weekly foundation for this, Shabbat. The Kiddush zoom room and weekly 5pm Havdalah have become pillars of extending the notion of a caring community. It is not about numbers but the quality of the environment into which people enter. The ‘welcomers’ are as important online as in house. The feedback to the Rabbis and Care Coordinators, as vital.
Israel Abrahams continued his thought, “When dogma takes the place of love, religion is dead.”
Our truth and our Tradition (its clothing) adapts to new environments. Jethro recommended to Moses the foundation of our judicial system, The Rabbis radically altered Tradition and saved our destiny. Time will tell if we educate Judaism appropriately now at a young age and then provide the means to connect when more mature, their Judaism is unwavering. I feel positive.