JERUSALEM - I am an active member of Kehilat Yedidya, a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. In Hebrew, the word Kehilla means community, and the founders of the synagogue were mostly immigrants to Israel. Many of us came to Israel with no family here, and the synagogue became a kind of extended family.
Today the almost 200 member households still have a lot of the original crowd, as well as quite a few young families. We don't have a rabbi as a matter of principal, and volunteers run the services each week as well as classes, lectures and social programs.
For example, if someone in the synagogue has a baby, other members, who may or may not know them, deliver dinner to their home for the following two weeks. Our main prayer services are Friday night and Saturday morning, and we often had about 300 people singing the prayers together. After the services, we often hosted each other for meals that are done with special prayers like the blessing over the wine.
Worship during COVID
All of that has changed with the coronavirus. For five weeks now, the synagogue has been closed according to government regulations. The problem is that there are several important parts of the service, including reading the Torah from a scroll, and a special prayer said during the first year after losing a loved one, that can only be done in the presence of 10 men, what is called a "minyan." Some rabbis have ruled that these prayers can be said on Zoom, while others say they need the physical presence of 10.
At Yedidya, we hold our services now on Zoom. Since Orthodox Jews won't turn electrical devices or computers on or off on the Sabbath, known as Shabbat in Hebrew, we've been having a pre-Shabbat service.
Different members of the congregations lead it each week. One member of the synagogue writes music and often performs a song. Another writes poetry and reads a poem or two. It's certainly not the same as being able to see each other in person, but it fills a need for the community.
Other synagogue members have stepped up. One woman arranged free loans for members who have lost their jobs because of the virus. Another runs a meditation group several mornings a week. A therapist has an online support group.
Recently, two of our members lost elderly parents – one in the U.S. and one in England. Of course they couldn't fly to attend the funerals, and the shiva, the weeklong mourning period where it is traditional to visit the mourner and say special prayers three times a day, is being done on Zoom.
Many of our members have elderly parents living abroad, and that has been difficult. Others have young children, which is also challenging.
We are all looking forward to being able to return to the synagogue and pray together as a community. And when we do, it will take a week or two before people begin complaining again that the service is too long.