Praying Alone

With Services Streaming On Line, What Are We Losing

By Leonard Fein

Published March 29, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Be careful what you wish for.

My friend Sharon Cohen has introduced me to a rapidly growing phenomenon — to wit, streaming services.

For those of you who may be technological laggards, a streaming service is a live broadcast of a worship service. Sit back, relax, and you can watch the Friday night service from Temple Israel of Greater Miami or Temple Emanu-El in Birmingham or Central Synagogue in Manhattan or Temple Beth Tikvah in Fullerton, CA, plus too many more to be listed here. (Go here for a full list. As far as I am able to determine, streaming of worship services is available only from Reform congregations.)

It’s quite remarkable and much of it is beautiful — typically, chazzanut (cantorial music) of a very high order. I find myself beguiled by both the talent and the demeanor of quite a few of the cantors, and I find myself listening somewhat more carefully than is my wont to the sermons of the rabbis. And I listen for the quirks that distinguish this congregation from that. My favorite example is a Long Island synagogue where the rabbi, when he reads the list of those whose yahrtzeit we are commemorating reads it with what I at first thought was painful slowness, with a long pause between names. Only later did I come to understand that his was a calculated strategy, intended not only to honor the deceased but to give all the congregants a chance to contemplate death.The kaddish that followed the reading of the list was rendered substantially more meaningful as a result.

And so on, from the rabbi-centric services to the music-centric services.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is that while you and your family are at home watching and listening, the seats you might have occupied had you been physically present at the service are empty.

Imagine, for a moment, that your absentee “participation” became the norm. The rabbis and cantors would be doing their things to an empty sanctuary. Worse yet, a wholly atomized Jewish community is not, in fact, a community. A genuine community requires that we not merely be aware of its other members, but that at some level we interact with them.

Years ago, in “Reform is a Verb,” I wrote that the house of worship is rarely a home to its members. That seems to me to have changed. Things have warmed up quite substantially, and the successful synagogues these days no longer rely quite so heavily on the bar/bat mitzvah kids and their families to fill their seats.

The synagogue and the Jewish community center — these are the venues for Jews meeting Jews. (I purposely omit the fund-raising dinners.) Alas, within most community centers the place where we meet is in the gym. Even the pre-school, likely the most successful JCC program, is often the place where we drop the kids and go on to work, to home, on errands of one sort or another. (Among the noteworthy exceptions is the Grater Boston JCC and its “Hot Buttons, Cool Conversations” series, with which I am intimately involved and which the CEO of the JCC, Mark Sokoll, calls “the living room of the Jewish community.”)

Here and there, with the synagogue acting as facilitator, there’s a sustained and entirely laudable effort to convene small groups — eight or ten people — for Shabbat dinners, serious conversation, or even just cocktails. And sometimes the effort evolves into an ongoing endeavor — a Bible study group (my favorite, given that so few of us have read the Bible as adults), the meaning(s) of Zionism and Israel’s place in our lives, a book group. In fact, given the rising popularity of book groups, it puzzles me that very few seem to be focused on books with Jewish themes — and there are many such, and worthy, too. Those who think that the heyday of Jewish fiction ended when Bellow and Malamud and now Roth, too, exited are just plain mistaken. There’s an utterly absorbing book by Anne Michaels, “Fugitive Pieces,” and there are Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon and Nathan Englander and Gary Shteyngart and I better stop right there before I come close to a “complete” list which would, for sure, not be complete. But there are also the Israeli authors, and not just Amos Oz and David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua but also Meir Shalev and Aaron Appelfeld and — you get the idea.

Streaming services can be fun, but they’re basically all foam, no beer. A lighthouse is pointless if there are no ships.

Contact Leonard Fein at feedback@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.