Meet the guy keeping your synagogue running during the coronavirus crisis
A lot of you don’t know me… I’m usually busy behind the scenes. But allow me to introduce myself.
I’m a producer. A director. A tech expert. A monitor of social media chat. I’m on seven days a week, mornings, nights, candle lightings, havdalahs, minyans, meet-ups, adult ed sessions, parent talks and preschool classes. I’m “please mute yourself when you’re not talking,” “we can’t hear you – you forgot to unmute yourself” and “please don’t use that Zoom virtual background next time.”
I’m the man behind the many, many, emails you receive (way more than we used to send), the thrice-daily website updates, and the waterfall of Zoom links that comprise what used to be the “COVID-19 updates” page, and is now simply our website.
In case you haven’t guessed yet, I’m a synagogue communications director during the coronavirus outbreak.
On a good day I only work 10 hours, primarily on my way-too-old home computer, which is still running Windows 7 and has no direct access to the files on my synagogue computer. I am in a constant state of triage, since each week, and sometimes each day, brings new government-imposed or clergy-inspired changes that require tweaking, pivoting, or occasionally a full stop.
I don’t even remember what it feels like to have something ready to go a week in advance. I have hundreds of existing flyers and graphics at my disposal, but haven’t re-used a single one, since nothing we do these days in any way resembles what we did at this time last year, or last month, or last week.
I’m everywhere. I’m involved in almost everything. It’s exhausting. So. Very. Exhausting.
But it’s also amazing!
On Friday, my family lit candles with more than 60 congregants — many of whom I’ve only seen in databases. On Saturday, I attended two different Shabbat services from my living room – one my parent’s shul, with melodies I haven’t heard in a decade, and the other our synagogue’s first ever virtual bat mitzvah! On Saturday night, for the third week in a row, we participated in two different community havdalahs. I can’t remember the last time we did havdalah one week in a row in our house.
In the past week I attended my first lunch ‘n learn (and brought the average age down quite a bit), watched our Hazzan lead an adorable Friday afternoon preschool Shabbat service, co-hosted a zoom session helping 60+ members learn how to lead their own virtual seders, and got to witness our Rabbis’ endearingly-goofy dancing (“I’ll go up, you go down”) behind the scenes of our broadcast as our Hazzan sang Aleinu.
Yes — I, like synagogue communications directors everywhere, became the equivalent of a television studio manager overnight (without relinquishing many of my usual 40-hours of standard weekly tasks, oh — and while also becoming a homeschool teacher), and yes – I’m in desperate need of a day off (I’d settle for a half-hour lunch break at this point), but I’m also energized by what I see happening, and what this means for our future.
We are now forced to deliver 100% of our content directly to your phone, and it’s rejuvenating our community. It’s eliminating the barrier that led many to believe we could only attend classes and services in our own sanctuary, or our own city, or our own time zone. It’s enabling us to re-open the door that many Conservative Jews closed when they decided Judaism in “the building” wasn’t their brand of Judaism.
And when the current “new normal” is simply a set of Facebook memories that pop up each Spring (please let it only be Spring!) – that door might still remain open, and we will have an entirely new modality for connection that our community is not just accustomed to, but looks forward to!
And the most exciting part (for me) is I’m not just an observer or participant in this Jewish metamorphosis — I’m a driving force behind it. I’m the executive producer of the genesis of Conservative Judaism’s “new normal”. I’m also the broadcast engineer, multimedia designer and station manager. I’m the physically and emotionally drained, but spiritually invigorated synagogue communications director during the coronavirus outbreak.
Ben Vorspan is the Creative Director (aka communications director) at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, Calif., and despite how it sounds, actually has it easy in comparison to his wife Elana, who is the incomparable communications director at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.