Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Back to Opinion

Shabbat matters even more now

I bow at the knees, looking to the east, in my kitchen. First left, then right, then center.

And as each week goes by and the likelihood of resuming “business as usual” recedes, I’m seeing a future of iPad-dependent Friday evenings.

Abigail Pogrebin

As Kabbalat Shabbat services proceed on my iPad, streaming my synagogue on Facebook Live, I bow during “L’Cha Dodi,” as I have every Friday night for the past eight weeks that I’ve sheltered in place with my family. It no longer feels odd to tilt to the floor in my kitchen.

Those of us who belong to Central Synagogue in Manhattan were perversely “lucky,” when the restrictions hit; we already had a well-oiled livestream option for Shabbat Services. Since Central’s livestream began years ago, it’s been increasingly important to our clergy to offer Jewish ritual and connection — without cost — to those who were homebound, out of town, or without a temple at all. Hundreds have live-streamed weekly, and hundreds of thousands tune in internationally on the High Holy Days.

But for the moment, we’re all in the same virtual boat, with no possibility of in-person worship. And as each week goes by and the likelihood of resuming “business as usual” recedes, I’m seeing a future of iPad-dependent Friday evenings.

But as much as I rail at the new normal, I’ve found new spirituality in it. Shabbat matters even more now. The chance to connect with fellow congregants is medicinal. The gratitude of surviving another week feels acute. Our clergy offer more pastoral reassurance than I knew I needed. Even as they preside in their respective homes — with backdrops ranging from a ficus plant to family photos — they feel nearer.

I can’t say that the strange snapshots of my clergy’s domesticity can match the majesty of Central’s grand sanctuary; that’s impossible. But this service is a different species now. More personal. Rougher around the edges, in the best sense: The enterprise feels somewhat improvised, and that’s as it should be.

We’re all improvising now. Precision and polish feel not just obsolete, but tone-deaf.

In a time when days blur and I can feel adrift, Friday’s service throws me a rope. It’s sure. Joyful. I manage to bake a decent challah (despite being an insecure cook) after my 20-year-old daughter shows me how it’s done.

As a public service during this pandemic, the Forward is providing free, unlimited access to all coronavirus articles. If you’d like to support our independent Jewish journalism, click here.

My 23-year-old son is in the next room when services begin, but I hear him belt out the songs he grew up with. I’m uplifted by the tumble of exuberant “Shabbat Shalom” greetings on the Facebook chat in real-time — strangers and friends writing from Texas to Toronto; this community is in sync when nothing else is. This ritual offers its own reliable reunion.

My rabbis sermonize about the ways that Torah anticipated plagues and self-quarantine. The cantors’ voices somehow cut to the gut; I am embarrassed when I find myself crying.

I don’t want this to be the future, but as we await the next directives, I’m grateful for this far-flung family and a place to pray.

Abigail Pogrebin is the author of “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew” and is the immediate past president of Central Synagogue in Manhattan.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.