Progressively Speaking: As we come together, what’s the future for communal life?

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Progressively Speaking: As we come together, what’s the future for communal life?

 Rabbi Yuval Keren looks to the reconvening of progressive congregations as the community tries to adapt to Covid


Over the past few weeks, our Progressive communities have finally been coming together, with many holding in-person services and celebrating simchas for the first time since March 2020.

That first Covid-19 lockdown came as a big surprise. Everything – from Shabbat and festival services to religion schools and synagogue council meetings – had to be migrated online.

But many members enjoyed this ‘new normal’ and many communities saw attendances and engagement increase. Now Freedom Day has passed, what comes next?

Some are still wary of returning to public worship, while others found a great deal of comfort and meaning in joining the community from the safety of their homes. This leaves us with a few social and technological challenges and opportunities.

The social challenge is the formation and reformation of friendships, and maintaining a sense of a community. The Zoom community was a good replacement at a time we needed to keep a distance, yet it can never be a complete replacement for face-to-face meetings, shaking hands and chit-chat at Kiddush time. As soon as we are able to be back in the buildings, we will need to spend some time gradually rebuilding this missing aspect of our community life. The technological challenge is also a great opportunity.

For some time to come, we will need to balance the mix between those who join us in the building, and others who will join us online. Each will have a slightly different experience of our services, social events and meetings. The challenge will be to ensure both groups feel they belong and are included as much as possible.

We need to treasure the opportunities technology presented us during the pandemic. We can now easily include sick members who can join Shabbat services from their hospital beds, friends from Australia who can join us for a batmitzvah service, and the elderly aunt from the US will not miss our wedding day. Another great advantage is our ability to share liturgy and study materials on screen.

As we emerge from the pandemic, we must take the opportunity to make sweet communal and technological lemonade out of the sour lemons of Covid-19. In other words (using Samson’s riddle to the Philistines),
we should strive for something sweet to come out of a painful experience.

 Rabbi Yuval Keren serves Southgate Progressive Synagogue

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