How has Covid changed the way we mark lifecycle events?
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Progressively Speaking

How has Covid changed the way we mark lifecycle events?

Rabbi Dr Pfertzel takes a topical issue and offers a Liberal Jewish perspective

Future generations will look back at our era and will split it into ‘pre-Covid’ and ‘post-Covid’.

The extent of changes that the pandemic has forced us into is still unknown, and only time will tell its magnitude.

As far as religious communities are concerned, a recent study led by Manchester Metropolitan University has tried to identify ‘British Ritual Innovation under Covid-19’. The lead investigator, Dr Joshua Edelman, is a member of Liberal Judaism’s Ark Synagogue. The project ran from August 2020 to September 2021 and focused mainly on religious practice, rather than theological issues, up and down the country. It covered the entire British religious spectrum and found that all faith communities faced similar challenges and responded in similar ways.

People preferred Zoom meetings to streamed services, because they felt more connection with other people. Smaller communities did surprisingly better than bigger ones, because they offered what went missing during lockdowns – a sense of community and connectedness.

At the start of the series of lockdowns, there was a fear of ‘Hollywoodisation’ of services, but it did not happen. Congregants were drawn to smaller, more informal settings, where they would be acknowledged.

Two main challenges have emerged, however, from this new form of religious experience. Lifecycle events are very difficult to hold online. Sadly, too many colleagues had to conduct funerals where they were the only person present, or where people had to join online because of a limit in numbers of attendees.

Being in a community is an important part of the grieving process, and this is missing when you are alone at home, watching your screen. Equally difficult is to feel the simcha of a bar/batmitzvah. A young person and their family are carried by the love and energy of the community in the shul, and this is also missing online.

There is a fear, that appears to be unjustified, that people will happily stay online and not come back to synagogues.

But we have recently seen a reversed trend, and people are slowly coming back to our shuls, because they were missing being together and feeling the energy of the kahal.

  • Rabbi Dr Pfertzel serves Kingston Liberal Synagogue

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