Synagogues around the country closed at the same time as other religious buildings. However, those in the Jewish faith struggled with this change. Going to the synagogue is a sign of community as much as it is for faith. Steven Odzer, a practicing Jew based in New York, has discussed how the pandemic has made it difficult.
As Steven Odzer explains, most people will attend synagogue services on either Shabbat eve (Friday night) or on Shabbat, either Saturday morning or late afternoon. For those who are particularly faithful, they will also go to other services throughout the week.
Once the pandemic closed the synagogue, it took a while for many to begin any kind of online offering. The worship that was live streaming was difficult for many people to feel comfortable with. It didn’t offer the same level of community. Additionally, there have been older Jews that lacked the technology to be able to take advantage of what a synagogue was offering.
While many local synagogues were not capable of adapting, Steven Odzer explains that there were several larger ones throughout New York that began offering a live worship online almost immediately. It filled the gap for those who wanted to be faithful to the Shabbat.
The biggest issue was with the upcoming Shavuot holiday that was approaching, causing many people to wonder how they would be able to remain faithful. Many synagogues began opening up at the end of May, allowing for the holiday to be celebrated.
Particularly in New York, social distancing was still being policed heavily. Steven Odzer explains that Governor Cuomo was limiting religious ceremonies to up to 10. Further, it was suggested that many ceremonies happen in parking lots or drive-ins as a way to help with social distancing. While that may have worked for some faiths, the Jewish faith is often more old-school about the way that they worship, which is where Steven Odzer has struggled.
Even now, it is still taking longer than many would like to see the services go back to normal. Depending on where a person is, it could still be weeks before a synagogue opens to the level it was in January and February.
Steven Odzer has identified that he’s doing the best that he can. He logs in for the live streaming with his family. After the streaming is over, he will often talk with some of his family and friends about what was covered. He creates the community how he can, given the “new normal” of things.
Although the synagogues are trying to keep up and provide a way to keep people in their
acknowledges that many people are watching the news, eager to return to the way that things “used to be.”