We are thrilled that so many people joined us for our first live stream of Shabbat and Yom Tov prayer services this past weekend. We are even more grateful that so many of you found it meaningful.
To give you an idea of the impact of the experience:
- 653 households joined our Shabbat morning service.
- 165 people shared their opinion of the service in our post-Shabbat survey, and dozens more shared their thoughts in personal messages to us.
- The service duration, flow and quality each received an average score of 4.5 out of 5 stars.
- The majority of survey respondents found value in seeing familiar faces from across our community in the pre-recorded parts of the service.
In providing a live stream, we are guided by our values of relationship—we want it to be personal; engagement—we want you to feel able and welcome to participate; authenticity—we want it to be sensitive to our Jewish practice and culture at Beth Tzedec; and excellence—we want to be mindful of best practices when it comes to using this technology.
This is a learning process for all of us. You should not expect the same technical quality of the live stream over the next few weeks that we might have demonstrated during Shavuot, but we are working toward that. For now, we are continuing to grow our skill set and determine what equipment we need to develop the type of service content, participation and visuals that will allow us to deliver a prayer experience that works best for our community. That’s going to take us a while, so please be patient and continue to let us know how we are doing and what works best for you.
The process of learning also involves listening to your questions and suggestions. Here are a few of the questions we received following last week's services.
Why can’t I see everyone watching the service?
The technology we are using to broadcast our live stream is not the same technology used for a video conference, like our weekday minyanim. A live stream broadcast pushes out content one way—to the viewer. The only people seen are the presenters. We believe that the use of video conferencing technology on Shabbat or Yom Tov is too far afield of our sensitivities to our Jewish practice.
Why can’t I sing along with the broadcast?
Of course you can sign along! Please do! While this technology doesn't allow us to hear you, God can hear you and that’s all that matters!
Why was the service shortened? Why didn't you do the haftarah, Musaf or aliyot to the Torah?
Great questions. We shortened the service because best practice tells us most people will only participate for about 90 minutes, and our research into other synagogue live streams confirms that. We also know that this is true for most of our in-person services as well—though our Sanctuary Service begins at 8:45 a.m., most people arrive at around 10:00 to 10:30 a.m.
Knowing that the ideal length of a live stream service is 90 minutes, we asked ourselves what was essential to the experience. Our answer was a brief warm up and welcome, the Sh'ma and its blessings, the Shaharit amidah, Torah reading, a sermon and the concluding prayers. Since last Shabbat was Shavuot, we also included Hallel and Yizkor.
From a historical and halakhic perspective, the haftarah (prophetic reading) was a later addition added during a time in which Jews were prohibited from reading the Torah. The weekly selection was chosen to be similar in theme to the weekly Torah reading. And Musaf means additional. It can be recited any time on Shabbat during the day. We encourage those who wish to do so to try reciting it in their homes—any member of the Spiritual Leadership Team would be happy to walk you through the process.
Additionally, since we are following public health guidelines which restrict us to gatherings of no more than five people, and we were not video conferencing with other people due to the restrictions of the hag, we did not have a minyan. That meant that, with the exception of the Mourner’s Kaddish, we did not recite those prayers that otherwise require a minyan. Musaf in this context would have consisted only of private prayer.
It also means that there are no aliyot to the Torah. Since the mitzvah for Torah reading in this context is educational and experiential, we recited the berakhah laasote b’divrei Torah, to immerse oneself in Torah. That also meant that we did not need to read the entire section of Torah, just a selection from it.
Once we can gather together with a minyan, this will change and we will have to ask ourselves how we can accomplish these mitzvot while remaining sensitive to how much time people are willing to spend at their computer screens.
Why isn’t there a minyan? Why isn’t there a choir or more singing voices?
As mentioned above, we are following public health guidelines which restrict us to gatherings of no more than five people.
How can I get a siddur or humash to use at home?
You can download virtual copies of your favourite siddur on the Rabbinical Assembly's website. When we call out page numbers, we use Siddur Sim Shalom and Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary.
You can also borrow texts from Beth Tzedec by contacting Lorne Hanick at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you borrow books from the synagogue, we ask that you agree to replace them if they become damaged or destroyed.
Why wasn’t the entire siddur on screen?
Our research and experience during the week indicates that too many people find this a distraction to their prayer experience. We provided it for Yizkor because we know that not every one joining for Yizkor would have a siddur handy.
Why couldn't I watch the service on my phone or tablet?
You can join our broadcast services on most mobile devices, using this link. There was some confusion last week, as you will not see the service on the Beth Tzedec home page if you are on a mobile device. We're working to resolve this issue as soon as possible, but as of right now, anyone can find our service broadcasts here, no matter which device they use.
If you are still having trouble accessing the live streams, please call the synagogue office at 416-781-3511, following Shabbat, and someone will be in touch to help troubleshoot the issue.
What is the likely plan for each Shabbat moving forward?
Until we can have a minyan present, we are going to broadcast Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat morning services live to the Beth Tzedec website. We will continue to grow in our capacity and would encourage you to continue to share your feedback by emailing your thoughts to any of us.
From a technological perspective, we have equipment to buy, skills to develop and more learning to do to ensure we can meet our goal: virtual prayer services that are personal, engaging, authentic, sensitive and excellent.
We also heard from our community that there is a desire for resources for those who want to create their own experiences on Shabbat and holy days, and we're working to do that as well. If you have an idea of what those resources might look like, please get in touch.
Now that we have demonstrated what we are capable of, we move forward together!
Debbie Rothstein, President
Bernie Gropper, Chair of the Board
Rabbi Steven Wernick, The Anne and Max Tanenbaum Senior Rabbi
Randy Spiegel, Executive Director