Shalom Chevre,

During this difficult time, we are learning that many congregations are nimbly pivoting to on-line modalities as they work to facilitate social connections while enforcing physical distancing.

We are learning more each day.  And there is so much that we can learn from each other.

Through responses to our survey, we have learned that the majority would benefit from technical guidance using virtual platforms. One synagogue leader offered his assistance with technology.  Please email Gretchen Marks Brandt at Synagogue Council ([email protected]) for his contact information.

Most congregations are live-streaming Shabbat services, and some are also live-streaming daily minyanim and Havdalah.  While the vast majority are using Zoom, some are using Streamspot, Facebook and YouTube.  In addition to worship services, many other activities are taking place on-line:
•    Torah study and adult education
•    Meditation
•    Storytelling
•    Virtual coffees and informal chats
•    Religious school classes, Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutoring and pre-school programs
•    Board and Committee meetings
•    Knitting
•    Synagogue annual meetings
•    Social activities including an adult trivia night and youth group hangouts
•    Daily video messages from the clergy
•    Virtual sederarim are planned

Congregations are using multiple modalities to connect with their membership.  The most popular are email, Facebook, Constant Contact, Zoom and telephone calls.  Other platforms include Facetime, Go To Meeting, and synagogue websites.

Congregational leadership is working to reach out to the vulnerable by organizing committees to provide food and supplies, calling all congregants, writing note cards, “having kids send videos of “We’re thinking of you” or “Hope you’re feeling well” that are coalesced into one Youtube video and then shared with senior centers and nursing homes”, and reaching out to older congregants and those in need of extra support.

Though there seems to be shared concern and confusion about how far out to reschedule canceled events, the response to how to manage b’nei/b’not/b’ mitzvah is definitely not “one size fits all!”  One synagogue has developed a “Distance Ritual” for the day of the bar/bat/b’mitzvah while deferring the main event.  Many synagogues are working with individual families to best meet the needs of each.  Since the majority of respondents are conducting virtual Shabbat services, some are offering b’nei/b’not/b’mitzvah teens the opportunity to chant their haftarah during the virtual service.  Another synagogue has moved b’mitzvah services to Monday mornings using Zoom to have clergy and guests all part of the service.  Another option is to hold the service with immediate family only.

Funeral and Shiva guidelines seem to be a bit more straightforward.  All funerals are graveside with restricted attendance.  Shivas have either been canceled or moved to on-line experiences.  One synagogue reported that “we had a virtual shiva and it was very meaningful to the family.”

While all communal sedarim (seders) have been canceled, a number of synagogues are providing virtual sedarim, and one suggested a live-stream of a “best of Passover”.  Additionally, Zoom classes are being offered on “how to make a meaningful and spiritual seder even though it is more intimate,” and rabbis are providing personal consultations, webinars and Passover resources.

Religious school education has largely gone on-line.  Some synagogues are mailing packets to their students. A number of synagogues are sharing resources with families and one synagogue reported that it is on hiatus.  Most are now offering Zoom based classes.  Preschools are also closed and are working to maintain connections between children and their teachers.  Some are sending activities to parents; some are sharing stories on-line and others provide daily programming on-line.  The majority of adult education has also gone virtual using Zoom as their platform.

And finally, the majority of synagogues reported that they would be interested in a workshop on Strategic Planning Post Covid-19.

During this time of social isolation, financial concerns and health trepidations, the synagogue community has never been more important nor more challenged.  We are grateful for the wealth of knowledgeable and caring professionals and lay leaders and hope that our community of practice is strengthened through this ordeal.  

To those who submitted your surveys, we are abundantly grateful for your time, candor, compassion and creativity.

If you/your congregation has yet to complete this survey, we encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience so that your information and ideas may be added to our data base and shared in subsequent reports.

Thank you for your engagement and participation as we navigate this new reality together,

Synagogue Council of Massachusetts

Gretchen Marks Brandt, Associate Director

Emma Savitz, Office Administrator