Reflections on a year of online services

Written by Rabbi Josh Levy — 19 March 2021

From the Erev Shabbat service marking one year of services online

Welcome: Being together apart
It is extraordinary to think that it has been a year since I stood alone in this room with a laptop and began our first Erev Shabbat service over zoom with those words of Hashkiveinu.
The shock, the rawness, the emotion are a little less now than was the case on that evening, though an enormous sense of loss remains every time one of us steps into this building.
Yet alongside that, there is also a feeling of pride. Pride that we have continued to meet, to sing, to thrive, to care, to be ambitious throughout these 12 months. Surviving this together.
That evening 365 days ago, 20 March 2020, I spoke about the values that we would take into the challenges ahead, the core ideals of our community that would sustain us. This evening, a full year on, we are going to celebrate those values as we journey through our service.
Central to our experience is that none of us have been through this journey alone. We have been together every one of 52 Shabbatot – physically distanced, but very much with one another. We are grateful to you that you have joined us. This Shabbat, we celebrate that ideal of togetherness.

Kabbalat Shabbat: Simcha shel mitzvah
On that evening in March last year, Josh made a promise on behalf of all of us. That we would continue to strive together for simcha shel mitzvah, finding the joy in our Jewish lives – that we would continue to fulfil the words above our ark, ‘ivdu et adonai b’simchah’, ‘serve God with joy’. Sometimes that joy has been harder to find, sometimes leaping from our hearts, but throughout it has been a constant, fulfilling the words of Psalm 97, the promise of joy for the constant heart.

Lighting Shabbat candles: Ahavat ha-briyot
The value of ahavat ha-briyot, love of God’s creatures, has drawn us together over the past year. As we turn to the lighting of our Shabbat candles and prepare to create light to share with one another, we reflect on the past year, in which we as a community have worked to create light for each other.
A year ago, we launched our ‘from darkness to light’ care programme, titled after a verse in Isaiah, ‘asim machshach lifneihem la’or’ – ‘I will turn darkness before them to light’. Through each phone call, shopping trip, gift delivery, and doorstep visit, this is what we have done.
This evening, we invite you to join with us in lighting Shabbat candles, bringing in Shabbat, committing to continue to be a source of light for each another.

L’cha Dodi: Chiddush
Chiddush, innovation, has been a core Jewish value since the time of the rabbis. And it is something that the past year has demanded of us all, something that Josh promised in that first dvar torah: new and creative, innovative ways, to live our Jewish lives.
Ours is a community engaged in chiddush, encouraged to try new things, to find new ways to express ourselves – in prayer, in learning, in finding ways of being together. We have even found it in ourselves to learn new melodies. We turn to the words of L’cha Dodi and sing one of our newest melodies, committing to another year of innovation.

Welcoming the Mourners
On this Shabbat we celebrate our resilience, our values as a community, our commitment to be together, to pray with joy, to innovate.
Over the past year, we as a community, have also been a place of loss. We have lost people we love as a direct result of the pandemic, and others who died as a result of the impact on health services. We have experienced the enormity of loss and the pain of being unable to mourn as we would wish.
We all come to this Shabbat as mourners, and wish one another the traditional words of consolation. We take a moment to remember each individual, our own family, friends and community, colleagues and classmates.

Geulah: Working together
To the rabbis, Geulah, redemption, is not something that just happens. It is something that we earn, something that we create. In this last year we have worked to be the best that we can be. We have taken responsibility for our own wellbeing and that of others – for kol yisrael areivim zeh ba zeh, each of us is responsible one for the other.
As we prepare to sing the words from the Song of the Sea, we express gratitude for that which we have done to bring about redemption, that which we have done for one another, and for the world.

Through March and April of last year, and on many Shabbatot since, in the Amidah we have included the words of one of our shortest, and yet most powerful prayers – ‘ana el na, rfah na la’ – ‘Please God, please bring healing’.
In a time when we have been acutely aware of the limits of our bodies, these six words express the yearning for healing that we have all experienced– and the commitment that we make to be a source of healing for one another.

Aleinu: Duty and Hope
The two paragraphs of the Aleinu express two complementary ideas – duty and hope. And this is where we find ourselves. Holding these two ideals – the duty to continue to be the best we can be, to take the current situation seriously, to approach it with our core Jewish values intact. And the hope that we are beginning to move towards a life more normal, to be back together soon.