13 Iyyar 5780/May 7, 2020 (The 28th Day in Counting the Omer)

Dear Friends,

I am pleased to share the news that Tikvat Israel will begin video-streaming our Shabbat morning service through our website at: https://tikvatisrael.org/live-streaming-from-the-tikvat-israel-rockville/ . (You will also be able to access it easily from our home-page, but those who utilize the Shabbat friendly adaptations will need this full url.) Note that our service will begin at 10:00 am on Saturday.

In general, I believe there are important benefits when we turn off our electronic devices on Shabbat, particularly at this time when many of us are on screens for a large portion of our weekdays. I also want to reiterate that individual prayer can be extremely meaningful and fulfill one’s obligation to pray. Therefore, if you prefer to daven on your own on Shabbat morning, I encourage you to maintain your practice.

At the same time, I have heard from many people who miss our Tikvat Israel Shabbat morning services. And we miss being with you! Therefore, we have been actively working since the crisis began to develop a system that will allow us to provide a virtual Shabbat and Holiday morning service that would be in keeping with our Shabbat and Holiday practices. I am grateful to Sam Freedenberg and Amy Matathias for their help in setting up this new system.

In providing this opportunity, we have worked to minimize any potential violations of Shabbat. With this in mind, please see the specific instructions on making your computer more “Shabbat-friendly.” Utilizing these instructions, you can create an automated process to access the page where you can see the service. Unfortunately, due to a recent change in the main internet browsers, you must click “start” on the screen to activate the video. Due to the extreme nature of the current situation, I believe this single click is permissible, even for those who don’t otherwise use electricity or electronics. (If you are interested in learning more about this, please contact me and I am happy to share my analysis and the basis for this decision.)

This streaming is a first-step in our process of creating digital Shabbat morning services. At this point, it will be a one-way connection – Cantor Helzner and I will be in the sanctuary leading the service and you will be able to watch and participate in your home. Unlike with Zoom, you will not be able to see other people besides the clergy, nor will you be able to interact with us. I will read the names for Yartzeit and recite Mourner's Kaddish following Aleinu.

In the coming weeks, we expect to add a combination of streaming and Zoom, which would allow additional members of the congregation to participate actively in the service. We hope to include Torah readers, Haftarah achanters nd people saying Kaddish as interactive participants. Members of the RA are also working with StreamSpot (our streaming service) to create coding that would avoid the need to press start. I will update you as this develops.

In the meantime, please recognize this is new for all of us. There likely will be glitches along the way, most of which we won’t know about and/or can’t fix until after Shabbat. If the streaming is not working for you, try to avoid frustration and the temptation to fix it – instead, walk away from the screen and take some time for quiet moments of reflection, meditation and prayer. Also, the Cantor and I are experimenting to determine the right balance of how much of the service/Torah reading to include. We encourage you to provide us with feedback so we can continue to improve the experience over the coming weeks.

As you may have heard, Governor Hogan announced that small, outdoor religious gatherings will soon be permitted. Large-group, indoor services will only be permitted in the final phase of reopening. We will be taking a cautious approach in terms of returning to in-person services. While daily minyan may return sooner, we do not expect to have Shabbat morning services in our sanctuary anytime in the near future. (You can read my comments about High Holidays in this week's Washington Jewish Week .)

Finally, I know that some of you have lost jobs and some people’s retirement accounts have been severely impacted by this crisis. Through the generosity of some of the members of our community and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, I have funds to help those who are in need . I know many people, especially those who have not been in this position previously, are reluctant to ask for help. Don’t be – there is no shame in asking for help and there is absolute confidentiality in the disbursement of these funds. For those who don’t like to take handouts, you may choose to consider it as an interest-free loan, with no set time-frame for repayment. But please, instead of falling behind, reach out and let us help you – it is much easier to get back on your feet when you are on level ground than when you are in a hole!
We are living in unprecedented times and I have been amazed to witness the incredible strength our community has shown in helping one another during these past two months. I hope that resuming Shabbat morning services in this format will provide an additional opportunity for us to strenghten one another and to feel strengthened by each other.

L'shalom,

Rabbi Marc Israel
Tikvat Israel …
A Friendly, Participatory, and Egalitarian Conservative Synagogue where everyone has something to teach, and everyone has something to learn.