Last Friday afternoon, as the blizzard that hit the Northeast was creeping its way in our direction, I held out hope until the very last moment that we could have our regular Friday evening Shabbat Worship Services. Like any former Buffalonian worth his salt, I looked out at the ever increasing snowfall and continued to think, “It’s really not that bad, we can make it”, even as more rational colleagues were sending out cancellation notices, I was receiving messages from my administrator asking if I was ready to cancel and my wife was telling me it was crazy to think I could hold services that evening.
I finally gave in around 3:30 pm when I received a robo-call from the town emergency management department asking us to keep off the roads and restrict travel to critical needs only. Even I couldn’t ignore that warning, and reluctantly cancelled evening services.
That might be the end of the story if it weren’t for the gifts of modern technology. A little less than a year ago, a generous angel installed an internet streaming set up in our sanctuary and funded a Livestream account.
Along with a notice to the congregation (through e-mail, Facebook, twitter and our website) that services were being cancelled due to the inclement weather went the suggestion that they visit our Livestream archive on the Internet and choose a recorded service to enjoy for the evening. Services were cancelled, but Shabbat worship took place on screens in the homes of many of our congregants. In a way, as we connected to our archive, we connected with one another, even at a distance.
Thankfully, the roads were sufficiently cleared by the next day that Shabbat Morning Worship and the celebration of the B’nai Mitzvah of two of the children of the congregation went off without a hitch. Here too, technology prevented what would have been lost moments for family and friends of the B’nai Mitzah boys. The blizzard had prevented guests from Long Island and New England from being able to join us that morning. Fortunately, through the magic of Livestream they were with us, watching the service in real time over the Internet. More than 45 screens tuned in and shared in the celebration. We even did a few shout-outs to them from the bimah!
In the days since, I have heard of colleagues who engaged in equally innovative uses of technology to bring the community together even as they were confined to their homes by the weather. Some used streaming, others used conference calls and one Pastor friend of mine used twitter to lead a networked Sunday morning worship service.
While unplugging on Shabbat has become a way for so many of us to preserve the peace of Shabbat and set it apart from all other days, sometimes it is the very act of “plugging in” that keeps us connected to the community and to the spiritual essence of the Sabbath. Rambam taught that the essence of Shabbat is to be found in the dual attributes of Kavod (honor) and Oneg (joy). Through our Livestream feed, in the midst of a blizzard we were able to honor Shabbat by maintaining a pathway to communal worship and add joy to Shabbat by connecting to a very special simcha even our snowbound friends and family. This past week we learned that technology on Shabbat is not simply about unplugging vs. plugging, it is about our intent and our goals in connect through social media and the Internet. Are we honoring Shabbat through our actions and are we filling Shabbat with a proper sense of delight, both in measure and in source.
Ahad Haam taught: More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, has the Sabbath kept Israel. This past week, I was grateful that even in the most unusual of circumstances, through modern technology, we have the ability to connect to this most vital foundation of our Judaism and be kept together through the power of Shabbat worship.
And I am thankful, as well, that the snows have passed and that tonight we will join together again, in person, to welcome Shabbat as a community, honor her through our prayers and find delight in her presence.
(And, if for some reason you can’t join us, visit new.livestream.com/tshalom and we’ll welcome you from afar.)