From Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel:
Being away from home or unable to leave home is not a barrier for members and friends eager to participate in September’s High Holy Day services at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel. The Reform synagogue in South Orange offers live streaming video of High Holy Day services as well as Shabbat and all other services – accessible by anyone with a computer, tablet or Smartphone.
The video link is featured prominently on the home page of TSTI’s recently revamped website, and reminders about services are shared with congregants via monthly newsletters and emails.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, who spearheaded the initiative, noted that last year’s Yom Kippur services had 1,400 hits from around the world. This was a huge spike over prior years and participation has been growing steadily since the technology was introduced. Viewers from throughout the US as well as Germany, France, Great Britain, and Canada have tuned in, including college students who could not be home for the High Holy Days but preferred maintaining a digital connection with their synagogue community to attending services on or near campus.
“We have always been at the forefront of reducing barriers to participation in Jewish life, including using technology to engage congregants and students,” said Cohen. “We want to make sure that anyone who wishes to participate in our services, and cannot be physically present, has the option to connect to TSTI from wherever they may be.”
Removing barriers to staying connected
Improved technology and ease of access has boosted the popularity of the service with members of all ages. Live streaming video is ideal for members who are elderly or infirm and unable to leave the house. Murray Mankowitz, who is homebound, spoke to Rabbi Cohen about his desire to attend services but said he could no longer drive to the synagogue. Cohen told him about the live video feed.
“I’m so glad I don’t have to go out to get to temple,” said Mankowitz, who is from Livingston and has been a TSTI member for 60 years. “I can see the whole service and stay connected, without having to look for a ride.” He watches Friday night services frequently and has viewed the entire Rosh Hashanah service. In addition to the convenience, he said he appreciates the high quality of the video. TSTI upgraded its equipment earlier this year to provide a better viewing experience.
Rabbi Arnold and Gert Zoref find that the live streaming video enables them to always be at services – no matter what the circumstances. They are active members of TSTI’s Renaissance group for older adults and attend services regularly. However, inconveniences like the winter’s inclement weather can sometimes make that difficult. “Now with the streaming service available, it’s almost as if we are in the building,” said Arnold. “The sound is great and so is the image.” Gert agreed, adding, “We’ve always considered the temple to be our second home, and now we can enjoy it right from home. We recommend the streaming service for anyone who cannot attend personally.”
Live streaming video offers other benefits to both members and prospective members. For example, TSTI will make copies of special celebrations such as bar and bat mitzvah services for relatives who live out of state and are unable to attend. In addition, those who may be considering TSTI as their new spiritual home can get a true sense of the synagogue’s services, music, and clergy from the privacy of their homes.
TSTI goes global
TSTI member Danielle Blake is a recent college graduate who taught high school English in France this year. When Blake made the commitment to work overseas starting last September, she was concerned about where she would attend High Holy Day services.
“I’d only just arrived in Lyon a few weeks before Rosh Hashanah, and I was concerned about where I would go since I was not yet familiar with local Jewish life,” she explained. “My mother forwarded a temple email with information about how to watch services online. I was very happy that I could essentially go to services in New Jersey from France.”
Blake said the live streaming has helped her stay connected to her home community. “For people my age there are so many neat job opportunities all over the world. People want to move around and have new experiences, but it’s hard to leave a community that you’ve grown up in and establish yourself in a new city. For me, things like live streaming make taking those opportunities a little easier because I can take a bit of home along with me.”
“Technology can be a powerful way to engage our community,” adds Rabbi Cohen. “We’re delighted that by live streaming our services, so many people in so many places can stay connected to TSTI or see what we have to offer.”
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is a vibrant Reform congregation located at 432 Scotland Road in South Orange, N.J., that offers Jewish preschool, Religious school, teen programs, lifelong learning for adults, and a full complement of religious services and cultural programs each month. TSTI serves member families from Maplewood, the Oranges, Livingston, Millburn, Short Hills and surrounding areas.
For more information, visit www.tsti.org.