How We Can Strengthen the Reform Movement with Streaming Video
by Marv Kaminsky
Okay, I’m an oddball: single, never been married, no children, live alone. I’m not even a doctor or a lawyer. My late father survived three concentration camps and went on to fight in Israel’s War of Independence. My brother’s an Orthodox rabbi. My Judaism – Reform Judaism – is the most important thing in my life.
And I spent this high holiday season attending Reform services entirely online.
There’s no Reform in the small city where I live; very little of any kind of Judaism. The nearest Reform congregation, 41 miles away, is ailing. I’m a member, at least for the moment. So, I took a chance on the emerging phenomenon of live, streaming services. They were wonderful.
Making the most of time differences, I split my time between Central Synagogue in Manhattan, Temple Israel of Memphis, Community Synagogue in Port Washington, NY, and the West London Synagogue in the UK[where, coincidentally, distant cousin Hugo Gryn, z"l, held the pulpit for 32 years]. A bit of classical Reform, contemporary and more”traditional,” all in one place: my computer. Each provided meaningful, beautiful worship. Surprisingly, I felt just as connected as if I was there in person, very much part of a community; in fact with a better sense of how large, diverse and expansive our our Reform family is.
What I did not find were huge crowds, an hour’s drive to temple,papers to consult about where and where not to park, someone checking tickets (I understand why this has to happen, but it’s still awkward and uncomfortable). Unlike the two previous years, I did not have to heed a rabbi’s pleas to “scrunch” together more because of the”gezunte tsuris” (good misfortune) of a too-large crowd. Nobody sneezed on me, I wasn’t repeatedly asked if “that seat” is taken. There was no gauntlet to the bathroom. I was free to worship, to ponder,to weep, and to take notes, something we – am ha’sefer, people of the book, and I, an educator, broadcaster and former librarian – do a lot of.
Central even provided PDF versions of the machzor, the High Holiday prayer book, on their streaming web page for download. On a beautiful autumn day, I listened to the Yom Kippur morning sermon from Memphis on my Android smartphone as I took a walk around the neighborhood.
This is not just for oddballs, shut-ins, or a futuristic, geek thing.YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix – among many others – are wildly popular now, reaching all kinds of people at their convenience in places where they’re comfortable. At a time when we’re getting grayer, with numbers shrinking and hands wringing, the online streaming of services sure seems be an incredibly easy, effective way to expand our communities, reach out to the hard to attract demographics, make new friends, and enhance interfaith understanding and dialogue.
We majorly messed up in not being the aggressive promoters we should have been on North America’s college campuses. That should be us with the high visibility, enthusiasm, joy, and Sushi Shabbat dinners, not Chabad.
Here’s our chance to shine, show how relevant, how cool Reform Judaism is. URJ and WUPJ should be working with every congregation[that wants to] in setting up the technology for reliable, uniform web streaming of services. Why not have a traveling crew doing a different, more elaborate, two or three camera production (“URJ Shabbat Live”?) every Friday evening? Show the variety, the personalities, the opportunities to learn from our great minds around the world. Studying Spanish at high school or in a continuing ed classat night? It would come alive to see Shabbat services from Argentina or Spain.
Create a real directory of streaming services: one web page with a full schedule. On Friday evening, there should be someplace around the world where you can click right now to “go to shul.” Archive the services for playback at other times. Put a “Donate” button on every congregation’s streaming page. Make it clear that visiting in person is even more fun, there’s [usually] no discomfort, we really are “warm and welcoming.” Offer an Internet only membership rate for people who live more than 100 miles away.
Let’s take the lead here, show the dynamism we do every day in liturgy, inclusion, relevance, social action, and become the organized promoters we must be in competing with Jon Stewart and Pandora. We have what so many people are seeking; they just don’t seem to know it.
Marv Kaminsky lives in Oswego, NY, where he is an Adjunct Instructor of Broadcasting at SUNY Oswego. He is also a part-time Master Control Operator at WCNY-TV, the PBS affiliate in Syracuse. Since 2006,even after moving away, he has been producing audio of sermons and other material for Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park, KS.