Becoming “a Temple Without Boundaries”
by Bracha Yael
In 2011, URJ awarded an Incubator Grant to our temple, Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) to develop and implement its BCC Live, a live stream and social media program to widen community connections. Founded in Los Angeles in 1972, BCC is the first known lesbian and gay synagogue in the world, and the first gay and lesbian religious institution—Jewish, Christian, or other—recognized by a mainstream religious movement.
Initially, our use of technology grew out of Bikkur Cholim (to visit or extend aid to the sick). Starting in the early 2000s, we offered members who were unable to attend events and services due to serious or chronic illness a way to connect – to study and pray via conference phone. With the help of the grant, we added live broadcast of our weekly Shabbat services and certain events, classes and lectures.
Although in the beginning, some members felt hesitant about live-streaming Shabbat services, most now believe it is an important part of being an inclusive and caring community. For instance, one of our members currently in a month-long hospital stay “attends” services via the broadcast. During his first online Shabbat, our cantor, Juval Porat, spoke words of comfort directly to him right before the Mi Sheberach (Healing Prayer). At the conclusion of the service, the congregation stood, turned to face the camera and sang “Oseh Shalom (A Prayer for Peace)” to him and other viewers.
The live broadcast has grown to include those who are geographically isolated or temporarily out of town, as well as closeted LGBT Jews throughout the U.S. and abroad who are seeking an inclusive spiritual community. One member commented, “This doesn’t replace going to synagogue for services but provides a way to keep people connected when they just can’t be there.” As BCC Live’s slogan says, “Wherever you go, BCC goes with you!”
Streaming events like bar and bat mitzvahs, anniversaries, weddings and memorials allows friends and families to “gather together” from miles away for life cycle events. Imagine the thrill for a bubbe who no longer travels to “be there” for her granddaughter! Last spring, our rabbi, Lisa Edwards, blessed the upcoming wedding of a couple in Germany. Despite being a continent, an ocean, and nine hours away, the bride and groom-to-be wanted to share their joyous occasion with their BCC community. During the service, Rabbi Edwards blessed the couple, who watched via Skype; the congregation waved at the camera and sang “Mazel Tov.” The couple quickly responded their appreciation by way of social chat, which was gleefully shared in the synagogue.
Live and archived broadcasts have expanded our outreach to the LGBT Jewish community and its allies. People from Lake Tahoe, Chicago, Miami, Berlin, Abu Dhabi, Jerusalem, and Mexico City have watched our services, classes and lectures. The demand for the meaningful programming available through BCC Live was never more evident than when Rabbi Rachel Adler, Ph.D., pioneer Jewish feminist theologian and professor of Modern Jewish Thought at Hebrew Union College, gave a sermon at BCC on “Texts that Don’t Let People Live.” She explained: The rabbis taught that we shall “live by the commandments,” not die by them. Thus, we need to “reinterpret” texts that have been used to oppress LGBT folks “because we are the ones who must determine what a text means in our time.” With widespread interest from Jews and non-Jews, scholars and LGBT activists, Rabbi Adler’s YouTube video (also embedded below) logged more than 800 views in less than a month.
By embracing live streaming and social media thanks to the URJ Incubator grant, BCC has been able to become an even more inclusive and diverse community – a temple without boundaries.
Bracha Yael is the BCC Live Chair at Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles.