Not only were we not back in person at houses of worship by Easter, we didn’t even make Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, that took place on Monday. Many, including me, were worried about a lack of a sense of community and how to pass the day without going to synagogue.
On Yom Kippur Jews are tasked by G-d to fast to atone for our sins, spend the day in synagogue asking for forgiveness for our shortcomings from the previous year, and to prepare to do better in the coming year. I was surprised to find that virtual praying made me feel more connected. The result was not less connection but more, with thousands of options from synagogues across the country.
After doing Kol Nidre virtually with my synagogue in Chicago, I consumed sermons from synagogues across the country. I checked out my mom’s synagogue in St. Louis and joined worshipers there. After searching “Yom Kippur Sermons 2020” I got amazing insights from Rabbis across the country. All from the comfort of my home. And my experience was not alone. I spoke to others who talked about how exciting it was to sample so many different approaches.
We’re Not Going Back to the Way it Was, by Design.
Yes, there are reasons moving to virtual synagogues is not good. Many of the sermons talked about the devastating impact of social isolation because of COVID. And that is a real concern. At the same time, religious institutions of all denominations have faced dwindling membership and struggled for years to engage younger audiences. The “new normal” has simply tipped that hand and forced a change in process that could ultimately be a solution to this pre-existing problem.
Change Is Hard
Change is hard, but it also prompts opportunity as it provokes more change. Synagogues may solve the problem of engaging new audiences with free access to live streamed prayer. But that means the business/funding model of membership will need to change.
Some synagogues simply translated the real-life practice to virtual this year, distributing private Zoom links only to members whose dues were paid in full. Others, like Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City, had nearly 10,000 computers tuned in, watching services that were live streamed from their website. For organizations that are looking to engage new audiences this is the biggest win ever.
And there is opportunity for development professionals to drive new funding models, producers to support seamless livestream delivery, and web and app developers to provide platforms with subscriptions to help synagogues on a DIY budget. The opportunity for innovation is ripe.
How will you adapt?
Video is not going away. Personalized, on-demand, service delivery is not going away. Your clients are going to be asking for more because they are seeing things that other people are doing and they want it too. They expect more access to you. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should,” is still good advice, a good adage to stay calm when thinking of new platforms and how communications are changing. But so is “adapt or die.”
In 2015 I remember being surprised when President Obama was interviewed by GloZell Green on YouTube. “YouTube?” I thought. “For a President?” Last night, along with millions of others, I watched the entire presidential debate on YouTube.
New and different is here to stay.
While we might do it kicking and screaming, we humans have a huge capacity to change when we put our minds to it. Where are you seeing changes in your industry? Once the terror of obsoletion passes, how can you do things differently? What can you learn yourself, or who can you partner with to gain the skills you need to move forward?
Later today I’ll be talking to Dr. Narketta Sparkman-Key on my own show, Intercultural Spark, on how learning about and adapting to other cultures teaches new ways of doing things that can transform your life. On Friday I’ll produce a Facebook Live show for a client, Dr. Margo Jacquot, on neuroplasticity and the capacity for the brain to change. (See links below to watch live or access the recordings after the fact.)
Now’s the time to be the hero in your story, embrace the opportunity and meet it head on. Through your self-directed actions and your own brain’s physiology, you are primed for change. How will you make it different and better?