This last year was like no other in the history of the Jewish community. With many of the unique challenges posed by the pandemic, we have seen an equally important and unique set of adaptations and innovations proliferating from the wider community. As the new year begins, the Jewish community is looking forward to a new chapter of Jewish history—as we take the lessons learned from the past year and begin applying them to the next.
Jason Moss, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation, shared this idea and more during a phone interview I recently had with him. “I’m looking forward, not even necessarily to the next steps, but really from a sense of how the Jewish community is going to evolve. Programs created because of COVID that were well received by the community and applying that into the framework we had pre-COVID. This will truly allow us to start doing things that we were never even thinking about before.”
Capitalizing on innovations inspired during social distancing was a common theme across conversations with local community leadership. Many organizations made major changes to their programmatic structure overnight enabling the Jewish community to remain a bedrock of support even while gathering in person was impossible. To this effect, congregations are planning on continuing many of these innovations even post-COVID. Lila Held, Beth Shalom of Whittier’s President said that they are, “planning on keeping our live streaming services going, even after the pandemic is under control and we are back in our building. We believe that it has great benefit in reaching housebound congregants or people who have transportation problems.”
Having events streamed online as a supplement to in-person events will allow the Jewish community to capitalize on the best of both in-person and live streamed events. Jason Moss highlighted that we are entering into the next stage of Jewish life and need to focus on next steps. “We have had a higher turnout in general for every Jewish activity, including the highest turnout for our book festival, and we will continue to evolve. I’m just hopeful that we don’t go back to only an internal focus as a diverse group of people are figuring out new ways to engage.”
While the Jewish community has adapted and innovated in ways that will certainly bolster communal engagement in years to come—communal leaders are certainly also looking forward to reconnecting with congregants in person, once it is safe to do so. Judaism is a tradition that places a central value on community gatherings—so it is understandable that communal leaders are excited at the prospect of welcoming people back in person.
In this vein Rabbi Rick Schechter of Temple Sinai of Glendale wrote to me that what he is looking forward to in the upcoming year is “the Jewish community reuniting in person, panim el panim—face to face—beyond virtual, when safe to do so. I eagerly await the time when we can carry forth the resilience, compassion, caring, creativity and menschlichkeit that’s been demonstrated again and again during this pandemic, offering our spiritual gifts anew with one another—increased through the joy of each other’s full, felt presence. Our quintessential prayer of gratitude then on our lips: thanking G-d for enlivening us, sustaining us and bringing us to this new season of our lives—pregnant with hope and possibility.”
2020 was truly a year like no other both for the Jewish community and the world at large. With all of the unique challenges and subsequent innovations relating to the Jewish world—we look to the year ahead with both new lessons learned and recharged energy. Happy New Year to everyone!
RABBI DANIEL LEVINE is the Senior Jewish Educator at Hillel and is a contributing writer to JLife Magazine.