Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange is offering live streaming video of all services — including Shabbat and the High Holy Days — accessible by anyone with a computer, tablet, or smartphone. The video link is featured on the home page of TSTI’s website, and reminders about services are shared with congregants via newsletters and e-mails.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen, who spearheaded the Reform synagogue’s initiative, said that last year’s Yom Kippur services had 1,400 hits from around the world, and participation has been growing steadily since the technology was introduced. “We have always been at the forefront of reducing barriers to participation in Jewish life,” he said, “including using technology to engage congregants and students.”
Among the viewers were college students who could not be home for the High Holy Days but preferred maintaining a digital connection with their community rather than attending services on or near campus.
TSTI member Danielle Blake is a recent college graduate who taught high school English in France this year. When she 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 Hashana, and I was concerned about where I would go, since I was not yet familiar with local Jewish life,” she said. By using the technology, she said, “I was very happy that I could essentially go to services in New Jersey from France.”
The service is also used by members who are elderly or infirm. Murray Mankowitz of Livingston, who has been a TSTI member for 60 years, is homebound; he is able to “attend” services without having to leave his home. “I can see the whole service and stay connected, without having to look for a ride,” he said. He watches Friday evening services frequently and has viewed the entire Rosh Hashana service.
Rabbi Arnold and Gert Zoref — members of TSTI’s Renaissance group for older adults — attend services regularly but inconveniences like 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 said, adding, “We’ve always considered the temple to be our second home, and now we can enjoy it right from home.”