High Holy Day services are a big hit online

By Simon Rocker, September 3, 2013

A growing number of synagogues are enabling congregants to enjoy services without leaving their own home.

Hundreds are likely to be logging on to High Holy Day services this year streamed live by Progressive synagogues over the web.

Simon Myers, executive director of West London Synagogue, said; “This is will be the third Rosh Hashanah where we have streamed the service. All of our Friday evening, Shabbat morning and festival services are streamed.”

Finchley Reform Synagogue is one of half a dozen Reform communities in the UK which offer services online. It first aired its High Holy Day services five years ago and then began regular streaming the following year when it was thought that fears about swine flu might make people avoid public places.

Laura Tobias, of FRS, said: “Our weekly number of viewers varies between 10 and 30 depending on the time of year and whether there’s a simchah or a special service taking place.

The number of viewers peaks at this time. Last year we had 120 for Yom Kippur

“The number of viewers peaks at the High Holy Days and last year we had nearly 120 viewers for each of Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur itself.

“Our figures for the High Holy Days grow each year and it’s lovely to know that we’re providing a service to those who can’t be with us physically for whatever reason, or that we’re uniting the families of our members by virtual means, when they’re spread across the globe.”

Online services are a boon to those who are ill, disabled or otherwise find it hard to get to synagogue.

“It’s important for people who can’t attend,” said the Reform movement’s communications officer, Martin Dix.

“One man, for instance, has a wife who is housebound and he doesn’t want to leave her. They live out in the country. For him to go to shul would be full day’s round-trip. The streamed service is a lifeline of Jewish connection.”

It is not only the housebound who log on. “We know that when there are bar and batmitzvahs, there are families abroad who can’t get here who can see the service via the internet,” Mr Myers said.

“We also have members abroad — in Israel, Hong Kong and Australia, for example.

FRS rabbi Miriam Berger said, “On Kol Nidre, there are people with young children who don’t feel it appropriate to get a babysitter and don’t want to bring their children along, who can watch online.”

West London offers a fixed camera view which is focused on the bimah. “We don’t scan the congregation because of data protection,” Mr Myers explained.

“We’ve had one or two barmitzvahs where we have not filmed the service because the family do not want their child to be viewed on the internet.”

Ms Tobias said that FRS had “a dedicated group of volunteers who make sure that the stream works for every service”.

Last updated: 5:45pm, September 3 2013