As Jewish life moves online, what are the livestreaming options?

Coronavirus has forced dozens of events to be cancelled and synagogues shut, but it need not be so: the JC outlines your options



As social distancing regulations have forced the Jewish world to move online, demand for live-streaming platforms to keep communal life ticking over has skyrocketed.

The JC has gone through the most well-known to provide readers with some pointers of what is out there. 

Zoom is a remote video-conferencing platform which has taken off with such force since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic that it has become an internet phenomenon unto itself.

The platform is now being used by many progressive synagogues to broadcast services and for minyanim, as well as schools, companies and social gatherings.

The service is best used for what it was designed for: meetings. All participants can see and interact each other, and the host can share their computer screens with them – facilitating the broadcast of pre-recorded videos or presentations.    

These features can foster a sense of community among participants, especially for events that usually have a strong social or community-orientation, such as synagogue services.

The platform is best used for what it was designed to do: meetings. However, as everybody attending can see each other through their cameras and interact with each other, it can also foster a sense of community that is lacking on other platforms where attendees are blind to others.

Allowing participants to interact with each other – and sometimes speak over each other – may be chaotic but is nothing that a host with knowledge of the platform cannot prevent by changing the settings of their meeting.

Zoom, if the host has not locked their room or provided entry codes to invitees in a secure manner, potentially allows disruptive guests to attend.

Getting set-up and entering meetings may be complicated for technophobes, and payment is also required for events with over 100 attendees or meetings that last more than 40 minutes.

Youtube Live and Facebook Live are the inbuilt livestreaming tools on those platforms and are arguably among the simplest tools available. They are also the most widely known.

Both allow creators to go live with a click of a button from their phones or computers and to broadcast services in an easily accessible and easily searchable way.

They are publicly broadcast, and viewers cannot see each other and interaction with the host and each other is limited to the comments. This come with its positives and negatives, as it allows events such as services to be broadcast without fear of disrupting prayer, but also doesn’t allow any sense of communal activity to be sustained.

Youtube and Facebook Live are used especially for broadcasting talks and discussions, and synagogues such as Bromley Reform were early adopters of the platforms.   

With Youtube, channels must be set up at least 24 hours before they wish to start live streaming and streams can be set for a regular set time – good for synagogue services or recurrent events.

Sermons and classes, such as those by Sephardic Rabbi Joseph Dweck, are also being broadcast regularly on Facebook live.

Vimeo Livestream, the lesser known cousin to Youtube Live, offers a more professional, streamlined and controlled experience for the creator and the viewer.

Vimeo is advert-free and streams can be controlled by a remote producer allowing people on camera to focus on performing. This ad-free and professional experience, however, comes at a cost - £70/month.

Vimeo also has greater privacy settings, allowing you greater leeway in who accesses the stream, and allows broadcasts to be simultaneously re-broadcast at various locations elsewhere – using Vimeo akin to a switchboard, before re-broadcasting out.

Vimeo also allows you to create an app for your organisation, with a content management system and distinct feel.

While Vimeo livestream has been used recently for Bar Mitzvahs, it caters more to companies and organisations, rather than individuals, as it is targeted more at regular streams of events and conferences.

Vimeo also allows content creators to rent or sell their live stream content, which may be draw for Jewish businesses and creatives.  

StreamYard, which was used on Bar Mitzvahs at Elsetree and Borehamwood Synagogue, is a simple platform that allows you to stream events onto Youtube and Facebook.

The platform is relatively intuitive: it has pre-set options allowing you to jump right in and can be handled easily by those with limited technological ability. It also offers a more controlled viewer experience.

StreamYard, as with Youtube Live and Facebook Live, viewers cannot see each other, and messaging and comments is dependent on the hosting platform.  

StreamYard’s tools, in its free version, are also relatively limited. Graphics, slides and pre-recorded video messages are all aspects that come with the paid-up version.

Periscope, which operates similarly to Instagram Live, is a live streaming app that is integrated into the Twitter system and is focussed on individuals. Periscope is extremely simple to use and is designed for a platform that is generally forgotten by other live streaming apps.

Periscope and allows you to broadcast what you are doing or thinking directly on your Twitter account – your followers will get a notification when you go live, while Instagram Live lets you broadcast publicly or privately, depending on your privacy settings, to your followers. 

Twitch and Discord, while primarily used by gamers, are intuitive and increasingly used for organisations and classes. Twitch was the first purpose-built live streaming platform and has developed into a platform used by hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world. Discord, which users often use in parallel, has a seamlessly integrated chat function and allows users to discuss and stream in a more private manner.

Sparko is a unique solution to keep in touch with grandparents. If you can get them a Sparko box to plug into their televisions, they can chat with family and follow live exercised classes from their sitting rooms. Sparko also comes with

Families might also want to try Houseparty, especially those with children or members that are self-isolating, allows up to eight people to get together and talk and play games and trivia together on their phones.

Amit Green contributed to this report. 

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