Being vice-chair (and acting treasurer), a lay reader (we don’t have a rabbi) and event organiser at Hull Reform Synagogue had made attending shul a chore rather than a choice.
Services and classes had become less to me about religious learning and spiritual connections and more about dealing with practicalities and synagogue politics.
I would leave shul feeling deflated, full of sadness and pain. Although I attended Reform Judaism events and weekends, I felt I did not fit into the Reform world. I was losing faith in my faith and the people in it.
But things have changed radically since the lockdown. Reform Judaism resources and online streaming services have opened my eyes — and ears — allowing me to experience inspiring services, new tunes, interesting talks, Torah lessons, religious cooking and supportive groups.
There was even a Reform and Orthodox viewpoint on alternative Passover foods and Seder plates!
My journey to shul — now virtual via Zoom — is filled with anticipation and relaxation rather than worry and concern. During the Zoom services and sessions, I feel I am in a safe space and closer to a spiritual presence than ever before. I can pray and sing without negative distractions or comments.
I do not have to worry about the prepping of the kiddush food — if the challah is out, or if there is enough wine and wine glasses — or if a Yahrzeit has been forgotten.
The rabbis and speakers make me feel at ease and excite me with their teachings; the cantors get my heart racing with their incredible voices. My mouth hurts from smiling because I’m happy to see these strangers I now feel a warm connection to.
Everyone is positive, welcoming, upbeat and caring. It makes you forget about the absence of physical interaction and the scary outside world. It’s a safe space for joy, as well as for grieving.
Afterwards, I rush downstairs to tell my non-Jewish housemates about the inspirational service/talk/lesson. They have even joined in, fascinated by the idea of RJ:TV and by the live online services streamed from shuls around the country. It has felt more special to be able to bring my non-Jewish friends into this wonderful virtual world.
The experience has inspired me and given me clarity on who I am as a Jew. My faith is what I choose it to be. It is online, in books, in podcasts and in siddurs.
My faith is in my heart and not in bricks and mortar. My faith is Reform Judaism and I could not be happier. At the age of 32, I finally feel like a Reform Jew. It’s all done wonders for my mental health, as well as for my religious experience.
And given what I know now, I might not go back to being a full-time shul-goer when all this over. I would even do some festivals online.
Aimi Sugarman is vice-chair of Hull Reform Synagogue