Last month an article appeared on the front page of The Day. It subsequently appeared in the New London Times and Waterford Times. The article was written by our Vice President, Armi Rowe. She wrote about how Temple Emanu-El has embraced technology as a way to enhance our connection with our congregants and friends. We turned to technology in response to the conditions of the pandemic. If we couldn’t gather at the Temple, we needed another way to stay connected. It was a team effort to move into the virtual world. In the first days of the pandemic Sherry and I had help from our Temple Emanu-El teens, Trevor Fornara (now studying at Binghamton University) and Ellanora Lerner (now studying at Clark University). Trevor and Ellanora helped us set up and stream our first service. Technologically, it was rudimentary. You could see and hear us, but we couldn’t see or hear you. Our first steps set our direction but we knew we had to keep innovating. Then we entered the Zoom world which gave us two way communication. Since then, a small AV Club has formed with Sean Bendick at the heart of it. As far as we have come, we still have a long way to go. My vision is that we continually chip away at the barriers between those who can gather in our physical space and those gathering in our virtual space.
A similarly progressive step was taken in our TE Religious School. When our in person learning went virtual, Armi Rowe and Jennifer Zettler brought Shalom Learning, an online Jewish education program, to our school. This added significant content and additional structure to the Religious School curriculum that Jennifer and Armi had already significantly revised and refined. Additionally, Sherry Barnes and I took our First Friday programs for families on-line and Jennifer and Armi added monthly Shabbat and holiday programs for our students. Armi and Jennifer turned over leadership of our Religious School to Rachel O’Brien. Before Armi and Jennifer were done, they helped Rachel transition our students and school back to in person learning.
The article in The Day was accompanied by pictures of our April Share Shabbat. They say a picture says a thousand words. The front page picture captured one of our students, Rebecca Tsai, standing on the bima. Rebecca opened our hybrid Share Shabbat service with Sherry in joyous song. Another picture showed our young learners holding up a challah that I baked for our first oneg in over two years. A third picture captured Sean Bendick and Ryan O’Bern (our AV assistant from Grasso Technical High School) managing the camera and Zoom space. In the background of that picture one can see our on line community on a big screen in our sanctuary. What these pictures say is that we have a healthy, diverse, progressive spiritual community that is moving into the future with optimism and confidence.
What is a little harder to discern from the pictures is how seamlessly our religious school students and families join in our Kabbalat Shabbat celebrations. Share Shabbat isn’t a ‘kids service’ or simplified and abridged Shabbat observance. Rather, our young community of learners, their families, and teachers joyously uplift our Shabbat observance. Share Shabbat engages our entire Temple Emanu-El community.
If you haven’t joined in yet, there are two more special opportunities before summer. May 6th will be our last Share Shabbat of the school year. June 4th will be a special Share Shavuot program highlighting our educators, including honoring Jennifer Zettler and Armi Rowe for their dedication to our Religious School. Shavuot is a fitting time to honor our educators. Our rabbinic sages associated Shavuot with the reception of Torah at Sinai. That was a huge progressive step for the Israelites. Each generation since has taught its Torah to the next. Our teachers sustain this tradition that sustains the Jewish people.
Mark your calendars to Share Shabbat and Share Shavuot.