Get Your Jew On(line), Redux
So I recently "attended" Kol Nidre services by watching the first-ever broadcast of such a service online. Glad I did it; not something I'd choose to do again.
I think the part that amazed me was how many people logged on and from where. One person watched from Pondicherry, India. Another watched from the Czech Republic. And there I was, from Malden. There were apparently tens of thousands of people watching, and not all of them were Jewish. One of the purposes of this offering was to educate non-Jews about what goes on during a Kol Nidre service. Isn't that great? Opening up the synagogue doors - in an unobtrusive way - to the rest of the world. Pretty cool in my book.
There were a few issues, however. The technical ones first - the "full screen" option did not work, so viewers were relegated to watching a small video feed (think YouTube size). I got used to it, but it still was tough on the eyes. Also, unless a viewer had a prayerbook, there was no way to follow along with the rabbi; the words were not broadcast onscreen. The music is something that over the years has been ingrained into my head, so I had no trouble remembering the tunes... can't say the same for the words. Aside from those, very smooth job - good use of varied camera positions and excellent sound quality.
My only real issue with the broadcast was that the rabbi seemed to be... how can I say this... an idiot. First, he didn't acknowledge the congregation at all. The day is a somber one, true, but a word or two to welcome the people in the temple would have been nice. Forget about those viewing from their computers; the rabbi didn't even say 'good evening' to his own congregation.
Additionally, I found myself disgusted with his sermon. He spoke of how there needs to be a rejuvenation of Jewish life and activism in our communities, and that's fine, but he specifically said that "let's face it, the only places it will happen are New York and Los Angeles." (yes, I took some notes and that's a quote) Now it's true that those two cities have huge Jewish populations, and they are the hubs for a lot of Jewish thinking and social activism. But I'll be feshnickened if Boston doesn't hold its own, if Chicago doesn't have a share, if Houston doesn't have a thriving Jewish community. And Washington DC! And Philly! Hell, even Minneapolis is the hub for one of the major Jewish organizations. And hello, Florida?? For the rabbi to have said what he did basically insulted the other pockets of Judaism in the country and said "if you're not in NY or LA, you don't matter." Additionally, he said it when tens of thousands of people around the world were watching. Many of these people do not live in New York or LA, I presume that many wanted to get involved somehow and perhaps this night was the first of many steps toward taking some sort of action in their communities. Yom Kippur is not a time of exclusion, and it struck me as extraordinarily insensitive.
He then went on to say that other religions and ethnic groups have "declared war on the Torah" and that people of different religions who marry and raise their kids in a secular household "should not be counted as Jews." That's some pretty harsh shit, and that's when I stopped watching. I don't feel bad at all; the sermon is usually the last part of the service aside from a prayer or two at the end. But I was dumbstruck - here he was, the first to lead one of the more progressive Jewish experiences ever, and he came across as a blundering fool. It's strange to have that feeling and think that the guy was an idiot while simultaneously "attending" the service on the day of forgiveness and repentance... but what can I say? That's how I felt.
But the real reason why I'd never do this again is that the feeling of awe that comes over me when I'm in a huge room with many others never happened. At all. The feeling of 'congregation' in the true sense of the word - not in the "people from all over the world are watching" sense - is apparently very integral to my temple experience. There's just something indescribable about it. Under the suits and dresses and makeup and hair gel that seem so important to the high holy days, there's a human aspect that transcends any religion. In any case - it was an experience that I'm glad I partook of, but next year it's back to the synagogue and back to the congregation. And anyway, it's so much better when the four-year-old shouting about his penis is actually sitting right behind you.