When the internet began to blossom in the early '00s, there was a lot of talk about the fundamental life changes it would bring. Some of the early internet businesses that thought they would revolutionize their industries included pets.com, grocerycart.com, Napster, and Friendster. Through missteps and hubris, but mostly by being ahead of their time, these businesses all failed. People weren't ready to shop for groceries online. People weren't ready to do all of their socializing on the computer. The innovations they presented were ahead of their time by just a few years. Other businesses, like taxicabs, had no idea that their traditional model would be upended by Uber and Lyft - they failed to innovate fast enough.
Twenty years later, we see that our relationship to the internet has been profoundly changed by both advances in technology and the ongoing quarantine. Suddenly, food and grocery delivery is a billion-dollar business. So are businesses that enable face to face video community meetings like Zoom, Facebook Live, and Skype. We now rely on Zoom and Instacart and Uber Eats. We shop with Amazon and reimburse friends with Zelle and Venmo. We email and share documents online without printing or mailing anything. Our regular lives are profoundly different than they used to be.
For those two decades, one of the only places that hadn't changed was the synagogue - it was an oasis of tradition and spirituality in a world of noisy change. You could count on the fact that a synagogue was a real place to meet people in person, and to pray and study without the aid of a digital device.
That is clearly changing.
During the ongoing quarantine, the Jewish community has been forced online. For the past four months, some of us have been learning the ups and downs of Zoom minyans and digital classes. Some of these changes might be temporary during the pandemic, but others might persist long after. Crisis leads to change and innovation, and sometimes we learn that there are benefits to doing things differently.
As of this writing and based on the guidelines currently issued by the governor of Pennsylvania, Brith Sholom Jewish Center will be offering hybrid services in August and September - with some folks attending in person and others invited to stream online. In this way, we can accommodate those folks that are comfortable praying in person and also serve those that prefer to stay home and participating virtually. All precautions will be taken in the sanctuary to keep socially distant and to minimize any exposure to illness, of course.
We're going to lose something by going online, but we also might gain something, too. The Jewish community nationwide will explore this new dimension of community, and hopefully provide sacred community and spiritual uplift, but with a different delivery system.
By comparison to the other businesses of the dot.com boom, we're a little late to the game. But for a religion that is over 3,000 years old, it seems more than fine that we decided to wait a little before jumping in on the latest fad. We hope you'll join us online for this brave new frontier for Brith Sholom.
Rabbi Mark Asher Goodman is the spiritual leader of Brith Sholom Jewish Center in Erie, PA. These are a collection of thoughts and writings since he joined the community in Erie. For more of his past writings, click here.