Exterior of Temple Israel Long Beach


Steve Gordon

The Evolution of Zoom

November 3, 2020

Before I get into an explanation of the title of this article, I would like to share some news in the form of an announcement. I am very pleased to report that the next president of Temple Israel will be Mark Dressner. Mark has been on the board for six years, and during that time, he has been on the Executive Committee as Secretary, as well as his current role as Vice President of Ritual Practices. Mark brings with him a wealth of experience in addition to great enthusiasm and a deep caring and concern for our synagogue. There is no doubt in my mind that we are truly fortunate Mark has agreed to step into the position of President Elect, and I look forward to continuing to work with him over the next two and a half years. Please join me in enthusiastically welcoming Mark as our next President.

Okay, so what do I mean by “The Evolution of Zoom?” First of all, it has nothing to do with technology, nor is it a history lesson about virtual meetings.

I’m really missing everyone. I’m missing being in the building. I’m missing sitting next to friends during services and chanting the prayers that we all know so well, and that provide us with spiritual uplifting. And I’m missing being at the Oneg and thinking about whether I can have another cookie, or if I should have a piece of fruit. I know that all of us are beyond ready to get back to some form of normalcy. Going to a movie, attending a sporting event, and sharing a meal and conversation with friends and loved ones. And those are just the social interactions we are missing. Health and financial implications of this pandemic are much deeper concerns we are all dealing with in some fashion or another. As you are reading this, we are in the month of November, well known on stage and screen for the celebration of a holiday in which we give thanks for the blessings in our lives. Never before in my lifetime have I realized how many blessings I take for granted. During many Thanksgiving dinners, it’s common to go around the table and share what we are thankful for. And not once have I ever mentioned any of the items I listed in the previous paragraph. There is nothing good about the pandemic we are all living through. But maybe, just maybe, it will provide me/us with a greater appreciation of the routine activities I had previously taken for granted. All fine and good, and perhaps some truth. But what does any of this have to do with Zoom?…

Thanks for asking.

When it became clear that we would not be able to congregate (feel free to make up your own puns), conducting services and other events on Zoom was a natural. At first, it was simply a recording of Rabbi and Cantor speaking to us, saying prayers, and singing songs. This situation was only going to be for a few weeks. We didn’t need to get creative or expand presentation. We would get past it and everything would return to normal. Well, not so fast.What has happened since has been nothing short of phenomenal. There has been a conscious effort among clergy, Eric and Sharon to bring us the most meaningful and spiritual experiences as possible. That includes breakout sessions following services to allow us to interact as we would during an Oneg Shabbat.The only thing missing is the extra cookie (but I guess I can take care of that on my own).

The creativity also includes being treated to a weekly musical interlude by David York, our long-time accompanist and musical director. How wonderful it will be to get back into the building. But how great it is to hear David’s beautiful music.

“Anything Goes,” the regularly scheduled interview program conducted by Eric and Sharon, has also become a favorite. Additionally, Cantor Hass has brought us new programming with her meditation sessions and book groups.

As I’m writing this, we are coming off a weekend in which our Zoom services very effectively captured the joyous Simcha Torah celebration. Enjoying the musical talents of a variety of congregants as others were dancing around with the Torahs was an absolute delight.

The title of this article is a bit inaccurate. The technology and capabilities of Zoom has not evolved over the last seven months. It is our utilization of the process that has evolved. Is it the same thing as being together in the building? Nope, sure isn’t. But given the current situation, the creativity and innovation we are experiencing has been wonderful.

When on a Zoom call, we can see the number of folks who have tuned in, and the numbers have been very impressive. Now, I fully acknowledge that during a pandemic, people don’t have play tickets, nor are they going to other events that would normally fill up a calendar. As a result, we are experiencing good attendance. I get that. But for those of you who have not participated in our services and other programs, I very strongly encourage you to do so.

In addition to services, our Joys of Jewish Learning events are also starting up. The JJL catalog is available online, and is filled with all kinds of programs to pique your interest. Is everything in the catalog for everyone? No, of course not. But is there something in there for everyone? Absolutely. All you have to do is look. You will not be disappointed.

The next time I am asked at a Thanksgiving dinner what I am grateful for, I will probably reply “Zoom.” But that would not be accurate. The real answer is I am incredibly grateful for all the people I am working with who have made it their mission to provide us with meaningful and fulfilling experiences as best as they can during this very difficult time. The evolution of Zoom is not what Zoom has done for us. It is what we are doing with Zoom.

One last item before I let you go. It is very important that we, as lay leaders and staff, hear from you. We want to know what pleases you, and what displeases you. It is the responsibility of the board of directors to represent our constituency, which is you, the congregation. Please feel free to send me an email with your thoughts, concerns, feedback, likes, and dislikes. We want to know what you want, and what you need. I can be reached at president@tilb.org

The real last item: Thanksgiving this year is likely to be very different than what we are all used to, or how we would like it to be. My hope however, is that each of us are able to find gratitude in some way or another despite the limitations and restrictions we are going through. I firmly believe it is gratitude that will allow us to keep our sanity when so much of our world is out of whack.

Looking forward to seeing you all as soon as we possibly can.