I have been so inspired by the number of you who have joined us online for a service, a class, our bedtime story for kids, a musical event and/or a virtual social gathering. Being able to see and hear you all is very, very special.
Yesterday, I taught a class on Zoom focusing on the impact the hit sitcom Seinfeld had on American Judaism. I spent a lot of time preparing for this class, reading fascinating, scholarly articles about the television sensation that prided itself on being “a show about nothing,” and preparing video clips to share with folks who joined me online. About 50 folks joined me in our Zoom room. I introduced the class and got ready to show my first video by sharing my screen with all the participants and – bam – technical problems hit. No one could hear the video. I tried again. Nothing. This entire online class was centered around these video clips! Nothing I did was able to fix the sound issue. Thanks to fellow Ramat Shalomnik, Hillary Tescher, one video was able to be shared on her screen, but, for the most part, my class tanked. I felt like I let my incredible students who joined me down. As a perfectionist, I was frustrated and, yes, even slightly depressed by the entire experience.
After reaching out to many of the folks who joined me for this debacle, it was suggested that I was being a wee bit hard on myself. Despite the technical issues, I was reminded that there was still a great discussion about the impact (or lack of one) of Seinfeld, Jewish stereotypes, the difference between New York Jewish life and Jewish life elsewhere in the world, comedy and cultural differences. More importantly, the Zoom room brought together almost 50 people I care about and who care deeply about me and the others on the call. As a group, we had an hour to gather together, see/hear each other and put the anxiety of life today aside for a bit. In doing so, we created something we all need: sacred space.
Mircea Eliade, 20th-century a historian of religion, philosopher, a professor at the University of Chicago and a leading interpreter of religious experience wrote that for a spiritual person:
space is not homogeneous; he experiences interruptions, breaks in it; some parts of space are qualitatively different from others. ‘Draw not nigh hither’, says the Lord to Moses; ‘put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground’ (Exodus, 3, 5). There is, then, a sacred space, and hence a strong, significant space; there are other spaces that are not sacred and so are without structure or consistency, amorphous. Nor is this all. For (spiritual individuals), this spatial nonhomogeneity finds expression in the experience of an opposition between space that is sacred, the only real and really existing space and all other space, the formless expanse surrounding it
While those of us who gathered together yesterday were, regrettably, unable to watch a few Seinfeld clips and chat about them, we were given the opportunity to virtually leave the profane, isolated, overwhelming world of COVID-19 and create an online, holy community. Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman teaches that sacred space is where we come together “to enrich our lives and seek comfort…to connect to the past and to each other…to celebrate and develop a sense of the sacred, and to commit ourselves to the great ideas that make life worth living.” While I still wish that I could’ve shared the Seinfeld clips, they were insignificant. Simply by making the choice to be together, to engage with each other online, our lives were enriched in that Zoom room yesterday.
I don’t like the term that describes what most of us are doing these days: social distancing. It overlooks the fact that we still can connect socially. We still can gather together online as a community and create special moments, sacred space. Thank God for technology – for the ability to see and hear each other during these trying times. Thank God for our traditions, our rituals, our feelings for each other and our community – all of these things and more that draw us to connect. We are so fortunate to be able to socially connect while simultaneously engaging in the very important, life-saving act of physical distancing.
Sending strength and love to all.