Remember back when our synagogue announced that they were starting in-person services with strict COVID protocols, and I said that I couldn’t see the point of attending if there was no singing, no socializing, and no snacks? I can now confidently report that I’ve been there for a Shabbat service, and I was wrong. Mostly.
We’re getting close to K’s Bat Mitzvah, and one of the requirements is that she attend a certain number of services this year. We were given the option of in-person services on Saturday morning, or Zoom services on Friday evening and Sunday mornings. You wouldn’t be wrong to ask why, in the midst of a surge in COVID cases, I would choose to go to services in person. I was wondering that myself. Then we went on Saturday morning, and I remembered very well.
It’s simple: if we attend services in person, K will try harder to control her complaints. She also can’t just get up and walk out. I feel like if we attended through Zoom, she would be complaining constantly. So we went in person.
We walked the four blocks to our shul’s temporary home (they’re renovating) and checked in at the door (you have to reserve a spot since seats are so limited, and so they know who was there in case someone later tests positive for COVID.) I won’t lie, the service was different. Also a bit surreal, because of the plexiglas panels that surrounded each table or lectern at the front; the single chairs that were placed ten (or more) feet apart (there were some groups of two or three chairs that said, “reserved for members of the same bubble”); and the fact that everyone was wearing masks. To me, the most bizarre change was that nobody but the leader was allowed to sing. Whenever a prayer involved responses from the congregation, they were spoken instead of sung. We had been informed that if we wished to sing, we could hum softly—so the majority of folks in the room were humming, sometimes in harmony. It was different, but still beautiful.
Even with the masks, I could identify everyone in the room instantly. Either their hair, their tallit, their kippah, or their general demeanor gave them away; I knew them and they all knew me. I felt that sense of belonging that I always seem to forget about until I actually step into our shul.
K was still restless. She must have asked me five or six times when the service would end. My answer was usually “soon,” but I was sorely tempted to say, “If you’d paid attention in Hebrew school and if you would pick up a siddur (prayer book), you’d be able to answer that question yourself!” It was a very short service by traditional Jewish standards: a three-and-a-half hour service had been condensed into ninety minutes. It was refreshingly short and snappy. I’d love to get back to singing out loud, parading around the room with the Torah, and having a kiddush lunch with everyone afterwards; but the shorter service is a COVID-related change that I wouldn’t mind keeping.
Was it worth going? Yes, I think so. Even without the singing. As for socializing and snacks, I did chat with a few friends outside (from a distance), and they handed out pre-wrapped snacks to everyone on our way out of the building. It wasn’t the usual experience, but it still felt good to be there.