BY EVE LEVY
The global pandemic has provided some unexpected opportunities to reach out socially while staying distant physically.
My husband and I stepped into Congregation Ahavath Achim almost two years ago with the goal of serving and growing this Sephardic congregation founded more than 100 years ago. The past two years we have been working tirelessly to bring exciting events to share Sephardic culture and flavors with the community.
Right before COVID-19 hit the world, we hosted a Shabbaton weekend with guest speaker Stephanie Pollak, whom we flew in from Miami. Stephanie addressed sensitive yet relevant issues such as addictions within the Jewish world, eating disorders, mental health and how to build a real connection with G-d in today’s day and age. We maxed out our new space with more than 75 attendees.
On the heels of that successful weekend, we were feeling so energized it felt like we were on a roll. Clearly people are searching for a deep connection to real people dealing with real issues. We were planning our next big weekend event when everything came to a halt – or so we thought.
With mixed emotions we closed our synagogue doors on March 13, and then we asked ourselves: now what?
We made phone calls to each member, shopped for those more vulnerable, delivered challahs and chicken soup every Friday, and dispensed some cheer to those whom were feeling isolated.
We knew we needed to find ways during this difficult time to continue to meet community needs.
So we moved online with Friday night services and Rabbi Levy’s weekly sermons. We added fun weekly game nights and fireside chats where we talked frankly about pertinent issues.
To our pleasant surprise, we found that people who had seldom come to services were logging on and joining us. The virtual world is in many ways a bigger community in a smaller world. It’s been lots of fun and a great opportunity for growth.
Technology is amazing and through Zoom and Facebook we were now reaching many more people than before this pandemic started. For example, more than 2,000 individuals joined us on our weekly Facebook live to celebrate our anniversary this week. We shared a short video from our own wedding and spoke about our experiences of Jewish marriage in contrast to the popular Netflix series “Unorthodox.” Rabbi Levy had more than 700 people viewing him making challah in our kitchen last week.
There are so many creative opportunities for connecting with others virtually. In a way, it feels as if our connnections have expanded exponentially. We have had the ability to include friends and family from across the community and country.
We look forward to a time when communities can again gather in person, but until then, let’s stay connected virtually!
Eve Levy is rabissa of Congregation Ahavath Achim, where her husband Gad Levy serves as rabbi.