Shuls take services online as UK steps up fight against coronavirus
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Shuls take services online as UK steps up fight against coronavirus

Some synagogues are broadcasting liturgy and classes online after the health secretary Matt Hancock advised faith groups against mass gatherings

A barmitzvah at Lauderdale Road Synagogue, Maida Vale, London.

Credit: Blake Ezra
A barmitzvah at Lauderdale Road Synagogue, Maida Vale, London. Credit: Blake Ezra

Some synagogues are broadcasting liturgy and classes online, as the UK steps up its fight to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The health secretary Matt Hancock advised faith groups and places of worship on Monday to follow guidelines against mass gatherings.

As the death toll reaches 71 in the UK, the pandemic has claimed the lives of over 8,000 people worldwide. More than 200,000 cases have been confirmed around the world.

Liberal Judaism is uploading all “appropriate liturgy” online, with some rabbis live-streaming shabbat and festival services. The movement will  unveil an online hub with advice and videos from across different congregations for all members to watch at home.

Some Liberal Judaism congregations led by rabbis not considered at risk will remain open for a “small number” of people in need of face to face contact.

But the number of those attending will be restricted and congregants will be asked to maintain a safe distance, according to Rabbi Charley Baginsky, the movement’s director of strategy and partnerships. “Traditional concepts of minyan and interpretations of the restriction of technology on shabbat are not a concern for us in these circumstances,” she said.

The S&P Sephardi Community, which has closed all its synagogues and suspended services and events, is broadcasting some of its classes and video messages to members. The movement is “preparing a comprehensive action plan to support the most vulnerable in the community,” according to its CEO David Arden.

Reform Judaism has closed all synagogues but continues to run some services online. A dozen shuls, including Finchley Reform and Edgware and Hendon Reform, are now streaming services.

The movement is also holding weekly conference calls on Wednesday evenings to share information and answer any questions with members. A summary of the discussion is emailed to newsletter recipients before shabbat each week, with other relevant updates.

Most Masorti Judaism congregations have suspended services and replaced face-to-face contact with online activities wherever possible.

“Many of our communities will be live streaming services which do not take place on shabbat – for example, early Kabbalat shabbat services on Friday afternoons and certain midweek services,”said the network’s chief executive Matt Plen.

Senior rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, of the New North London Synagogue, unveiled in a blog post plans to hold a daily service at 8pm as well as Torah learning broadcasts with 10 to 15 minute slots for members to discuss a topic of their choice.

United Synagogue, which has suspended all services and activities, will broadcast a Kabbalat shabbat service on Friday evening, featuring a performance by the Stanmore and Canons Park community chazzan Jonny Tugel.

Before the lighting of candles, members watching the video at home will be asked to switch off the stream and finish the service themselves.

Richard Verber, communications director for the movement, said: “Our shuls may be closed but our communities remain open. In this new, temporary, normal we must all find ways to keep people connected.

“While nothing can take the place of a shul full of people joyously singing together, we hope our new Kabbalat Shabbat Live initiative will provide comfort to those isolating and everyone who would have wanted to be in shul this shabbat.”

The Ner Yisrael Community in Hendon, which has closed, held a Torah lesson both online and in-person on Monday.  Over 130 members tuned in  remotely using a video-conferencing tool.

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