Synagogues are utilizing online learning and – in some cases – holding online services to help congregants cope.
By Michael Regenstreif, Editor
In view of the social-distancing and self-isolating measures mandated to help flatten the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin surveyed Ottawa’s Jewish congregations to see how the various congregations are adapting to the current reality.
In addition to responses from the various congregations, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa has a central listing of online classes and virtual gatherings – updated weekly – being offered by all Ottawa rabbis to the entire community. Visit jewishottawa.com/rabbis-online to access Rabbis Online.
Each congregation was asked about holding services and classes online; how minyan was being interpreted in light of current circumstances (can a group of 10 online be recognized as a minyan? Is a minyan still necessary at this time?); and about plans for communal seders that many congregations normally plan for Passover.
For the purposes of this report, the congregations are presented in alphabetical order.
Adath Shalom – Adath Shalom Congregation is a Conservative lay-led congregation.
According to Sherill Besser, Adath Shalom’s co-president, “Adath Shalom has suspended services. We have an online service on Friday afternoons which allows us to pray together and includes a d’var on the Torah portion. Members will be able to participate on Zoom… We will not have Shabbat services online but Adath Shalom members have the opportunity of praying together as a community, albeit virtually and on a weekday.”
Besser said that according to the Rabbinical Assembly, online services which include at least 10 individuals do not constitute a minyan, but that Adath Shalom can refer members to a prayer the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement “suggests may be used, in exigent circumstances, in lieu of Mourners’ Kaddish.”
Adath Shalom, she said, does not hold communal Passover seders.
The Adath Shalom website is at www.adath-shalom.ca.
Beit Tikvah – Congregation Beit Tikvah of Ottawa (CBTO) is an Orthodox congregation.
According to Bobby Wollock, the CBTO board president, “CBTO has suspended all in person programs and services until further notice. We are continuing on with many of our programs online via Zoom and Facebook Live,” but Shabbat services will not be held online.
“Minyans must still be in person but are not necessary during this outbreak,” Wollock said, referring to a directive from the Orthodox Union forbidding people from congregating until receiving from public health authorities.
“Our congregation does not normally have communal seders, but we are working on ways to make sure our congregants have everything necessary to have smaller seders in their homes,” Wollock added.
The CBTO website is at www.cbto.org.
Chabad of Centrepointe – Chabad of Centrepointe is a Chabad congregation.
“We have canceled all [in-person] events, classes and services, including our public seder,” said Rabbi Chaim Mendelsohn, but “we have online options [including] three uplifting and comforting weekly Torah classes on Facebook Live.”
According to Rabbi Mendelsohn, it “consistent with Torah law, under these circumstances, that one should not be concerned with regard to prayer with a minyan. Public safety is far more important. During the week, as opposed to Shabbat, one is certainly permitted to pray with others online if it provides them a sense of comfort and community.”
Rabbi Mendelsohn said Chabad of Centrepointe will provide “weekly shopping for food and basic necessities for our vulnerable members, regular catered meals for our vulnerable members, and a seder-in-a-box to all of our regulars or members who may need one.”
As well, Rabbi Mendelsohn said, Chabad of Centrepoint will ensure that all Jewish households in the Centrepointe, Craig Henry, Arlington Woods and Qualicum neighbourhoods will receive shmurah matzah for Passover.
The Chabad of Centrepoint website is at www.chabadcentrepointe.com.
Kehillat Beth Israel – Kehillat Beth Israel (KBI) is a Conservative congregation.
“We’ve moved all of our classes and programs to Zoom and Facebook Live. All of our programs will be posted on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/kehillatbethisrael,” said Rabbi Eytan Kenter.
“We are directing people who require a minyan to say Kaddish to join services that are being livestreamed with a minyan present from around North America. One can recite Kaddish from home if one is joining together with a minyan being held elsewhere. We also have all of our services recorded on Facebook so people can still watch and join together with a recording of our services there,” said Rabbi Kenter.
KBI is not planning to hold Shabbat services online.
“While we need to cancel our communal seders, we will be providing a number of five-to-10-minute videos to utilize during our seders and also will be offering [online] classes to help people run their own seders, as many may need to at this time,” added Rabbi Kenter.
The KBI website is at www.kehillatbethisrael.com.
Machzikei Hadas – Congregation Machzikei Hadas (CMH) is an Orthodox congregation.
“We have suspended all in-person gatherings. But we are doing a lot virtually,” said Rabbi Idan Scher, noting that emails listing online classes and options for online services have been sent to CMH members.
“We use no tech on Shabbat,” said Rabbi Scher, who added, “no communal seder will be held this year, but I am compiling a seder guide which will be available to the entire community.”
The CMH website is at www.cmhottawa.com.
Or Haneshamah – Or Haneshamah (OrH) is a Reconstructionist congregation.
“Everything in person is cancelled at OrH,” said Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, “including services, meetings and educational programs. Our board now meets via Zoom and we are developing our tech skills and tools.”
While Rabbi Bolton said OrH has not yet addressed the issue of whether online gatherings can count in forming a minyan, she said Shabbat services may be conducted online.
“We will live stream our next scheduled [Shabbat] service on March 21,” she said.
The OrH community seder will not be held this year, said Rabbi Bolton, adding, “We are planning at least one pre-seder program and are considering what we may do ‘virtually’ for one of the seder nights.”
The OrH website is at www.orh.ca.
Ottawa Torah Centre – Ottawa Torah Centre (OTC) is a Chabad congregation.
“We have suspended all of our services, daycare and in-person classes,” said Rabbi Menachem Blum. “Our facility is closed until further notice.”
“I am offering online classes and words of inspiration on Facebook Live at my page at www.facebook.com/rabbimblum. Our scheduled classes are done on the Zoom platform. We will be offering programs for our Hebrew school students on Zoom, as well,” said Rabbi Blum.
“This is a crisis situation with lives at stake,” noted Rabbi Blum. “Therefore, people should pray at home without a minyan.”
As well, said Rabbi Blum, “The use of electronic devices and the internet is prohibited on Shabbat. The fact that everyone is at home, with nowhere to go, is a great opportunity for people to experience a real Shabbat.”
Rabbi Blum said OTC will continue to monitor the COVID-19 advisories for another week before making any announcements about Passover.
The OTC website is at www.theotc.org.
Temple Israel Ottawa – Temple Israel is a Reform congregation.
“Temple Israel is going online, providing many of our services virtually. We’ll be using YouTube, Facebook and Zoom to connect with our community in innovative ways. Each of our homes will become a Mikdash Me’at – a mini-Temple,” said Rabbi Daniel Mikelberg, adding, “The best way to stay in touch is to ‘like’ our Temple Israel Ottawa Facebook page at www.facebook.com/OttawaTempleIsrael or to sign up for our regular e-mails. We also have a very active Caring Group that is reaching out to the vulnerable members of our community for conversation as well as with offers to help with deliveries.”
The Reform movement, noted Rabbi Mikelberg, cherishes traditional practices while also recognizing the context of the day, so “in these extraordinary times, we are recognizing that one can participate in a minyan virtually.”
Rabbi Miklelberg said Temple Israel will post pre-recorded videos for Shabbat this week, but “we hope to be able to go live in future weeks.”
Temple Israel will not hold its usual communal seder this Passover but, Rabbi Mikelberg stressed, the congregation is “exploring avenues to best meet the holiday needs of our community.”
The Temple Israel website is at www.templeisraelottawa.ca.
Young Israel of Ottawa – Young Israel of Ottawa is an Orthodox congregation.
“Young Israel has suspended all in-person classes and davening,” said Rabbi Gavriel Rudin. “All the [regular] classes that I give, besides Shabbat classes, will take place online.”
Rabbi Rudin suggests contacting him at email@example.com or 613-879-6431 for information about his online classes.
“I have also been sending out regular WhatsApp messages to the congregation. We are working on setting up more online or phone-in classes but I do not have details about that yet,” said Rabbi Rudin.
While Young Israel will not hold services online, “I have encouraged my congregants to daven at normal davening times so we can, in some way, be davening together,” he added.
Young Israel will not hold a communal seder this year.
The Young Israel of Ottawa website is at www.youngisrael.ottawa.on.ca.
This article was updated on March 30, 2020
This article was updated on March 25, 2020.