These Synagogues Keep Everyone Involved Through Live-Streaming and Recording
Thanks to the innovative efforts by several synagogues around the Pacific Southwest Region, congregants—no matter their distance from the synagogue or physical limitations—can watch a Shabbat service, pray during a sermon or enjoy a family member’s bat/bar mitzvah from the comfort of their home.
Many congregations have begun live-streaming or featuring recorded videos of their services and special events on websites like YouTube and Facebook, or on the synagogue’s website in order to connect with congregants who are unable to be there in person. The feedback has been remarkable for many congregations, who specifically have seen more and more older members becoming homebound or moving away after retirement.
Temple Aliyah, Woodland Hills, CA
After deciding about four years ago to live-stream its services, Temple Aliyah took careful steps to ensure the sanctity of the service remained unchanged—with an emphasis on making sure the cameras were not in clear sight and the overall “flavor” of the service was not affected.
The synagogue has two cameras (one in the sanctuary and another in the social hall for High Holy Days and special events), a dedicated laptop that runs webcast software and encoders for the audio and video. The camera is unmanned and can be swiveled and zoomed in/out with a joystick controller.
“It took a bit of time to get used to because I don’t consider myself a ‘social media’ rabbi, but I realized we had something really important here when we had a number of congregants who were housebound and said they waited all week to participate in the service and how it’s allowed them to remain connected with the synagogue,” Rabbi Stewart Vogel says. “We began to see the streaming as a lifeline. Imagine not being able to make it to Shabbat, but still hearing your father or husband’s name read during the service on the anniversary of their passing (yahrzeit). How powerful is that?”
To view Temple Aliyah’s YouTube page, click here.
Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, CA
Although Valley Beth Shalom only started live-streaming services a couple months ago, the results have already been substantial. With an average of 200 views per YouTube video, the synagogue’s YouTube page, already up to more than 60 subscribers, is frequented by many in the congregation. The synagogue primarily streams weekly Torah readings and special Friday night musical services one-to-three times a month. On April 18, the synagogue also streamed its Zionist Roundtable event where speakers discussed the Zionist dream in their eyes.
“What I’ve learned since we started this is just how many people tune in to the stream at any given time,” Director of Marketing & Communications Elana Vorspan says. “There’s a Jewish residential area quite a distance from our synagogue where a core group of our members live, and every Saturday morning they get together and watch the Torah study online and then have a discussion afterwards.”
To view Valley Beth Shalom’s YouTube page, click here.
Neatly organized on the Congregation B’nai Israel website is a full archive of past sermons that viewers can enjoy. The congregation began recording and posting audio of sermons as far back as 2005, before switching to video in May 2016.
To Executive Director Sandy Klein, the idea of allowing a mass audience to view past services is extremely beneficial for both the individual and the synagogue. “I think it’s wonderful, especially for people who want to view a sermon again or show their friends or family a specific moment that stood out to them,” she says. “Moving forward, we want to continue highlighting the quality of our services and making it meaningful for those who can’t make it each week.”
To view Congregation B’nai Israel’s video archive, click here.
Three Tips Synagogue’s Should Know Before Broadcasting
- Get the word out: Congregation B’nai Israel makes access to their sermons as easy as possible by sending out weekly e-mails with a website link for congregants to simply click and begin watching. Valley Beth Shalom utilizes its social media pages and posts each time to Instagram every time a live-stream is taking place on Facebook and/or YouTube. There are also flyers posted in the main hallway of the synagogue that inform congregants and visitors where to go online to watch.
- Involve the online congregation: To further immerse those watching from their phone or computer, Rabbi Vogel often looks in the camera and offers prayers to those who are ill. He also acknowledges individuals unable to attend a groom’s aufruf or a family member’s bar/bat mitzvah.
- Prepare early and make sure everyone’s on board: Valley Beth Shalom began the conversation about live-streaming well before actually doing so. The congregation formed a small committee to discuss the overall goal and what events to stream and Elana wrote a three-page proposal about the importance of live-streaming. Also, keep in mind it’s important to find out if certain congregants don’t want to be on camera and to make sure there’s a large group buy-in beforehand making anything official.
The decision to live-stream Shabbat or Yom Tov holiday services is a decision made individually by each rabbi and his/her kehilla.
The Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has issued several teshuvot related to the use of electronic devices on Shabbat, including general use, videotaping, tape/audio recording, photography, and the use of a remote monitor, etc.