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Long Island synagogues bring congregations together online

Members of Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai

Members of Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai gathered online Friday night for their virtual Shabbat services. Credit: Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai

Across Long Island, synagogues trying to find ways to keep their congregations connected amid the COVID-19 outbreak have found that technology has allowed them to give messages of hope to their congregation and keep them together at a time where they must remain physically apart.

Debbie Giordano, president of Temple Beth Emeth of Mount Sinai, said her congregation, which has roughly 82 families, had switched to using Zoom livestream services three weeks ago before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo issuing "stay-at-home" orders statewide.

“Last week, we had about 20 to 25 sign-ins, which is a little bit more than what we have in our congregation show up on a Friday night. In the times we are in, people are certainly looking more towards prayer and connection,” Giordano said.

At their Friday night Shabbat services online, members logging in typed the names of people they were praying for, including loved ones, people diagnosed with the virus and “the entire world.”

At B'nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale, Rabbi Jessica Rosenthal said her congregation had been very receptive to online services the temple had been using, with former members who moved out of state able to return for virtual prayer services.

Rosenthal said she planned on talking to her congregation on the importance of keeping their spiritual fires lit.

“We’ll be talking about what that means, how do we find that extra energy in this environment, and how we care and nurture ourselves so we can help others. Because if our fires dwindle too low, then it makes it difficult to shine brightly for others in our community,” Rosenthal said.

Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet of North Shore Synagogue in Syosset said several people in her congregation had tested positive for the virus and one had died.

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Shalhevet said her congregation had been livestreaming Hebrew school and Friday and Saturday prayer services for four weeks, with more people participating online than the synagogue would see during normal times.

With the Passover holiday approaching, Shalhevet said the spiritual message she had been sharing with her congregation is that they would make it through the outbreak together, not only as Jewish people, but also as Americans.

“Passover can be so meaningful this year because it’s about plagues and it’s about freedom. We feel tied up in our homes and we feel bound by this disease, so we’re praying for a redemption. Passover is real. We’re just not at the redemption part yet,” Shalhevet said.

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