In this time of uncertainty, amid the coronavirus pandemic, families are faced with difficult decisions when it comes to deciding whether or not to hold a virtual simcha (celebration), or to postpone it, and celebrate later when close family and friends can participate.
Across the country and world, people are becoming increasingly creative in finding ways to celebrate and bring joy to simchot during this difficult time. Obviously parties as we knew them are no longer part of any celebration. However, virtual parties, parking lot “tailgating,” drive by parades, home delivered meals and eat togethers, are all becoming part of the new landscape. Every day or so, I hear of something new and creative. I’ve seen virtual dance parties and karaoke, video tributes, personalized rap songs and many other ideas. One mother collected photos of all the previously invited guests holding signs wishing her son mazel tov.
As far the ritual of the simcha is concerned there are unique ways for us to adapt. Although a “Zoom simcha” is a distinct change from an in-person experience, it does have its rewards. Virtual weddings, bar mitzvahs and even funerals provide an unexpected intimacy to the experience. The family is surrounded by a circle of love and a sea of familiar faces, including some people who wouldn’t have been able to travel there, even in normal times, but all of whom can be visible throughout the service. Most of all, the family knows that they aren’t endangering anyone who might be exposed to an asymptomatic carrier. Zoom allows us to create both physical distancing and social closeness, while fulfilling the mitzvah of “pikuach nefesh,” potentially saving lives.
Our people have celebrated life cycle events throughout our time and this will continue one way or another. As we work through this pandemic it is certain that both our rituals and celebrations will evolve to reflect the new reality that our ever changing world will demand.
SUE PENN is currently the Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue where she oversees all education from ages 4-104. Sue has been honored for being an innovative educator and is committed to creative approaches in Jewish Education. Sue currently sits on the Board of the Jewish National Fund of Orange County, and of the Reconstructionist Educators of North America, where she was a previous chair. She is also co-president of the Orange County Jewish Educator Association. Sue also runs educational webinars for the Reconstructionist Movement.