Published September 8, 2010
With the Jewish New Year upon us, the Jews in my life kvetch about the difficulty and expense of securing tickets for services. At one friend’s synagogue, you don’t get in until you have paid dues for the year or have a payment plan in place. Some people are simply skipping out.
L'shanah tovah! (Travis K/Flickr)
In Swampscott, a blogging rabbi is doing something novel to offset the high cost of high holidays. Baruch HaLevi — who goes by “Rabbi B” — is streaming his services as a live webcast. (When HaLevi started streaming a few years ago, he might have been the first and only.)
“It’s been received overwhelmingly positively,” HaLevi told me by phone. He’s big in nursing homes. He gets fan letters from people who watch and podcast his sermons in other countries.
Now the streaming idea has caught on with Temple Israel of Boston, and the Jerusalem Post covered the same idea at a congregation in Cincinnati.
“There a lot of restrictions to what we can or can’t do on the sabbath or holidays,” HaLevi said. “Some congregations might feel bound by that — we do, too, but we work around it.” So everything is set up in advance. (Think of Red Sox fans who leave the radio on all weekend long.)
[pullquote author=”Rabbi Baruch HaLevi”]”If you ask your average Jew how they feel about high-holiday services, you’re probably going to see a yawn.”[/pullquote]
The streaming service is free — unlike services in person — and, ironically, financed by dues-paying members. Sort of like public radio. So why does Rabbi B do it?
“It’s our duty as Jews to be a light to the nations, and we cannot keep this indoors,” he says. “Our job is to make Judaism accessible to Jews and non-Jews.”
HaLevi says the biggest obstacle he confronts is one of inspiration.
“If you ask your average Jew how they feel about high-holiday services, you’re probably going to see a yawn,” he said. Either that or the person runs away “with their tail between their legs.”
HaLevi’s services end not with traditional music but with the stylings of Hasidic rapper Matisyahu.
For those who want to celebrate in person but can’t pay for tickets to traditional services, HaLevi is offering a free service on the beach in Swampscott tomorrow afternoon.