By Logan C. Ritchie | firstname.lastname@example.org
Can’t come to synagogue? Synagogue will now come to you.
In an effort to attract members, appeal to an aging population with less mobility, and cater to tech-savvy millennials, some Atlanta synagogues are adopting technology to broadcast religious services and lifecycle events. It just takes a few clicks.
Live streaming delivers events, such as Shabbat services, via the Internet while they are happening. Users can watch on smartphones, tablets or laptops from home or around the world.
At Kol Emeth in East Cobb, Jon Worly, the volunteer director of communications, uses Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the congregation’s 500 families.
“Our feed announces general temple events as well as teen and youth events. Social media is the best way to talk to our youth,” he said.
“We are trying to be a leader of technology and the way people receive information, whether that’s by email, newsletter by mail or social media. Whatever way they want it, we want to give it to them,” Worly said.
More than a year ago cameras were installed in the sanctuary to stream major events, including Shabbat and High Holiday services. People can watch the live feed through Kol Emeth’s website (www.kolemeth.net). Users can watch Rabbi Steven Lebow deliver his sermon on the main screen while they discuss it in a chat room sidebar.
“If you’re watching on Friday night, you can say good Shabbos to others,” Worly said. “We have gotten a number of emails complimenting our live stream. We send prospective members (to the site) to show our culture, spirit and music. It’s the first way to see TKE without stepping foot in the building.”
Henry Hene, Kol Emeth’s president, grew up in Atlanta while attending The Temple. He said: “Live streaming is a great first step to give an introduction, but for prospective members you still have to press the flesh. You’ve got to cross the threshold and have face-to-face time in order to cross the barrier of what you see on screen: We are welcoming, warm, inviting and involving.”
Beyond attracting members, Hene touts live streaming for young and old audiences. “We want accessibility. There will be people who can’t physically travel or parents and grandparents who live out of town who want to see significant events or services.”
Hene said technology can help promote Jewish community. His daughter is one example. “I ask her, ‘When are you going to join the synagogue?’ I know it’s not the priority of her generation. But when there is something I want her to see, I tell her to go on the website. It is a way to push that connectivity and Jewishness.”
Temple Kol Emeth started streaming simchas early this year with different levels of privacy. For a closed-session wedding or bar or bat mitzvah, viewers log in with a special pass code. Aimed at family members who cannot travel or attend synagogue, this has become a popular option.
Four years ago, the recording of a bat mitzvah compelled AA in Buckhead to install a live streaming capability. Rabbi Neil Sandler recalled the bat mitzvah, for which a dear family member could not be present.
“The family came to me and talked about how meaningful it would be for this person to witness the bat mitzvah. When I saw how tremendously meaningful it was for this loved one, it gave us an impetus to seek a donor to put in two systems for future use,” he said.
AA installed cameras in the sanctuary and then, because of positive feedback, in the chapel. “The technology helps people who are infirm, shut in and cannot physically come to synagogue,” Rabbi Sandler said. “It increases their level of participation.”
The most impactful feedback comes from the sons and daughters of older members, he said.
At The Temple in Midtown, Executive Director Mark Jacobson does not track who is watching and where they live, but with 1,500 congregants he gets plenty of feedback.
“Anecdotally, I understand college students watch High Holidays online. They may not have found local congregations, but they can watch from their dorm rooms,” he said. “Let’s be realistic. There are also people watching who don’t want to deal with traffic on Friday night, whether you’re 30 or 80. Members in North Fulton and South Fulton feel part of the service and our congregation. And we are pleased as punch.”
Jacobson said many people think they are not tech-savvy, but the live streaming format doesn’t call for sophistication. “Just because you are a senior doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy YouTube,” he said with a laugh. “If someone is stuck and they call, we will walk them through it. We will stick with them. There’s a common joke about technology: If you can’t figure it out, ask your grandchildren.”