The duties of a traditional Gabbai vary from synagogue to synagogue. Typically, a Gabbai ensures the Torah service runs smoothly and is available to quickly correct any mishap. The Reconstructionist community uses the term Zoom Gabbai to describe the person who hosts the Zoom meeting. They manage the behind-the-scenes mechanics so that a service or program leader can focus on an event.
Early into the pandemic, I volunteered to be part of the JRC Zoom Gabbai team. It was a sacred job that could be done from home without needing to put on my shoes. Zoom allowed JRC members to remain deeply rooted to our Jewish traditions. To assuage my fear, I learned by the side of dedicated and skillful technology savvy folks. In preparation for our first services, there were many questions. What if the connection was lost? What if unwanted noises or comments interfered with the service? What if the Facebook Streaming did not work? What if I accidentally blocked people from participating? Many of these “what if’s” happened but we addressed the issue quickly. Each week became easier, and more people joined the team.
As a Zoom Gabbai, I have participated in many diverse events. I have become acquainted with pets and partners that would not have been possible if we were meeting at JRC. I have been invited into homes virtually, been given tours of newly decorated rooms, and been part of a concert from the musician’s home studio. I have participated in virtual cooking demonstrations and learned to make tasty truffles, Chocolate Babka, Asian Spring Rolls, and Syrian Jibn. I have also participated as a family said goodbye to their loved one or introduced a newly named infant into the family. I have had the opportunity to meet family members from across the globe who would never have been able to attend the JRC event in person.
Early on I realized I needed a way to separate these sacred activities from my social Zoom calls or my work-related activities. Now, before I log onto a JRC Zoom call, I pause and say a short blessing to remind me of the holiness of this work. The blessing is a gender-neutral version of the one recited before each board meeting.
Let us bless the Source of Life as we occupy ourselves with the needs of the community.
While it was hard to be physically isolated from our community, I am grateful to have felt so intimately connected with JRC members on Zoom. I am thankful for the technology and the opportunity to participate in community during this past year. I look forward to seeing how we make JRC even more inclusive and accessible through the continued use of technology as we develop multiple ways to access JRC. I shall always be in awe of our community’s ability to adapt and develop new ways to create sacred spaces.
By Linda Mathias Kaskel