Virtual Shabbat Dinner

Shabbat Dinner with 5 Families, 16 Guests in 11 Locations

In the age of social distancing we can still practice distance socializing and share a Shabbat dinner together.  Last Shabbat, as an experiment, my family gathered over Zoom to experience Shabbat together, as I’m sure many other families did.  It all worked out surprisingly well. We took turns saying the various blessings, and we had an opportunity to catch up. We did a short breathing meditation and sang a chant to psalm 150, Kol HaNeshama. This psalm is most relevant since Covid 19 is a respiratory disease.  Rather than measuring our lives one day at a time, measuring them by one breath at a time seems appropriate. After the blessings some of us remained online and ate our dinner “together”.  


Something unique about our Shabbat seder was the method of blessing our children.  Rather than doing this all at once, we chose to do it sequentially, going for the youngest child to the oldest,  starting with the grandchildren and moving up to the children. Regardless of the location, each parent raised hands in blessing as the child bowed his or her head.  My sister’s family of five was in five different locations. My sister in Peabody, MA and her husband in North Kawartha, Ontario raised their hands to bless their three children individually in Kingston, Ontario,  Toronto and San Francisco. My mother raised her hands to bless me and bless my sister who was there with her in person. We said the first line of the blessing for boys or girls, as appropriate, for each child and the full blessing together at the end.  I concluded by saying that for those parents who are not with us, we say may their memory be for a blessing. May we feel their blessing now.


One challenge with our technology is singing together.  Zoom only allows one person to speak at once. A technique that works fairly well is to mute everyone except the song leader.  Everyone hears the song leader and only those at their location. Success depends on how comfortable the people at each location are with singing on their own.  It can be uncomfortable singing “alone”; but if you give it a try, it can be enriching.  


Another challenge is the 40 minutes limit in the free Zoom conference license.  It is very easy to re-sign on when the limit is up, but once our initial meeting ended, so did our dinner.  I would have liked more time to catch up with my nieces and nephews.


Our lives will be defined by “Before the Coronavirus” and “After the Coronavirus”.  In coping with our isolation we are all developing creative ways of being together. Once, God willing, we can resume our normal activities, we will find that many of our new modalities (telemedicine, in a pinch remotely attending funerals, virtual happy hours) can work even when there isn’t a crisis.  On occasion we may choose to have a virtual Shabbat dinner at other times in the year, although it will be more of a challenge to gather everyone together at a specific time when we are not confined to our homes.


In a sense, this was a rehearsal for a virtual Passover seder.  You may want to give this a try next Shabbat, so you are up to speed with the technology when Passover arrives.


David Singer is the FJMC Communications VP and chairman of the Mindfulness Initiative.