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Welcoming Shabbat on Zoom

April 2, 2020 | by Susan Berman and Lisa Kodimer

People who never celebrated Shabbat are joining together each week to light candles, recite some prayers, sing and be inspired by one another.

A recent Pew Research Center Study revealed that only 17% of American Jews attended a virtual religious service in the past month compared to approximately half of all Christians. Many Jewish families are considering opting out of synagogue membership.

With these alarming numbers, we have a story to tell that defies the statistics. Through a silver lining of COVID-19, more than 100 people who never celebrated Shabbat are joining together each week to recite some prayers, sing and be inspired by one another. Some are now shutting down for Shabbat and incorporating Havdalah into their lives.

When COVID-19 hit, none of us knew what Zoom was. Boy, did we learn quickly. By the first Shabbat, March 20th, we thought it would be fun to log on and invite a few of our friends to mark the coming of Shabbat together. Given who the two of us are, and our professional backgrounds, our concept kept growing and developing and our enthusiasm grew as well. Twenty-five Shabbat’s later, we have seen the power of connection. The need for us all to gather as a community, share our love for Judaism and the beauty within.

Each week, more than 50 families on average sign on and participate in a moving, emotional and spiritual 30-minute experience that happens right before Shabbat. Many adult children or relatives are signing in from throughout the United States as well. These are people, including us, who didn’t typically light candles, bake challah or celebrate Shabbat but are hungry for connection. Not just any kind of connection though – we aren’t looking to play board games, talk politics, have drinks, speculate about the timing of vaccinations, etc. but instead, are seeking to connect in ways that comfort our souls, raise our spirits and reaffirms our connection to God and Judaism.

There are no rabbis, there are no cantors but instead there is the OB/GYN who leads some prayers, college age sisters who are home quarantining with their parents singing songs such to welcome Shabbat, moms and their children who proudly display the challah they made that morning, and participants who move and inspire us through their stories.

Each week there is a theme. The stories bring us closer and remind us of the core values of Judaism.

Each week, there is a theme: The Shabbat of Blessings, Shabbat of Joy, Shabbat of Perspectives, Shabbat of Silver Linings, Shabbat of Impact to name a few. Each week, two people share the stories of their lives that have taught them lessons. Whether it was the loss of a child, or the birth of a grandchild, raising a child with special needs, doing Tikkun Olam, having a God moment at the Kotel, or helping people smile – every story has Torah wisdom. The stories bring us closer, remind us of the core values of Judaism and lift us all as we enter Shabbat.

A community has been born. Jewish families, who weren’t joining a synagogue are now rethinking their decision. But even if they end up not joining, we inspire each other to live a fuller richer and more Jewish life. We get emails begging us to continue our Zoom Shabbats beyond COVID hoping that when that time comes, the hustle and bustle of life that we lived will be a little quieter, a little more reflective and a space will continue to be held for us together to virtually welcome Shabbat.

Dedicated to Emuna Braverman who has inspired us to learn and grow as Jewish women and has taught us the mitzvah of inspiring others.

Susan Berman, Ph.D, COO of The Help Group, a family of non-profits dedicated to serving young people with special needs related to autism, learning differences and social and emotional challenges through educational, clinical, residential, vocational and enrichment programs.

Lisa Kodimer, Co-founder and Executive Director of Connecting a Caring Community, a non-profit organization dedicated to inspiring and mobilizing the community to live a life of giving through time, money and meaningful projects.

Both met through Aish LA’s Jewish Women’s Initiative following a trip to Israel in 2011 for Lisa and 2013 for Susan through Momentum and have been studying with Rebbetzin Emuna Braverman since their return.


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