Aside from the year saying kaddish for my father, I have not, as an adult, managed to achieve a sense of personal obligation to attend Shabbat services every week. My attendance has waxed and waned, and I have been happiest at its most frequent, but I have never felt the internal (let alone divine) compulsion to be a weekly attendee. That changed in March 2020 when Havurat Shalom’s services moved online, and I became the community screen sharer.
Since that moment, with few exceptions, I have felt obliged to be at every minute of every service, and to be engaged throughout, sharing via Zoom the pdf siddur from which others read. The result has been that in this year of virtual services, I have felt more connected to my community and my Jewish practice than in any other.
It feels odd to turn the pages of an entire community’s siddur. Turning one’s own pages is usually so personal, especially in the crucial parts of the service in which everyone dovens at their own pace. I feel a real responsibility to get my screen sharing right, despite unavoidable tradeoffs.
For example, I try to minimize the number of scrolling movements: it’s difficult to read a text that someone else is moving. That means sacrificing some scrolling as we go, even when it would display more transliteration on the screen – important for those who rely on it. And when I know that the service leader is reading from the screen and not their own siddur, I prioritize their position over my own sense of the room’s.
Screen sharing has also taught me service leading styles that I would normally miss. Ruth likes to dive into the next pages when she takes over leading, while Cindy defers to the screen sharer about when to move on. Larry exits full screen mode on his zoom app to see more people, which can cut off the page’s margins: adjustments must be made.
An increasing challenge has been maintaining focus. My mind wanders, especially when computer notifications pop up: not a concern in physical services. Sometimes I can’t resist checking a sports score or responding to a text message during the service, and suddenly realize that everyone is waiting for me to continue scrolling. And often it’s all I can do to keep us in the right place, and my own engagement with the prayers takes a back seat.
But, on balance, screen sharing has aided me tremendously, which is why I’ve been eager to do almost all of it. The reason is obligation. Lacking personal obligation, I don’t know how much I would have attended virtual services this year, absent my screen sharing role. But that role has replaced my generally weak feeling of obligation to attend Shabbat services with a stronger, more specific obligation to the community to help keep services running. It’s really doubled, because my obligation to the community rests on our shared commitment in this time of social distance to not only maintain weekly services, but to increase them with a weekly Kabbalat Shabbat. This inspiring communal commitment to keeping the (virtual) show on the road, for all of our benefit, lets me embrace a commitment to my own particular role, to my own great benefit.
A few weeks ago, we had an engaging d’var discussion about na’aseh v’nishma: (roughly) we will do and we will obey. I’ve often thought about doing begetting obeying; build a habit of weekly shul attendance, and you start feeling obliged to continue. On a personal level, I haven’t quite managed that. But this year I have instead achieved a sense of obligation to a community which, even when encountered only in pixels, is a far more tangible conduit.
I don’t know how I’ll maintain that purpose when we meet again in person and my screen sharing services are joyfully redundant. But I do know where to look: the obligation I desire is to a community, and anything else can flow from there.