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Tales from a “Zoom Mitzvah” Stage Manager

Ellie Goldman

In the weeks leading up to our first Zoom Mitzvah at Temple Shalom of Newton, I did not sleep well.  I was a ball of nerves.  Why, you ask? Am I the mother of the Bar Mitzvah?  The Rabbi?  The Cantor?  Nope.  I’m the virtual stage manager and I wouldn’t even be seen on camera.  

My role is to make sure the Zoom links work, the participants are unmuted (and muted!) at the right times,  and the “Spotlight View” is on the right person. The pressure felt high and the margin for error was slim. What if someone couldn’t connect to the Zoom?  What if the live stream didn’t work? What if I accidentally disconnected Grandpa Sol and he couldn’t get back in?!?  

As the final Zoom rehearsal approached before the big event, my heart was racing. I took a few deep breaths, said a little prayer, and opened the Zoom.  Then the participants started to join.  First, the Bar Mitzvah and his family from their home. They were setting up their dining room to soon become a holy space of worship. They were moving quickly to “set their stage” but they were smiling and excited— joking with each other and gently checking to be sure the Torah was secure and covered by a talis.  Next, the grandparents appeared and they were filled with such joy and anticipation, they could barely sit still.  Their grandson had reached the age of Bar Mitzvah!  For a moment, I almost forgot to be terrified about messing up their day.  

And then Cousin Talia joined with her husband Jacob and their brand new baby, just a month old.  Thanks to COVID, no one had met baby Sara and everyone exploded at once with screams of joy and “Mazal Tov.”  There we were, five minutes into the dress rehearsal and it was very clear that it was all going to be ok.  Of course, there were hiccups and things we learned to do differently for next time but the essence of a Zoom Mitzvah, as it turns out, is exactly the same as a “real” one.  It IS real. The preparation, the delight of grandparents, the parents’ pride while watching their child read from Torah, and the simple relief when the last line of Torah is chanted perfectly is real and, I dare say,  extraordinary.  

There is no question that our world has been upended by COVID-19. Everything we thought we knew about Jewish traditions and experiences now must be reimagined. This pandemic has brought so much isolation, sadness, and loss.  However, if I learned one thing from my first Bar Mitzvah Zoom-hearsal, it’s that our people are fundamentally resilient, our tradition is endlessly flexible, and a global pandemic is no match for our determination to celebrate life’s moments of transformation.  

I am hopeful I will not need my Zoom Mitzvah stage managing skills for much longer. With some luck, we will all be back in our sanctuaries and chapels remembering this time and looking back on how we all managed to survive. And, until then, I am overwhelmed with pride for our Bar and Bat Mitzvah and their families, and so deeply grateful to get to witness each and every one.

Thu, August 13 2020 23 Av 5780