Observing Jewish Traditions While Social Distancing

by Jason Langsner / March 23, 2020


A few days ago my wife and I watched Rabbi Fischel from Washington Hebrew Congregation and her husband Rabbi Abbot livestream lighting candles and saying Shabbat prayers on Instagram Live. This was a bit of a different experience than when we attended the last 2239 Metro Minyan service she led a few weeks ago, or when we were at the GatherDC townhouse a month ago welcoming in Shabbat with a group of Jewish 30-somethings.

One week ago my wife and I lit candles at our home for Shabbat. We don’t do it every week when we’re home and not Shabbat hopping around DC. Although my wife and I lit candles alone in our home, we were joined over FaceTime with my wife’s two sisters and their spouses, plus her parents. We connected from Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, and from our home in the DC suburbs. Thanks Apple.

While on FaceTime, I received a text from Rabbi Aderet Drucker from The Den Collective in Bethesda. The text said:

rabbi aderet

Today a participant of a Taglit-Birthright trip that I staffed in 2011 asked about virtual Shabbat services, so I pointed her to community leaders like Rabbi Shira who hosted a Facebook live “Virtual Shabbat” at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. I shared this information while watching and listening to a concert from Idan Raichel that was being live streamed from the Jewish Agency for Israel.

While synagogue and JCC doors are closed for the current national emergency, my family, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Sixth & I, The Den Collective, and others are finding new ways to observe our Jewish traditions – whether over video chat from our smartphones or through webcams.  

In a few weeks time, my family and I were planning to get back together – in person – for Passover. We planned to fly. We planned our usual family tradition to have two seders – the first with relatives and the second with family friends. Although those plans have since changed, we will still be together for Passover. But rather than having seder together in person, we will be together over Zoom.

One of my favorite ideals of Judaism is that we often have more questions than answers. And I certainly have questions – like: 

  • “How can we welcome the stranger while closing borders, restricting travel, and practicing social distancing?” 
  • “How can we support those in need, whether local hourly workers who are losing their jobs or having their hours/tips cut back due to the economic ramifications of COVID-19?”

Every generation redefines Judaism through a lens that is meaningful to them. Through the connectedness of news and social media, we, as the next generation of Jewish leaders, can embrace Jewish community virtually when physical brick-and-mortar institutions of Jewish life are locked for the foreseeable future. Jewish educators will continue to find ways to teach us. Our community leaders will find ways to bring us together. We will find ways to connect with family and friends for Passover and other Jewish holiday celebrations. 

Though this year, when the youngest asks, “how is this night different than all other nights?” over FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook live, or the phone – we may have a slightly longer answer.



jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood, or riding around DC area bike trails.





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