As COVID-related restrictions continue to ease up, we are seeing more in-person events and meetings. The Fourth of July Barbeque at the Center was the largest in recent memory, and Congregations have been returning to in-person worship services. Does this mean that we are going back to normal?
To answer that question, we first need to define "normal" in the context of our community. Jewish communal life requires interaction between members, be it through a minyan, Torah Study or as askanim (volunteers engaged in community business). The "COVID year" (as 2020 will most likely be remembered) changed many assumptions of what that exactly means... An "eruption" of online programs; the widespread expansion of online meetings (not just local, but also regional and National); the celebration of life cycle events (weddings, brit milah, and even funerals) online, challenged much of what we thought we knew of community life. So if we were to define "normal" in the sense of where we are going rather than where we were, we need to talk about a "new normal"
Some community activities will go back to where they were before, such as synagogue worship, but they will also be probably enriched and enlarged with the integration of online viewing as a suplement to in-person worship. Of course, in Orthodox settings this will exclude Shabbat and Holidays - but in many Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations, online access to services might be here to stay.
Non religious Jewish institutions will also need to adapt, and in some communities there is already underway a revision of By Laws to account for online presence at Board Meetings as a matter of course. Film Festivals around the country have adapted to online showings and at least one Jewish Film Distribution company (Menemsha) is transforming itself with the creation of Chai Flicks, the Jewish answer ro Netflix. Menemsha, as well as some large-city Jewish Film Festivals are also trying to go Nationwide through the internet. Program Syndication is beginning to make its way into JCCs. Our own Augusta Jewish Film Festival ran a very succesful 2021 season and we're gearing for a 2022 season preserving the online showings and movie discussions to capitalize on that success.
Many Museums (Jewish and non Jewish) have put their exhibits online to reach a larger audience. Many cultural Jewish groups like the Yiddish Book Center, Hadar, Hebrew Union College, Jewish Theological Seminary, American Jewish University and more, have also gone online.
COVID accelerated trends that were already there. Now it is up to us to figure out what we can do to take advantage of this "New Normal". As the World becomes more interconnected, access becomes more globalized. We could use the situation to strengthen our connection with Israel by promoting programs from Tel-Aviv University, Ben Gurion, Hebrew University, Arava Institute, and more. We could stregthen the global connection to the Jewish people and promote more person-to-person connections with Jewish people in other parts of the world. We can take advantage of this "New Normal" to learn about Jews who are very different - like the Paradesi and Malabari Jews of India or the Beta Israel of Ethiopia or the N'gibo from Nigeria. Or so many other groups that for many centuries were outside the radar screen of most western Jews. It can also help us to embrace the great diversity of our own communities and break the stereotype of the "Eastern European Ashkenazy" (with occassional acceptance of Sephradim).
Our people, as the Torah says, were spread "Yamah V'kedma Tzafonah V'Negvah" - to the four corners of the world. Wherever our people arrived, they incorporated local elements but preserved fiercely the memory of who we are and the culture which makes us Jews. The Independence of Israel is the most important National enterprise since the closing of the Talmud, and provides us with the opportunity to bring all these rich manifestations of our common Jewish Identity together to enrich and expand the meaning of our heritage. And the "New Normal" makes that easier and more accessible. Do we dare to take the leap into this "Brave New World"?
STAY SAFE - STAY HEALTHY - STAY CONNECTED