Where Did All the Remote Jewish Life Go?

As someone who's high risk for COVID, I feel like I'm being pushed out of my local community.

Hello and welcome back to Hey Alma’s advice column on all things Jewish life — check out what our Instagram audience had to say about this week’s issue, read on for advice from our resident deputy managing editor/bossy Capricorn Jew, and submit your own dilemmas anonymously here.

Hey, Hey Alma,

I joined a temple during lockdown because it was very accessible with fully remote services and holidays, but these days they are cutting way back on remote participation. I feel like a second class member compared to in-person folks. What are some good options for participating in remote Jewish life now as a person who is at high risk for COVID?

Hello! I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. It’s incredibly frustrating that so many public institutions have walked back on the accessibility options they offered at the beginning of the pandemic. Practically, it isolates people who want to participate in public life but are still (understandably) taking precautions against COVID, and emotionally, it sends a message to those people that they’re not welcome in the public sphere. It’s ableist, it sucks and it’s particularly painful to experience this from a synagogue. Places of religious worship and the communities we foster there are meant to make us feel connected and spiritually fulfilled, which makes the slight feel even more personal and even more difficult to manage. I’m really sorry that your current Jewish community has let you down, and that you feel like a second class member at your current synagogue.

There’s no way to entirely dress the wound of being excluded in this way, but the good news is, there are so many other options for participating in remote Jewish life. As always, the Hey Alma community on Instagram was a wealth of knowledge when we first posed this question to them. I’ve put together some of their suggestions and some of my own here in this post, and I highly recommend you scroll through the entire comment thread on Instagram, too (you know, besides the handful of bad faith comments) — it gave me hope, and it’s my sincere wish that it makes you feel a bit more hopeful and a lot more included!

Remote services at other synagogues

A lot of synagogues are still hosting remote services, and almost all of them allow attendance even if you’re not a member! There are literally too many specific synagogues in the United States that offer remote or hybrid services and programming to list here, but if you do a little bit of research, you’re sure to find one that works for you. The nice thing about remote services is that you don’t have to be limited to your city or town or even to your state. Find a time zone, an ethos, a rabbi and a set-up that works for you, and dive in. Many synagogues even take great care to include their virtual attendees just as much as the in-person folks, making a point to have people unmute and say hi after services, participate in break-out rooms or share comments in the chat.


Lab/Shul is “an artist-driven, everybody friendly, God-optional, pop up, experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings based in NYC.” They host virtual Shabbat services (themed SHABasics, Zen Shabbat and Sabbath Queen) and a variety of other programming that specifically aims to create community.


SVARA, a traditionally radical yeshiva, aims to empower queer and trans people to expand Torah and tradition through the spiritual practice of Talmud study. They have many online learning opportunities, faculty members (fairies) who are explicitly available to meet one-on-one to chat about Talmud or whatever comes up in your learning and a specific Disability Justice Torah Circle Offerings

Keeping It Sacred

Keeping It Sacred is a global progressive Jewish community with a focus on practicing meaningful rituals and studying sacred texts. The organization prioritizes social justice and accessibility. They offer sliding scale services and they have virtual Shabbat services as well as other online programming.

The Torah Studio

The Torah Studio is an accessible and inclusive learning space with a goal of making Torah study a manageable and nourishing activity. Two of their core values include accessible learning and communal meaning making, and they use a sliding scale model (where you can self-select how much to pay for their offerings) for their classes.

My Jewish Learning Events at The Hub

Full disclosure, My Jewish Learning and The Hub are created by 70 Faces Media, Hey Alma’s parent company — but even if they weren’t, I’d highlight them on this list because the event options are virtual, inclusive, expansive and also highly niche and super interesting. Whether you need a minyan, a Torah study or a Jewish meditation moment, My Jewish Learning has you covered.

Hey Alma Community

We don’t host Shabbat services (yet??) but we really do strive to make Hey Alma feel like a big Jewish community. We always say we want to be a tent that is large enough for every single Jew who chooses to be here, and that will always be our strongest goal. Our Instagram community is vocal and generous (as you hopefully saw in the comment question to your very question), our classified ads have fostered many connections and we have even more exciting virtual community building activities lined up in the very near future (watch this space!).

Cultivate your own Jewish community

This includes a bit of upfront effort on your part and may be more than you’re up for, but I’d be remiss not to suggest creating your own Jewish community that you can rely on in the ways you currently can’t rely on your synagogue community. While I would find it challenging to host my own Shabbat services, I’m very skilled at making a Jewish meal (Shabbat, holidays, babka on a random Tuesday evening, etc.), and that is the main way I engage in Jewish life. Belonging to a synagogue is not the only way to participate in Jewish life — your Jewish life, and your Jewish community, can exist in so many forms.

Like I said, I know there’s a level of buy-in you need from others and there’s no doubt it’s more work for you to create a community out of thin air (which is why many of us are drawn to synagogues, where that work is ostensibly done for us) but if you’re lacking what you need to be safe from your synagogue community, it is possible to look elsewhere. Maybe there’s a group of Jewish people who would be down to wear masks, COVID test in advance of meeting up and praying or hanging out together and meet online when that’s the safer option. Perhaps you have some Jewish friends who’d like to attend the virtual events I mentioned together — you can both sign in on your respective computers from your separate homes, and then you can Zoom or text about it together afterwards to decompress. If you’re up for investing in your own Jewish community outside of a synagogue, you may be able to create something really beautiful.

P.S. Consider giving feedback to your synagogue and help them become more inclusive

I include this as a “P.S.” because you didn’t really ask how to make your own synagogue more inclusive, and I do understand that confronting ableism is a lot of work and possibly a lift that you simply don’t want to take on right now — and that’s totally fine! It’s not your job to explain to your synagogue why their behavior is prohibiting all of their members from being included in the community, and if you want to just take care of your own needs and find a more supportive and inclusive Jewish community, that is absolutely your prerogative.

But! If you have the energy to give your synagogue feedback, I think you should go for it. Get in touch with someone in the office or the person who manages the “info” email account, and ask who it makes sense to speak to about this issue. It might be the rabbi, it might be the president, it might be someone else. Set up a time to chat on Zoom or on the phone, and explain your situation plainly. It’s possible that they would change their behavior if they understood how negatively it was impacting some of their members. If you speak voice to voice (or face to face), you can get a sense of what the issue is — ignorance? funding? halakhic concerns? — and you can make it clear how you feel.

They might ignore you (in which case you might consider canceling your membership!) but they might listen and change. It’s possible that by providing feedback you could change the culture of your synagogue, and make it so no one feels like a second class citizen. Just something to consider!

Whatever you decide to do, I’m wishing you luck and inclusive Jewish community moving forward.

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