Virtually One-in-a-Minyan


“Is it minyan time?” asks a wide-smiled 5-year-old. The rambunctious preschooler attends virtual Zoom minyan with me Sunday-Thursday nights. He fills in the name “MeritMom” so that everyone knows he and I are attending. He puts emojis on the screen, he rolls around on my lap, he makes faces into the camera, but he has attended about 200 minyans since the pandemic hit and our synagogue went virtual. Our small but dedicated minyan from Congregation B’nai Israel in St. Petersburg, FL is about 13 Zoom-windows strong on an average night. Merit knows everyone by name, and everyone knows him. When my daughter lost her first tooth, the minyan was among the first people she wanted to tell. They wished her a mazal tov, and she was thrilled. Everyone sang Happy Birthday to Merit when he turned 5 and was unable to have an in-person birthday party. Minyan is more than a prayer group; it is a support group. Using the prayer book from my Jewish Day School days (still with old homework shoved under the book jacket), we participate in the nightly ritual. We help make a minyan so that people can say Kaddish and speak memories of their loved ones without leaving home.

Being raised Conservative, online services are new since the pandemic, and some feel it is not a “true” minyan because the people are not actually together physically. However, I have never felt more connected. We have gotten so much closer to the congregants that we already knew and have made some new friends along the way. We have had attendees from all over the country, all able to pray together and find community in the virtual room. Merit sees my mom, his Baba, in her Zoom window, and gives her their “secret” hello in a tug-of-the-ear. Now, others tug their ears at Merit. Everyone is now part of his “secret” and is thus part of family too.

In 2020, virtually everything was virtual. We “attended” many lifecycle events — a Zoom bar mitzvah, bris, birthday parties, graduations, and funerals. Watching these events online creates mixed emotions. There is no replacement for in-person hugs and camaraderie, but on the other hand, we were able to attend events that we otherwise could not. We could be at a Zoom bris taking place in one city and a birthday party in another on the same day. Events that would normally be capped at a certain amount of people for cost/space purposes now could have a larger attendance. Finally, the best part for a young family is no need for a babysitter! It was a great experience that my kids and I could “attend” a bar mitzvah without having to stand in the lobby when they can’t sit quietly anymore. They enjoyed it so much that they are now excited about their own b’nai mitzvot.

It is interesting that even though we were physically secluded, we witnessed more events than would have otherwise been possible. Now that things are slowly returning to “normal,” a big part of me is going to miss the virtual events, especially the minyans. In a world without virtual minyans, we could not attend almost every night. In a world without virtual minyans, if we do not get to ten people, then we are out of luck, but now anyone from anywhere can log-in and count. In a world without virtual minyans, little Merit would be too loud to sit nicely and attend (thank goodness for the “mute” button). In a world without virtual minyans, I would not have been able to still feel like part of something, even throughout quarantine. But for now, I look forward to seeing my congregational family of smiling faces nightly at 6:30 p.m. and being virtually one-in-a-minyan.

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