What I’m Really Doing When I’m Off Video During Zoom Services


I have a confession to make. Sometimes, when I log into Zoom for Shabbat services, I’m actually eating breakfast, or washing dishes. Sometimes, I’m even on my indoor bike.

For many years I have been a regular Shabbat attendee. As an observant Jew, it’s just been part of my regular weekly routine for most of my life. More importantly though, my social life revolves almost entirely around shul on Shabbat. Like many people, I don’t always find it easy to pray, and while occasionally I will connect spiritually with the liturgy, more frequently, if I’m being honest, I am in shul mostly for social reasons.

When this pandemic began almost a year ago, I couldn’t imagine participating in Shabbat services over Zoom, or even what that would possibly look like. But I was still over a month away from finishing saying kaddish for my dad, and so I dutifully logged onto my computer every weekday and every Shabbat to worship with my community. After I finished saying kaddish, I no longer felt compelled to log in during the week, but since I had always been a regular Shabbat attendee, I continued to attend Shabbat services via Zoom.

For the first seven or eight months, I set up my laptop on my dining room table, put on my kippa and tallit, took a siddur off my bookshelf, logged in to my congregation’s Zoom service with my video on, and tried to pretend I was in shul with my friends.

As much as I tried, at some point, I had to admit that it really wasn’t working for me. So I skipped a couple of weeks, choosing instead to sleep late and spend the day engrossed in a good book. While that was a very enjoyable way to spend Shabbat, I felt that something was missing.

One Shabbat morning, I decided to log into Zoom services with my video off. I wasn’t feeling very well that morning and just didn’t want to be on camera. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to be at the dining room table in front of my computer; I could do other things while still listening to the Shabbat service. I could putter around the house, have some breakfast, watch the birds outside my window, or even get a little exercise.

Besides not being able to be in shul, one of the other significant impacts the pandemic has had on my life is that I haven’t been to the gym in almost a year. Previously, my regular visits to the gym had been my only source of exercise. For the last several years, I would spend over an hour three mornings a week, doing a combination of cardio, weights, and stretching. It kept me relatively healthy and sane. And then, suddenly, like so many other things, last March, it stopped. During the spring and summer months, I forced myself to go for occasional walks, just to move my body, but once the cold weather set in, I realized I was sitting all day and getting absolutely no exercise, and my health was suffering.

So one Shabbat morning in January, I set up my iPad in front of my indoor bike, put on a pair of headphones, logged into services with my camera off, and got on my bike. What I discovered came as something of a shock. I actually exercised longer and more vigorously… and, even more surprisingly, I davened with more spiritual intent than I had since the pandemic began. I didn’t really understand it, and I wasn’t sure if it was an anomaly or something I could actually repeat with similar results. So I tried it again the next week, and the same thing happened.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not recommending that everyone turn off their cameras and attend Zoom services while doing their morning exercise routine. The fact is I really like it when people keep their cameras on so that I can see their faces; it feels more like a community when we can see each other. But if you find that it’s not quite working for you, give yourself permission to get creative and mix it up a little. Who knows? You might just encounter God on your bike.

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