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If the Mountain is Staying in its Place

There is an expression: "If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will go to the mountain." The origin of the expression was a story about the Muslim Prophet, Mohammed. The legend goes that the Prophet Mohammed was asked to provide proof of his teaching, so he ordered Mount Safa to come to him. When the mountain did not move, would go the mountain. (There's a bit more to the story and its use. I found this version here, which explains well known expressions.)

When it is used today as an expression (not only by Muslims), it usually means: If things aren't going your way, you'll have to adjust to the way they are.

Currently we are having to adjust to the way things are by not going to the mountain - or anywhere else. 

I realized a few things about going to mountains and adjusting to the way things are. 

Just because we are staying where we are, does not mean we do not progress toward improving things. Since I have had to stay home I have learned new technology and have tried to come up with creative ways of doing what I had been doing. I used to show up at synagogue on Fridays by 5:30 PM, read the prayerbook, sing the songs, try to say something inspiring, visit with people, and go home. Other than trying to find something new to say that might inspire people, leading services was very easy and took almost no time out of my week. 

Now that I am staying at home, preparing for services takes a lot of time. First, I am trying to come up with new ways to inspire people, and to motivate people to "attend." I created the "Stay at Home" Shabbat service. I asked a few people to introduce themselves, say something hopeful, wish everyone Shabbat Shalom, and read a small section of the service in English. People LOVED the service. They were curious to see who would they see next, and what would the message be. It made staying at home feel... not sure what the word is... cozier? It was nice to see that while we were at home, others were too. People felt like they could stay at home and still be in contact. We were checking in on them, and they were checking in on us. Perhaps we could say that we went to the mountain AND the mountain came to us.

My son Max and I were both learning new software and techniques to get these services to be online - from home. In the synagogue, we have a built-in camera and special computer and software. We did not have that at home. We had a computer with a built-in camera and microphone. People said that they could not hear us very well, so I got a better microphone. I learned how to take my cell phone (which has a pretty good camera built-in) and connect it to my computer so that the phone is now the camera for the computer. I had bought a green screen more than a year ago (it was a "deal of the day" - I couldn't resist the great bargain!). I intended to use it with my students to do something new for Purim. I still did not do that, but I was able to change my background in the services to look like I was in the sanctuary. That was pretty cool. 

I am proud of the Stay at Home Shabbat services, but I wanted to find a way to let people read the prayerbook - when they didn't have prayerbooks at home. Initially I copied pages, added inserts, turned it into one file, and posted it online. People thanked me, and enjoyed services even more. 

That wasn't good enough. What if they didn't have a printer, or two devices - one for watching the service and another for reading the prayerbook?  Max and I brainstormed - a lot, and found a way to put the words from the service onto the screen while I was talking. People thanked me.

Then we tried to figure out how to do Graduation Shabbat - if graduates cannot stand up in services to tell us where they are going. I decided to try my "Stay at Home Shabbat" model, but had the graduates be the ones who led the service. I got more compliments on that service than any of the ones before it.

I think that these ideas are like "going to the mountain." I had to find a way to have people want to have the services come to them. 

What's next - this Friday night will be the best of all of the Stay at Home services so far. I have invited some very special people to participate in the service. I can't wait for everyone to see what is happening this Friday during services!

The next two Fridays I have guest speakers doing presentations. This month is Jewish History month, so I invited Jewish History experts. May 15 Dr. Gary Joiner from LSUS will speak to us, and May 22 Dr. Josh Parnell from the Institute of Southern Jewish Life will speak to us. I am also working on getting special surprise guests to lead those services as well. 

I am not sure if that means that we have brought the mountain to us, or if we went to the mountain. I am essentially trying to adjust to services that come to you at home instead of having you come to me at synagogue. In an ideal world, none of us are carriers of this horrible pandemic virus. That would mean that if we went to services in the synagogue - and even hugged, and stood close to each other during Oneg Shabbat - no one in our congregational family would catch the virus. The problem is that right now, we still can't know that we can't catch it or that we are not carriers ourselves. I would never forgive myself if I caused anyone in the congregational family to catch it from me, or from someone who cares about them, and came to services to congregate with them. 

So I go to the mountain by creating ways for you to share experiences with each other, but stay at home. Last week we started Zoom Oneg Shabbat. I have to admit - I messed up a bit during the Zoom. There were people in the "waiting room" and I was not paying attention to the waiting room - I was too busy visiting with the people who joined us earlier. I hope we keep trying. I miss visiting, and many people have said that they miss visiting. The people who did connect were very glad to see each other. 

I have also been coming up with new ways to teach Hebrew while the whole class is staying at their homes. My younger Hebrew students have been very patient with me, while I was learning how to Kahoot (ask any child in school, and they can tell you about the Kahoot program), and Zoom at the same time. The first two weeks it was a disaster. The last two weeks it was wonderful! Every day I get new ideas. I just don't have enough hours in my days.

As each day goes by I am very aware that there is a mountain approaching us, and we are getting closer to it. At the end of this month we stand at Sinai. When we did that the first time, we needed to find a way to adjust to a life that we had never known, so G-d gave us Mitzvot and our part in an eternal, holy covenant. Once again we find ourselves in a way of life that we have never known. We are getting new kinds of Mitzvot - like staying a safe distance from others, and wearing a mask to protect each other.

I honestly believe that we can get through this. I pray that G-d keeps showing us - and the doctors and researchers, and health care folks - what we need to do to be protected. 

For now, I will wait at my mountain, and see how far that takes me. 

Tue, December 1 2020 15 Kislev 5781