Morning minyan in a time of COVID

By Victor Rabinovitch

For many decades, a solid core of synagogue members at Agudath Israel (and in other Ottawa shuls) would keep up the daily morning minyan for shacharit, and then for mincha and maariv in the evening. At Agudath (which joined Beth Shalom a few years ago to become Kehillat Beth Israel) the regulars were known as the “Minyanaires.” Their daily breakfasts, with nice shot of single malt whisky, were famous.

I’m writing as if this is in the past, and that’s true in these COVID times. We have not met together for morning minyan, either indoors or out, since last March. But with the magic of digital technology, using Zoom, we have created a daily ‘virtual minyan.’

We can ask if this is really a minyan in a traditional sense. We are not together in one space. We cannot respond and be heard in person when key prayers should elicit an “Amen” from congregants. We cannot correct each other in any immediate way, even though accuracy in liturgy is so important.

On the other hand, the technology has created something that is ALMOST the real thing. We see each other on screens. We hear each other’s voices. We hear the traditional tunes, and participate in the ancient rituals involving t’fillin, talith, tzitzit. We simultaneously recite the prayers set out in our books – our siddurim.

Emotionally, this is very satisfying. I rank it a solid 7 out of 10, but I am a tough judge and others may rank it higher. Most mornings I click the ‘join’ button on the KBI website, say the special brachot when preparing my t’fillin, and scan the faces of fellow congregants. My day is starting with the Jewish ‘zen experience’: thinking quietly about the wonders of this world, our personal behaviour, and our gratitude to God. 

But as soon as this COVID thing is over, I will run to shul for the real in-person minyan: some loud singing, a few jokes, a shot of good whiskey with smoked salmon. Maybe, just maybe, we will want to keep the Zoom option operating even after COVID? That will be a good debate — a topic at the “Minyanaires” breakfast table.

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