What do you do when the World Health Organization declares a pandemic and your government strongly encourages social distancing? You create a Facebook group, of course. 

At least that’s what Judaism Unbound’s Dan Libenson and Lex Rofeberg, and Apryl Stern did. On Thursday March 13th, jewishLIVE was launched, by Friday March 14th it had over 800 members, and today the community consists of over 4000 members and growing. 

Around this time last week, the cancellation of in person gatherings and the strong recommendation to stay home, posed two problems: 1. As a communal religion, the cancellation of in person experiences would mean, for many, the cancellation of Jewish experience 2. Social isolation. Dan, Lex, and Apryl – who already knew there was a wide variety of online options for Jewish community – jumped into action to help people, especially those unfamiliar with live streaming, to discover everything that’s available to them. They decided to focus on promoting live opportunities over recorded, because as Dan explained, when you can be part of something live you feel more a part of a community. The solution they created is jewishLIVE. 

jewishLIVE is an online Jewish community centre – a place for us to connect with opportunities; a place to find activity. Responding immediately to human needs, beyond food and shelter and toilet paper, jewishLIVE has stepped up to the task of feeding our minds and souls in the midst of this disorienting time. Self described as “curating the jewish you want and need, in one place,” the group hosts a google form where any member can submit a live-streaming or online event to add to the ‘catalogue.’ Once submitted the events are then curated and shared with the group. This is done in a few different formats depending on notice, but the most helpful and anticipated of posts, in this writer’s opinion, is the daily round up – posted in the evening and sharing all of the events for the next day. 

There is a lot going on right now. A lot of new information daily. A lot of change in our routine and habits. I have heard from many that they are seeking connection and things to do. We can’t just binge Netflix and watch the news – well we could, but we really shouldn’t. jewishLIVE is helping to amplify all of the great Jewish opportunities that are emerging in this moment. It’s providing a platform and helping to share best practices and tools so that more can be created. It’s growing and it’s building something that will last long after this pandemic. 

The opportunity to connect online is leading to an increased feeling of closeness between Jews from all over the world, in this time of social isolation. Appropriately, with Passover approaching, Dan relates our current experience to the plague of the first born. The Israelites hid in their homes waiting for the angel of death to pass over. As we hide in our homes today, we may be afraid, but because of the internet we are not alone.

Naturally, when this pandemic passes, we will want to go back to having in person experiences, However, the team behind jewishLIVE hopes that people will come away with an appreciation and thirst for a community that is only available on the internet. By Friday March 20th, jewishLIVE will be a website. The vision for the website is to be an online Jewish culture festival with multiple events happening at all hours of the day. Visitors can join a session to be a part of the action, or take a more passive role and watch the stream. Many organizations have already signed on to partner in offering events, and many more are welcome and needed. So if this is of interest to you or your organization definitely send them a message.

Join jewishLIVE at facebook.com/groups/jewishlivegroup/ 

Arielle Branitsky is a Jewish professional based in Toronto. She has lived in 6 cities over the past 8 years, and frequently turns to online options to stay connected to these communities and discover others.