I opened my prayerbook yesterday on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, with the pale morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows and the white-robed rabbi and cantor solemnly approaching the bima.
The cantor sang the opening hymn and the rabbi stood ready to begin the Yom Kippur service.
“Good Yontov (Happy New Year),” he welcomed us congregants. “Please turn to page 285. But before we begin, let me call your attention to the iPad next to me.” He gestured to his right.
“I’d like to welcome Blah Blah who is spending a semester in Chile and joining us via Skype for our service this morning. Hi Blah Blah, and Happy New Year.”
Huh. Pretttyyy cool. I instantly recalled an article I read about a Rosh Hashanah service in Florida just 10 days earlier, during which the rabbi encouraged her young congregants to feel free to text. Pray, write, text, the rabbi had told them. You can read about that service here.
But back to me. After delivering the sermon, our rabbi mentioned that the information could be found on his podcast page. Cool thing number two.
As a tech and social media enthusiast, I am gratified to see this trend. I do believe there is a place for social media in many facets of modern life, including religious venues. And although yesterday I would not have felt comfortable pulling out my brand new iPhone5 (which, by the way, was practically burning a hole in my purse), I foresee a day when conversations taking place on the back channel (Twitter chatter that happens while someone is at the front of the room presenting) will be accepted as a valuable complement to the conversation. Far from being disrespectful, it can add another dimension to the experience, and instead of a speaker talking at the audience, he or she can facilitate a discussion in which many voices can be heard.
Social media not only connects us and makes our world smaller, it also provides unique opportunities for learning and growth. Perhaps someday we will no longer be told to “please silence your cellphones.”