Recently, I’ve seen an influx of questions and comments online about virtual lifecycle events. With uncertainty about when we will return to having events in person, more and more of us are looking to get creative with how we keep celebrating. And having been to dozens of simchas and shivas over the past five months, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve seen.
While admittedly I miss the cake and the dancing, going to virtual weddings has had its merits. We’ve been able to celebrate with friends whose weddings we would not have otherwise gone to. I’ve watched ketubah ceremonies that would have otherwise been reserved for immediate family, and heard beautiful speeches by brides and grooms who otherwise may not have spoken at their wedding. One friend did a drive-by lemonade stand as a distanced, in-person element of the day, and it was genius—a safe, in-person option that made for memorable pics. And I never had to put on heels or worry about a designated driver or babysitter!
What I’ve loved: Seeing the best array of thematic masks! But really, seeing the joy of happy couples who won’t let a pandemic stop them, because weddings shouldn’t just be about the party.
Most people come to a baby-naming or bris in real life for the same reasons: to see the baby, to send their wishes and to hear the story of the name. And given how few people actually end up holding the baby during these overwhelming events, all of these things are pretty well accomplished by Zoom. The best ones I’ve been to have focused on the story of the name, family stories and speakers. Blessings in the chat function and calling on people one-by-one are also key tricks.
What I’ve loved: Seeing the baby up close. You can’t hold that baby at the camera for too long!
As I saw on a Facebook post the other day, “a kid becomes a bar/bat mitzvah regardless of a party,” and this is the truth. I know it’s hard for kids to forgo the party and being with friends and family, but hearing the kid speak has as much or more power by Zoom. And this is a great moment to step up the b’nai mitzvah projects and community service as a family activity.
What I’ve loved: Seeing kids handle this as the adults they are becoming, temple bimah Zoom backgrounds and also not having to dress up.
This is the most difficult and important of Zoom experiences, no question. And countless people have told me how meaningful and important it has been to have Zoom as a way to connect across distances. As one rabbi said, the whole concept of shiva works with Zoom because it’s an alternative way to “be” together, and to share in the joy of the life of the deceased.
What I’ve loved: Shivas where guests are all asked to share a memory or words of their loved one. It becomes a communal storytelling event in a lovely way, and a great tribute.
The good news is that I have gone to about 30 hours’ worth of real-life kids’ birthday parties in about 20 minutes! Birthday parties are a lovely idea, but the lack of one-on-one conversation amongst a crowd makes it tortuous. So much talking that no one hears anything, and the inevitable guest who is incapable of muting.
I have logged on and off countless birthday parties—a mess of screaming kids with no entertainment or guidance. Parents, for this to work, please have some form of entertainment or plan. It’s unbearable being on Zoom with screaming kids with nothing to entertain them!
What I’ve loved: The best parties I’ve been to have everyone participate and tell stories about the person, similar to other events I’ve mentioned above. I went to an 80th birthday that was so special. The party was divided into two times to accommodate guests in different places and schedules. Then the birthday boy introduced each friend and they shared a story or memory of him. It was so special, and in some ways, better than it might have even been in person.
Ultimately, the key to every Zoom-gathering success is the leader. Here are a few key tips to being a great Zoom event leader:
- Mute! Ensure that all participants are on mute before starting.
- Don’t spend a ton of time talking about the logistics of Zoom. We get it or we don’t; move on.
- Make it personal. Assign/ask people to speak one by one. Spotlight people so the focus is on them.
- Ask people to put blessings or comments in the chat box to encourage participation without talking.
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