I had been saying the kaddish for my mother when the pandemic brought us all inside. After looking online for a minyan, I found an online minyan, Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. In early spring I began to attend the Zoom morning minyan and I found that it was a special place. It felt like home, gentle and authentic, and what was particularly interesting to me was the organic construction of the minyan. Each morning different people led the davening. Divrei Torah were interesting and varied. It was and it remains a generous space, where the voices of the members are heard and honored. It has been an honor to get to know the congregation and become part of it.
It was in the summer of 2020 when I realized that I was curious about the people in the Zoom room with me. We were there each morning but I didn’t know any of them. Because it was the practice of KI to have people name the name of those whose memories they honor, I knew the names of people who were being remembered, but I wanted to know the people who were saying kaddish and more about whom they were saying kaddish for. Very kindly, the rabbi and the minyan organizer were happy to introduce a new practice of individuals saying something about their loved ones. I like to think of it as people’s stories “in 10 words a day.”
After some time had elapsed with this new practice, it became clear that this room was unique to COVID and perhaps even unique to synagogue minyans. This minyan would not have existed if not for COVID. The face-to-face nature of Zoom allowed others to be fully present during sharing time and the small moments spent sharing memories were unforgettable. Slowly I was able to build pictures and stories in my mind and I began to feel close to the people in the room and the people whom they honored. “The Memory Room” was a little bit of history being made in a tiny Zoom room during a historic time.
I believed these moments of sharing were important, so I began to document this room. I took photos of the people in the minyan and asked them to share photos of their loved ones. I began to take photos of the minyan through my computer while people prayed. I recorded their voices. Because of the nature of Zoom, I was able to capture moments where others made their home space their sacred space, as well as photos of the service through my computer. The images that appear in the project document sacred moments and sacred space through the lens of a camera over the monitor of a computer.
Participants in the morning minyan also wrote words about the power of the minyan and snippets about their loved ones. These snippets, written instead of typed, are a testimony to a unique time where public funerals were not allowed, and people were deprived of their ability to grieve with the community. These snippets, these stories, this room became a shiva room, a room to progress through the 11 months and a room where a group of people shared and grew together, all on a screen.
There are many instances which we have read about unique positive situations created by the constrictions in our lives during COVID. This is just one, but it is one that I will hold close to my heart long after this period of time is over. This is my “Memory Room.”
View a full version of “The Memory Room” here.
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