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Cantor Mass of Shaarey Zedek Synagogue



By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng.

Cantor Anibal Mass of Winnipeg’s Shaarey Zedek Synagogue, believes Shaarey Zedek is one of the first conservative synagogues in the world to offer live webcasts of its services, as opposed to pre-recorded playbacks.

The synagogue offers live online webcasts for Saturday morning Shabbat services, and Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat Services. It also offers Bar and Bat Mitzvah, wedding, and funeral services at the request of families.

“The building was already wired for audio broadcasting and we have arranged for free internet services with USTREAM,” says Cantor Mass, who has a degree in computers and has been with Shaarey Zedek for eight years.

“I turn the system on Friday before Shabbat and turn the system off on Sunday to abide by Shabbat rules,” he says.
Shaarey Zedek is of the view that online religious services could appeal to people who are physically unable to attend services in person such as the elderly, disabled, and homebound. For those lacking easy access to synagogues, Jews in rural areas, and Jews on vacation in foreign lands, the online services would be a welcome option. In addition, unaffiliated Jews seeking a meaningful spiritual experience outside the established structure of synagogue and even curious non-Jews who are too intimidated to go to a synagogue might be drawn to the webcast.

Shaarey Zedek’s cutting edge live online services have even caught the attention of Heeb Magazine, which referred to them in its fall 2009 issue. Heeb Magazine is a Jewish lifestyle magazine founded in New York in 2001, known for its satire and sardonic approach to reaching Jewish readers of all streams.
Shaarey Zedek Synagogue
Shaarey Zedek Synagogue

Under the heading “How To Observe Shabbat In Space,” Heeb Magazine wrote, “NASA doesn’t currently organize Shabbat Services for orbiting Jews. However, you can still attend via webcast.  Shaarey Zedek is a conservative synagogue in Western Canada that offers live audio broadcasts of Saturday morning services.   Technically, Jewish law prohibits broadcasts on Shabbat, but Jewish Law also probably prohibits operating a space shuttle on Shabbat, so you might be cool.”

Cantor Mass, however, does not see Shaarey Zedek’s live online broadcasting as an alternative to attending synagogue.

“I believe that it should be a temporary solution if you cannot attend for any reason. But, our hope is that once you are able you would return to worship at synagogue,” he says.  “As examples, we had a regular congregant who was sick and unable to come to synagogue and we have a listener from Ontario who does not live within driving distance to a synagogue.”

As Cantor Mass explains, “Typically, we have 20 to 30 followers for our Friday night or Saturday morning services. We have much larger audiences comprised of out of town friends and relatives who cannot make it to Bar and Bat Mitzvot in Winnipeg. And we can have large followings for funerals due again to out of town friends and relatives.

“We have only advertised our online services to our membership. We are not looking to attract a worldwide online audience. We are hoping to satisfy the needs of our congregation and I think we have successfully fulfilled that goal”, says Cantor Mass.

Shaarey Zedek is not alone in its attempt to use the internet to broadcast services. There are a few dozen synagogues in the U.S. and at least one abroad, the Glasgow Reform Synagogue in Scotland, that have audio and or video streams of religious services, blogs, online forums, chat rooms, etc.

“To offer live video broadcasting at this point is not an option because of the expense. We currently have online conversion classes and I teach online Bar/ Bat Mitzah students from out of town. We hope to offer live Torah classes shortly”, says Cantor Mass.

Over the last year or two there has been an increase in the number of people worldwide partaking in online alternatives to attending synagogue. The growth of webcast worship services will challenge the existing practices of synagogues, forcing congregations to reexamine how they do business. Within a decade, experts say, a non-Orthodox synagogue that doesn’t broadcast its services will be as rare as one now without a web site.

Further advances in communication technology will redefine the way we look at religious observance in the future. Synagogues will have to come up with new and creative ways to fulfill the needs and interests of the 21st century Jew through future technological innovations.

Virtual worship services won’t necessarily attract every member of the Jewish community, but it provides an option for those who can’t attend. Hopefully hearing services on the computer will inspire them to go synagogue to worship next week.

Anyone who wishes to can listen to Shaarey Zedek’s services live broadcast via on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to noon and Kabbalat Shabbat Alive services held on select Friday nights.

Cantor Mass also invites everyone to come or listen to Kabbalat Shabbat with keyboard accompaniment on Friday night, April 23rd at 7:30 p.m., which is being held in conjunction with the Synagogue’s 120th Anniversary celebration weekend. He says it promises to be a “rejuvenating and high energy Latin American style service” led by five talented teenagers.

Rhonda Prepes Rhonda Prepes is an engineer, educator, mother, and writer in Winnipeg.


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