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Watching Shul


Teddy, the miniature poodle, arrived at around three o’clock last Friday afternoon for his visit with us, with a duffle bag full of wee wee pads and special homemade food, and it was immediately clear that he and Cricket should not be left alone without supervision. So we decided to skip Friday night services at synagogue. I rely on those weekly services, though, for some comfort and sense of community, and we took advantage of the new streaming service that gives us access to Friday night services online. As we were searching for the link in a past email, I realized that, finally, this would be a way for Cricket to “go” to shul.


Teddy, resting on the couch.


Cricket’s opinion about Teddy resting on the couch.



Watching services on the computer is not like going in person, but it was at least a connection, except that I kept worrying that the Rabbi and the Cantor could hear me talking through the computer, as if we were on skype. I’m very good about not talking too much during services, but at home, I’m a blabber mouth.

Teddy and Cricket sat with us on the couch, and we sang along with the Friday night prayers on the lap top. To be honest, the dogs didn’t seem especially interested. Cricket was stretched out on the floor at the foot of the couch, and Teddy was still pacing back and forth, to the front door, where he cried for his Mom, and then back to me at the couch, where he sought some comfort and attention, and then back to the door again.


“Where’s my Mommy?”

There were a bunch of teenagers at services that night, making faces, reaching around their parents’ backs to tap each other on the shoulder, and waving at friends across the aisle. Watching the congregation do the silent standing prayer (The Amidah) was a medley of fidgeting and whispering.

At some point, I started counting the rows and realized that everyone sitting in the first seven rows in the sanctuary was visible on screen. I usually sit at row six or seven, because I assumed that would be far enough back to be invisible. My self-consciousness immediately kicked in and I started wondering if people have been watching me at services, judging what I wear (a sweater and jeans usually), or my side to side shuckling (I have to shift from foot to foot when my back hurts), or noticing when I scratch my head or look for a tissue in my jacket pocket.

So now I know to sit at least eight rows back, no matter how many times the rabbi asks us to move forward.

The big problem with watching the streaming service, though, was that we couldn’t hear the discussion, or any of the poetry readings, because they were done without microphones. I could see the Rabbi doing his hand gestures, putting one idea or anther on a shelf for later, but I had no idea what he was talking about.

We decided to put the computer away for the night at that point, and see if we could distract Teddy from his grief with a walk outside. But even when we were watching Teddy follow Cricket from pee spot to pee spot, meticulously aiming so that his pee fell on the same exact spot Cricket had just peed on, I was still thinking about the streaming service.


The discussions are a big part of what I look forward to in Friday nights. The music makes me happy and comfortable, but the discussions force me to look at issues that I don’t ordinarily think about, because the rabbi reads a lot more newspapers than I do. Inevitably, even in the most unfamiliar areas of discussion, I realize that I have something to add. Something that no one else in the room is going to say. And over the years I have built up my willingness to raise my hand and say what I need to say. I’m worried, though, that now that I know I’m being watched on the computer, with no idea who the watchers are, I might be less willing to raise my hand. Even Cricket would be intimidated by that camera over her shoulder. She’s very outspoken at home, and with people she knows, but, as Teddy’s visit has shown us, she can be as uneasy with strangers as I am, and shut herself down in response.


“What are you talking about, Mommy? I never shut up.”

Don’t worry. I’ll give a full rundown on Teddy’s visit next week, once I’ve had a chance to figure it all out. It will be a relief to be able to go back to shul in person, and sing and be with my community again, and not have to worry that my two favorite dogs are having a stare down over Cricket’s orthopedic doggy bed, or the last piece of chicken liver in Teddy’s bowl. But I will definitely miss Teddy when he leaves, and Cricket will miss his food.


“Num num num num num….”


“Chicken livers?”

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

61 responses »

  1. Ha! Gotta love Cricket!

  2. RE: Choosing a pew in church. I remember a story about Ben Franklin. He would sit in the last pew. The church charged more the closer one got to the front of the church. Franklin didn’t want to overpay his admission to salvation.

  3. Cricket’s expressions are priceless. Glad she is tolerating Teddy being in her space. I know this may add to your anxiety, but maybe you should suggest having everyone who speaks at Shul to use the microphone. That way, those who have to watch the live stream don’t miss the discussion. Not being Jewish, I am fascinated by the idea of having discussions during the church services….and it sounds like you discuss current events. I think that is awesome. At our services, I’m United Methodist, we mostly listen the the pastor, but, I do attend Sunday School with a smaller group of people where we have discussions, but they are usually based upon a Bible study or book, not current events.

    • The discussions are awesome! The rabbi introduces a topic related to Jewish life, or politics or Israel, or history, and then he opens the floor for people to add their questions and opinions. We only get speeches or sermons at the high holidays, and even then, it’s really down to earth.

  4. Is Teddy staying the whole weekend? Hope he makes it.

  5. It’s ok to be anxious. It’s what we do afterwards that determines our character, I think.

  6. Enjoyed your post, and looking forward to hearing more about Teddy’s visit!

  7. Heh, more like the Chosen Pupple.

  8. Y’know, it’s always a joy and a comfort to come home and see one of your posts in my email. It just is…

  9. Lovely read… I feel as uncomfortable as you about being watched on the computer.

  10. I love reading your posts. They are so honest, and human, touching and funny.

  11. Love Cricket’s expressions, and I’d have the same unease about the camera absolutely 🙂 It’s nice that they’ve made the services so accessible for folks (humans and non :)) at home, though!

  12. I am intrigued that you can see the service on television. I hope you can get past knowing someone could be watching you and settle back into your love of Friday nights. Congratulations on your bravery participating in discussion. You bring your unique self wherever you go. Thanks be to God.

  13. G-d is always watching anyway. Just forget about social media and enjoy the chants and dialogue. You can do it

  14. How nice for Teddy (once he adjusted to his Mom being gone) and you that you could enjoy each other’s company. I don’t really see the point in streaming the service if there is no sound…

  15. Enjoyed your post. Can relate. Have to admit I’m conscious of our live streaming camera too.
    Can relate to the doggy personality issues too.

    • Thank you! We have a lot of older congregants who have trouble getting to shul sometimes and it really is a nice thing for them to have a window in. But, especially for them, we need to fix the microphone issue.

  16. If you adjust your seating to 8th row or back, problem solved, right? And as long as your hearing holds out, that should work just fine. But it may help to remember that most people aren’t looking at you anyway, camera or not. Most people are self-absorbed and rarely notice anyone else. Sad state of affairs, but it’s great for those of us in the anxiety group..

  17. Love Cricket and can relate. I was in a religious school, and our family is traditional, so I know how the sinagoge services can be soothing.

  18. That is a bit disconcerting to think people are watching from their computers. I wonder if they could set the webcam to focus only on the Rabbi?

  19. I sometimes live stream services from Central Synagogue in NYC. I don’t ever look critically at the congregants, but I like that I can see them as a way to connect.

    Btw, although I am not a member, I sometimes take my dog to the annual Blessing of the Animals at a nearby Episcopal Church, which is open to everyone and their pets. I figure anyone who wants to bless and pray for Jess is good 🙂 It’s a regular service and it is really cool to see all those animals in the church.

  20. Hmmm. I recommend you try to forget about the cameras. If you DO remember them, perhaps just think that the people watching are really just watching because they CANNOT be there in person . . . but would rather be . . . so soak it up while you are there. 🙂

    Interesting these times we live in . . . live streaming services.

  21. So interesting… I did not know that some synagogues live stream their services. Hopefully they don’t charge for access or dun observers for membership fees. It would be awful running into a paywall! Please consider posting the link to your congregation’s services. I’d love to try it out, as I have difficulty attending services in person for a variety of reasons.

  22. You’ve joined the mega-churches on TV?

  23. Moving to the 8th row is an excellent idea.
    I love Teddy!

  24. Aww Cricket! You’re so adorable! Can’t wait to read more about Teddy’s stay!
    My humom totally understands the whole thing about being on camera/video. If she knew she was being recorded she would definitely move back a row or two!

  25. I laughed at your strategy for where to sit based on the location of the camera. I have always been self-conscious about where to sit – never, never in front. Remember, though that a blog presents the same problems of just who is watching/reading. Don’t worry!

  26. I liked the description of the dogs peeing as a “streaming service!”

  27. Lovely post Rachel , first I thought you had a new family member. Good to see them get on reasonably well. Gosh moving to row 8 sounds like a good idea. x

  28. I see you have more people reading and following your comments about feeling uncomfortable than would be watching the shul’s podcast. So no need to worry about people watching. Personally, I do make a conscious effort not to pick my nose too much in public.

  29. God sees you always. So relax. His is the only One whose opinion matters and He loves you greatly.

  30. I suffer from social anxiety, so have often been grateful for services whether broadcast on TV or online. ❤

  31. Well, put it this way: if there is someone who spends a considerable amount of time watching your fidgeting on a screen, there is obviously a big gap in his or her life and you are helping to fill it.

    As for clothes: wear what seems right to you. You are going before God, not fashion judges.


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