“We were in and out of the room — because how long could you sit there and stare at a screen?” said Michele Kamali, a mom of three young children. Her kids would “take out their graggers when you could faintly hear the word Haman.” And from what Kamali could tell, “the synagogue was pretty empty.” Only a few people could be heard making noise in the synagogue during the same points of the reading.
For Kamali, leaning on a virtual religious option wasn’t an easy choice to make. “I went back and forth deciding if I should take the kids to a Megillah reading,” she said. In the end, she took a “better safe than sorry” approach. “I’d rather be on a self-imposed isolation than a mandatory quarantine,” she said, noting that she already knows two families who are in the latter camp right now.
Several places of worship told CNN Business they have seen digital demand soar in recent days. For St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, live-stream traffic has almost doubled in the last week, according to a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of New York. Churchome, a megachurch frequented by celebrities such as Justin Bieber, closed all of its Seattle locations until further notice, and has seen its app sign-ups rise 60% in a week. Churchome’s virtual Sunday service attendance increased 23%, according to the church.
The cathedral has already seen its live-streams of services increase twofold. Last Sunday was one of the biggest days for online viewership since Saint Mark’s began offering live-streaming in 2017, according to a spokesperson for the church. While it typically has 40 to 50 people watching live on a normal Sunday, last Sunday over 100 tuned in.
The Very Reverend Steven L. Thomason, the dean of Saint Mark’s and a former physician, said he has been holding virtual meetings with other church officials through Zoom conferencing in lieu of being in person when possible. Saint Mark’s is also considering hosting a religious book club via video conference or conducting a live-streamed version of walking the Stations of the Cross, a series of images that symbolize a part of Jesus’ passion and death. (The church already accepts offerings through Venmo.)
“If folks are isolated or quarantined, they quickly feel the challenges of that solitude and sense of loneliness,” Reverend Thomason said. “What technology affords us now is, even if those restrictions come about, we have the capacity to remain connected.”
For observant Jews like Rebecca Taskin, who do not use technology on Shabbat, the live-streaming option has its limits. But Purim is an occasion where it is permissible to do so. So Taskin, who has a speech pathology practice in New York City, said she and a friend decided to stay in and participate in a Megillah reading service via live-stream.
“I didn’t feel the same sense of community at all. I felt pretty disconnected and it was more challenging to focus,” she said. But because she works “mostly with medically fragile children in their homes, I am trying to do my best to not expose myself to anybody that is exposed,” she said. “I’m not nervous for myself, I’m more nervous for the kids.”
Taskin said that while she typically tries to go to services every week, she probably will not go for the foreseeable future.
For Kamali, her eldest child was “distraught” over the idea that Purim wouldn’t be celebrated as usual. So the day after her lackluster livestream experience, Kamali hired a magician and a clown to put on a makeshift carnival — complete with a cotton candy machine, Purim music, and limbo — inside the common room in her apartment complex. Three other families who lived in the building joined, but no one was allowed to invite outside guests, per the building’s new coronavirus policy, Kamali said. This time, the kids wore costumes.