SPRING HILL — With the help of computers, people can now attend services and take classes at Temple Beth David without having to leave home.
Yad, which means "hand" in Hebrew, is a free service that began last week during the Thursday Talmud service.
"The name reflects the synagogue reaching out to lend a hand to Jewish people who do not have access to a synagogue," Rabbi Lenny Sarko said. "We are finding so many Jewish families and individuals in remote areas where the odds of them finding a close-enough synagogue to participate in is going to be slim. Yad gives them the ability to do everything they need."
Yad uses both streaming and video conferencing to enable participants to view and take part in the service or class.
Sarko's target audience will be people living in remote areas on the western side of Florida who do not have synagogues. The program also will benefit people who cannot physically attend a service for other reasons, such as those confined to their homes or living in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
"Most people live in an area today because of a job opportunity," Sarko said. "If that job places them in a rural locale and they are Jewish, they may not have access to a local synagogue."
Yad aims to provide a full-service synagogue through a combination of online opportunities, including services, religious school, seminars, meetings and classes. Families can travel to the synagogue when they wish to celebrate major holidays or for other needs.
Sarko will visit them when they have a "life cycle" need, he said.
"If somebody passes away and they would like a rabbi to do a funeral or they have a baby naming or a wedding, they're close enough for me to jump in the car and go to them," he said.
It will also provide a means for relatives of members to see special services.
"On Friday, we have an adult bat mitzvah where relatives who can't come because they live in California will be able to tune it in on their computer screen just as if they were there," Sarko said.
Getting started is easy, Sarko said. All someone needs is a computer with a camera and microphone. No special software is needed.
"Realistically, anybody who knows how to operate a computer and get on an Internet browser … can join us," he said. "To make it easy, if they've got email, we can send them the URL, so all they have to do is click on the link."
For those who are computer-challenged, someone from the synagogue will help with the setup.
Those attending services in the sanctuary will see a screen sitting next to the pews, with up to 25 connections from the participants' computers, showing their faces as seen on their Web cameras.
"It actually ends up being another pew," Sarko said. "And we will add more screens as needed."
Those at home making the connection will see what is going on during the service.
"We will have somebody zooming in on the rabbi or the soloists or the Torah, depending on what we're doing," Sarko said. "So it's no different than if they were sitting in the sanctuary. As people's eyes would go where the action is, the camera will go where the action is."
Besides seeing, participants will hear the service and can use their microphones to be heard.
"I could call on them to do a Psalm reading or whatever, and it's no different than when I call out to the congregation to do a reading," Sarko said.
When the conferencing is in a class, viewers will be able to ask questions.
"And that's really the difference that we're shooting for," Sarko said. "Instead of somebody just watching what's going on, they'll actually be able to participate. We can ask them questions; they can ask us questions."
Though Yad is free, "you do need to become a member to use this service," Sarko said. "We are going to give an opportunity for a couple of free chances to view what we're doing. At that point, they need to join if they're going to participate. This isn't like YouTube, where we're trying to reach everybody in the world. This is how we can bring the Jewish community to rural Jewish families."