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Jewish Journal

The Shul That Comes to You

by Gaby Wenig

September 12, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Monty Hall is not going to be going to shul this Yom Kippur. On previous Yom Kippurs, the 80-year-old philanthropist and former "Let's Make a Deal" host attended the Temple Shalom for the Arts High Holiday services at the Wilshire Theatre. This year, because he is bedridden after surgery, he can't make it to the theater, but through a $1 million television production of last year's service, he is still going to be doing services with his congregation.

Temple Shalom's Temple of the Air Yom Kippur service is one of several options that homebound Los Angeles Jews have this Yom Kippur to partake in services. The broadcast, the brainchild of Temple Shalom's Rabbi David Baron, is a 30-minute program culled from over 44 hours of tape accumulated by four cameras at Temple Shalom's service last year; it will also be broadcast in New York, Miami and Chicago. It was originally conceived as a surrogate synagogue service for people like Hall -- homebound on Yom Kippur for health or other reasons, or for those spending Yom Kippur in nursing homes or hospitals -- but Baron said he believes the service will reach a broader audience as well. "We think we are going to reach people who are unaffiliated," he said. "We realized in the editing process that this is very compelling. If someone is Jewish, but has not always related to temple because of the structure, or never understood the prayers, the way we have done it -- with dramatic readings on internal themes and music -- is a way that makes Judaism accessible.

"I also think that there is a huge gentile audience who is going to watch this and get a better understanding of what Jews do on Yom Kippur. I think that is a hidden benefit of all of this -- a lot of non-Jews will be exposed to Yom Kippur and learn what the themes of remembrance and forgiveness are all about," he added.

The "Temple of the Air" show includes cantorial singing from Broadway star Ilysia Pierce, and readings from film critic Leonard Maltin, "Entertainment Tonight" anchor Mary Hart and talk show host Larry King. Part of the service was taped at the Western Wall, with Baron giving viewers a chance to inscribe a mental note on a blank paper, which is then placed in a crevice of the wall.

Baron chose to air the show the day before Yom Kippur rather than on Yom Kippur itself, for several reasons. "I felt in my gut that a lot of people would maybe go to a grandparent's or parent's home and watch it with them," he said. "That way, they could be together with them, but that same person might have a conflict if it was on Yom Kippur itself, because they would want to be attending their own service. [Having it air the day before] enables that shared experience to happen. It is not distant from Yom Kippur because it is on the morning before, so it is actually part of the holiday. The other thing is that some people might have found it religiously objectionable that a program about Yom Kippur was aired on Yom Kippur."

For those who want to commemorate Yom Kippur on the day itself, but can't for whatever reason, there are still several options available. For Reform Jews, Temple Beth El Binah in Dallas, a member of the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews, which is, according to their Web site, the world's first online synagogue, will be broadcasting Yom Kippur services over the Internet at bethelbinah.org.

For those who prefer not to use the Internet or television on Yom Kippur, West Coast Chabad Lubavitch has several alternatives. "We help people find places to stay so that they can be close to their families on Yom Kippur," said Rabbi Chaim Cunin, a spokesperson for West Coast Chabad. "We also send prayer books to patients in hospitals, and to Jewish prison inmates as well. Another thing we do is that if people can't attend shul because they aren't well, they can send in the names of their deceased parents before the holiday, and Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin will say Yizkor for them on Yom Kippur. Finally, during the break [between the morning and afternoon services] at West Coast Chabad headquarters we get volunteers together, go to hospitals, seek out the Jewish patients and say some prayers with them."

But as good as these substitutes are, they are no replacement for the real thing. "One of my congregants quipped 'rabbi, can I just watch the tape and fast and not go to temple?" Baron said. "I said 'No, we can't give you that shortcut, and it is bad karma anyway.' The show won't be the same as a full day in shul -- it can't be, but it will give the feeling that can be created on Yom Kippur."

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