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Behind the HeadlinesVirtual attendance on High Holidays was in tens of thousands

WATCH: Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, ‘US Judaism needs to be Netflix, not Blockbuster’

Mitzvah apps? The spiritual leader of one of America’s largest and most influential congregations predicts a digital-spiritual revolution will last well beyond the COVID era

Times of Israel Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan speaks with Park Avenue Synagogue Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove on the Behind the Headlines video series, October 28, 2020. (Times of Israel)
Times of Israel Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan speaks with Park Avenue Synagogue Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove on the Behind the Headlines video series, October 28, 2020. (Times of Israel)

Two years after the massacre at Pittsburgh, deep in the throes of the coronavirus crisis, and just ahead of a polarizing United States presidential election, Park Avenue Synagogue Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove says change is in the air — and a radical reinvention of American Judaism is just what the times are calling for.

Speaking on October 28 to ToI Deputy Editor Amanda Borschel-Dan on the new Behind the Headlines video series available exclusively to the Times of Israel Community, Cosgrove says an updated version of American Jewry is the new reality, not an abstract concept, brought on by the COVID era. And now that the genie is out of the bottle, he says, things will never be the same.

Cosgrove is a leading voice in Conservative Judaism and has served as head rabbi of New York’s 138-year-old Park Avenue Synagogue since 2008. He is the author of 11 collections of selected sermons, and his essays and op-eds frequently appear in leading publications.

Posing dueling challenges of a people thirsting for spirituality but lacking the tools to perform Judaism’s often complex rituals, Cosgrove outlines aspects of a plan to bring Jewish life into the tech-savvy 21st century.

Illustrative: From left: Park Avenue Synagogue chairman Marc Becker, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, PAS rabbi Elliot Cosgrove, and PAS president Natalie Barth, December 2018. (Charles Savenor)

But he’s careful to point out that the synagogue’s role as beit knesset, house of gathering, must not be lost in the digital age.

He speaks about what the nation’s Jews can do as a whole to ensure that both large communities such as his own, and smaller, more intimate communities around the country, can continue to thrive. He envisions a synergy facilitated by the national leadership on down, where large and small congregations strengthen each play to their strengths to help the other.

He also offers an ancient Jewish teaching to help people stay centered amid the political and social upheaval surrounding the unusually controversial presidential elections coming up next week.

This is, he says, “not the stuff they teach you in rabbinical school.”

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