Services During a Pandemic: Safe and Sound

Oct 25, 2021 | Article

Services During a Pandemic: Safe and Sound

Oct 25, 2021

We’ve got trouble, right here in our City. Trouble with a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for pandemic! 

“It’s like I had a front row seat.”

That’s the comment Jeff Greenstein heard more than once from people who couldn’t attend live services at their synagogue during the pandemic—either because of local COVID-19 restrictions or because of personal concerns about joining large gatherings.

So how did Greenstein make that front row seat experience possible when sanctuaries had closed or attendance was limited? He saw a need, and he stepped in to fill it, combining years of experience as a musician, sound engineer, technology expert, video editor, and businessman.

As in the rest of the country, here in the Denver area, services that had traditionally only been live and in person, were livestreamed during the pandemic and available to anyone at home with the internet, thanks to Greenstein. Undaunted by the fact that his own small business had evaporated during the pandemic, he found a way to connect people in his community. How he pulled it off is testimony to his experience, ingenuity, high standards, and religious commitment.

“We say you must do everything to save a life, to preserve life,” Greenstein says. “But when having people gather to pray together is dangerous, we had to find a way to facilitate their spiritual needs while still maintaining safety.”

The Birth of Jeff G Productions
With a degree in kinesiology from the University of Colorado Boulder, Greenstein started his career as a personal trainer. (Some of his former clients might remember his time at the JCC.) But he always had side gigs where he could make music, playing guitar and bass guitar, and he often joined with others to create bands. (You may well remember him from decades of Hannukah Hoopla with Steven Brodsky, the cantorial soloist and music director at Temple Emanuel.) But wherever there is music, there is also equipment.

“Someone in the group always has to be the one to have speakers, mixing boards, wireless microphones, amplifiers,” Greenstein says. “I liked to be that guy.”

Over time, his professional career evolved. He worked in information technology for a decade. When his son was born, he became a stay-at-home father and picked up a master’s degree in World War II military history. He taught some college history classes.

Then, in 2011, Greenstein was attending a Nashira Shabbat service at the Hebrew Education Alliance (HEA). He looked at the front row and saw that Neal Price, then executive director of the synagogue, was mixing the sound. “There were wires all over the place,” Greenstein says. “Neal was a great executive director, but his first career was not as a sound engineer. Let’s just say there was room for improvement.”

Greenstein approached the HEA and asked if he could help out. The answer was a resounding yes, and he set out to rewire the synagogue’s entire sound system. And that was the birth of his business—what would become Jeff G Productions.

The Pandemic Arrives
Word started to spread about Greenstein’s skills as a sound designer and engineer. The JCC called for help with a concert and so did Temple Emanuel. Temple Sinai needed help with an annual dinner, and HEA asked him to help produce multiple services at two locations during the High Holidays. The Denver Jewish Day School was delighted to have his help assisting with sound at school events.

Word of mouth worked as well as any marketing plan, and Greenstein earned a reputation among other sound engineers as someone whose work is “dialed in.” If you want to understand what he does, he can boil it down to a simple explanation. “You would not hear the person who is speaking or singing if I am not there,” he says. “But if I’m doing my job well, you don’t know that I am there.”

Greenstein toured the U.S. and Canada with the GuruGanesha Band, worked for the Great Family Reunion Band doing sound for weddings, did sound production for large events on the lawn of the Aurora Municipal Center, handled bar and bat mitzvahs, started hiring staff to help with the increasing work load, and, in a move that would eventually have major implications when the pandemic hit, he signed on to do sound and livestreaming for a Unitarian church in Golden.

“We were having bands and doing different things every week at that church,” he remembers. “I gained a lot of experience in livestreaming and the integration of live sound with a broadcast.”

In March 2020, he was meeting to discuss a major production at the Grand Hyatt Denver—Denver Jewish Day School’s annual dinner—when all of a sudden everything shut down due to pandemic restrictions. The 20 upcoming weddings he had on his calendar shrunk to two.

“Overnight, there were no live events,” he recalls. “We were locked down. It was a bummer for sure.” And that bummer might have been the end of his business—except that it was not. In fact, the opposite happened.

A Superbowl of Services
When the pandemic hit, the HEA reduced access to a minyan, standing far apart in a 400-person sanctuary, streaming services over YouTube or Facebook Live using a single iPad on a stand. No surprise that Greenstein took one look at the set-up and said, “Let’s see how we can do this better.”

“Better” involved adding multiple cameras and a camera switcher, to enable him to produce a service from different angles. As 2020 went on, and it became clear that the pandemic would cycle through several surges, HEA started to look ahead to the high holidays and wonder, “Should we be doing more?”

“I gave them a proposal that we called the ‘Superbowl Production,’” Greenstein says. “We knew that livestreaming was our connection to the world, and we needed to do it right.”

HEA agreed. In the midst of a pandemic, when everyone was trying to do the same kind of project, Greenstein found contractors, reclaimed part of a coat room to create a media control room, and installed wiring that would connect the sound system and nine cameras—four in the sanctuary, two in the chapel, and three in the social hall. The project was finished in time for 2020 high holidays. “People could attend services without leaving home,” Greenstein says, with just a hint of pride.

The proof of performance was in the production. Anyone could log on and watch Greenstein’s work. Once again, his phone started to ring. “This year things have exploded,” he says. He added more cameras and rebuilt the sound system at Temple Sinai. He installed cameras and did wiring for BMH-BJ. He produced Zoom events for Lotus Network. For Judaism Your Way, he figured out a way to enable multiple singers in different offices to join a live musical ensemble.

“Every client presented a different set of challenges,” he says. “There has been a lot of problem-solving.”

As 2021 comes to a close, Greenstein is back doing weddings—in fact, he recently had four in one weekend. He marvels at how all the different skills he had developed in his life converged to solve a singular problem during the pandemic. And he believes that livestreamed services are here to stay.

“People have become more connected through livestreamed services,” he says. “It has become a gateway for people to connect to the synagogue community.”