Synagogues wary of reopening too soonFree Access – Jewish Advocate

Posted By on May 21, 2020

BOSTON Despite the inclusion of houses of worship in Phase 1 of Gov. Charlie Bakers plan to reopen the state from its closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, synagogues across the region remain leery of welcoming congregants to within their walls anytime soon.

We hope to go about the process of reopening our synagogue very carefully, and do not anticipate this happening immediately, said Rabbi Carl M. Perkins of Needhams Temple Aliyah. We will consider all of the risks involved in gathering together, and will only open when we believe that it does not pose a risk for us to do so.

Our primary concern is the health, safety and welfare of all of the community, he noted.

We will not be reopening, but are planning to continue offering all services, learning, and pastoral care remotely, said Rabbi Robin S. Sparr of Temple Emanuel of the Merrimack Valley.

We are not opening up right away, said Michelle Weiner Taylor, administrator for Temple Israel of Natick. There are many concerns about reopening.

We ARE NOT ready to re-enter at this time, noted President Stacey Lieberman of Hollistons Temple Beth Torah in an email to members. Your health and safety is top of mind and most important as we work to think about getting back into the Temple.

We are working with our lay leaders, our Beth Israel Medical Task force, and our staff to discuss what it will mean for us as we consider reopening in the next couple of months, noted the leadership of Worcesters Congregation Beth Israel in an email to congregants. Please note that our BI Medical Task force has advised us against taking any steps (beyond planning) at this time towards reopening.

We will certainly proceed with caution, said Rabbi David J. Meyer of Marbleheads Temple Emanu-El, as there are already many questions about the sufficiency of these first steps to ensure the health and safety of all. We will not be meeting in person for worship or programs this week, nor likely in the immediate future. But we have been working on strategies even before todays announcement, and will continue to trend towards caution rather than haste.

Many congregations plan to continue their services virtually.

We are not going to be open for in-person services until maybe mid- June or July at the earliest, said Andrea Baron, office manager for Walthams Temple Beth Israel.

For TBI, reopening is risky business.

There are still a lot of questions and concerns that we have about opening now, Baron said. We have many older members that still cannot leave their buildings, and some have chosen to remain at home. Because of this, we will continue to hold online services, and will look into slowly opening our doors to hold services on a small scale.

Baron noted the results of a survey TBI sent congregants about when they would feel comfortable coming back to the building.

Most have replied that while they would love to come back right away, she said, they still fear getting the virus; so they will not come back until a vaccine is found, even if that means not coming back for a year or more.

Reopening guidelines

While houses of worship were included in Phase 1 of the statewide reopening plan, unveiled by Baker and his team on May 18, there was apparently some trepidation about their inclusion.

The governor and the Advisory Board would have preferred to delay opening houses of worship for a later phase, noted a source close to Massachusetts officials, who declined to be identified since he was not authorized to speak.

Their inclusion so early in the reopening plan, the source continued, came about because Baker and his advisers were being sensitive to peoples religious, spiritual and emotional needs.

According to the source, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh was hesitant about Bakers timeline, but it looks like June 1 for Boston.

The states mandatory safety standards for houses of worship upon reopening include limiting occupancy to 40 percent of a buildings maximum capacity, including both staff and congregants.

To ensure physical distancing, non-family members should stay at least six feet apart and synagogues should encourage the orderly entering and exiting of services, including directing successive, row-by-row exiting. When feasible, places of worship should arrange online sign-up for services in advance in order to monitor and limit the number of attendees.

All attendees (older than 5) and staff must wear face coverings or masks at all times, except where a person is unable to wear a mask because of a medical or disabling condition.

The safety standards ban communal gatherings before and after services, as well as any childcare services.

Religious denominations are also offering guidelines for reopening.

Simon Levy of Beit Sasson, the Sephardic Congregation of Newton, said his shul was following the stated guidelines of the Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America, which suggest resumption of communal activities should not be considered until at least two weeks the allowance of gatherings of more than 10 people.

This means no opening before at least June 1st, Levy said.

Young Israel of Brookline has not yet announced its reopening plans, noted a spokeswoman.

Similarly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly have recommended synagogues should not consider reopening for at least two weeks after limited gatherings are permitted by local governments.

On May 12, the Union of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis issued a statement describing values upon which to base a decision about reopening but without specific guidelines, noting those would be forthcoming.

Shavuot considerations

For some congregations, the commencement of Shavuot next week, on May 28, entered into their calculations about reopening.

We are discussing plans to open for Shavuot, said Bernie Rotman of Worcesters Congregation Shaarai Torah West. There is ongoing discussion as to whether we can open as early as next week. No decision yet.

For some congregations, Shavuot commemorations will happen online.

We have online services already planned for Shavuot and will stick with that, said TBIs Baron.

We are involved in a MetroWest Community Shavuot virtual program, said Temple Israel of Naticks Taylor.

In general, congregations outside Massachusetts are proceeding cautiously.

We have a task force going for this but have no plans to open immediately, said Stacie Gabert, temple administrator for the Congregation of Temple Sinai, South Burlington, Vt.

Adas Yoshuron will not be open for public gatherings until further notice, said a spokeswoman for the unaffiliated synagogue in Rockland, Maine. We will encourage our congregation to take part in an online program for Shavuot being offered by the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, which operates out of Colby College.

Some congregations sought to reframe the closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

We have never closed, said Randy OBrien, president of Sharons Temple Kol Tikvah. A community is not a building. It is the people who come together supporting each other always and especially now that makes Kol Tikvah special.

As far as entering our building, she continued, careful steps will be taken to determine the right time and steps to be sure people feel safe and connected.

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Synagogues wary of reopening too soonFree Access - Jewish Advocate

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