It’s hard to believe that the Corona Virus Pandemic has become a daily reality for close to five months. Who ever could have imagined how profoundly it would affect our lives? Routine activities like dining out, getting a haircut, going to a school, attending a favorite public event have come and gone. Our lives – in many cases our very livelihood – have been turned upside down. As I write, Covid cases in the United States are spiking out of proportion with no apparent signs of abatement. Our lack of firm knowledge about the virus, and consequently on how to combat this scourge continues to challenge us. Most of us feel that any hope of significant improvement by 2021 is optimistic.
The word “synagogue” comes from the Greek and is a translation of the Hebrew “Beit Knesset.” (בית כנסת), “a place where people gather.” To date, we’ve been informed that the chances of becoming infected is increased exponentially in such an environment. Thank the Lord, we currently have the ability to create virtual gathering places, essentially by means of Zoom technology. I readily admit that before this all began, I never imagined how effective such technology might be in maintaining a community – especially for those who are forced to remain isolated in their homes.
At the same time, I recognize that there are serious challenges regarding this solution for many of our members. There are those of us who are challenged by this whole new world of communication. We are disturbed by various elements of it, such as the invasion of our privacy and the various abuses that are brought to our attention. We aren’t comfortable with the challenges presented by computer language, (“Googling, email, links, downloading, menus, wifi, world-wide web”) or keyboard techniques, or even just getting onto the internet. For the novice, such concepts and processes feel overwhelming and create an inordinate amount of stress.
SO WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THESE INTERRELATED CHALLENGES???
While it’s true that everything we do involves a certain amount of risk, it’s vital to use our intelligence to ascertain the degree of risk. Facing the threat of being infected by the virus is no different. Here’s what the CDC has to say about the matter. Please read this carefully.
- A gathering refers to a planned or spontaneous event, indoors or outdoors, with a small number of people participating or a large number of people in attendance such as a community event or gathering, concert, festival, conference, parade, wedding, or sporting event.
- The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading.
- The higher the level of community transmission in the area that the gathering is being held, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spreading during a gathering.
- The size of an event or gathering should be determined based on state, local, territorial or tribal safety laws and regulations.
The risk of COVID-19 spreading at events and gatherings increases as follows:
- Lowest risk: Virtual-only activities, events, and gatherings.
- More risk: Smaller outdoor and in-person gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear cloth face coverings, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
- Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person gatherings that are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and with attendees coming from outside the local area.
- Highest risk: Large in-person gatherings where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area.
In my position as Rabbi, the thought of any individual contracting COVID-19 by attending any event sponsored by Beth Ami is a non-starter. Please know, that regardless of any legal consequences, I would be unable to live with myself if this happened under my watch.
We’ve already started working on a two-pronged strategy. The first part involves assisting any member who at this point is unable to use Zoom comfortably.
Essentially this involves:
(Most important) The willingness to attempt to learn something unfamiliar.
Providing the equipment such as a computer or a tablet.
Making it possible to connect to the internet.
We want everyone to be able to connect with their friends in a way that doesn’t compromise their safety.
We are also in the process of planning a “New Year package” in anticipation of the Holidays, which will include :
Machzor (High Holiday Prayer Book),
Service for Tashlich
Information about the holiday season
We are arranging for distribution the week preceding Rosh HaShanah. We are looking for volunteers and sponsors to assist in this project. If you think you would like to help and are in a position to do so, please contact the chair of our Religious Practices Committee, Lee Feinstein (707) 827-3007 (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you have yet to take advantage of our on-line services, I want to invite you to join us. True, there’s no substitute for getting together physically and breaking bread together, but it still succeeds in creating a wonderful community. With the help of Lisa Iskin’s talented singing and guitar playing, our Friday evening Shabbat services make it possible to participate without a prayer book. We start with a children’s corner at 5:50, light candles together at 6:00 p.m., and conclude with Kiddush over wine at about 6:30.
On Saturday morning, we’ve created a virtual replica of the traditional service we enjoyed in pre-Covid days, starting at 9:30 and proceeding through the Shabbat prayers, Torah and Haftarah readings, (which include calling participants to chant or say blessings over the Torah) and a d’var Torah. We even have friends join us from locations such as St. Louis, St. Paul and Boston!
In this way, I hope we can continue to provide you with a stimulating spiritual environment and the warmth of our Beth Ami community.