We all yearn for the opportunity to greet each other in person again.
I wanted to give everyone an update regarding COVID-19 and our plans for in person events at CBJ. We understand that many are anxious to return to a sense of normalcy.
Firstly, a shoutout to clergy, staff and volunteers for pulling off what has to be a textbook example of online High Holiday Services. Most of us did not see the work that was carried out during the services – behind the scenes, all of the staff, clergy, six Gabbaim, and 30 + Shlichim worked hard to ensure the online services ran smoothly. Not to mention the advanced prep to get all the contributors to the service synchronized and on cue. There were several occasions over the Rosh Hashanah / Yom Kippur period where the services were kept on the rails by the efforts of all of these people. We are incredibly grateful to all who contributed to the success of the season.
We have also learned the value of online services, and how they can provide incredible connectivity to geographically separated families and friends, and even as we bring in person activities back to CBJ, virtual services will still have their place.
As I have previously mentioned, we created a COVID-19 Task Force back in May to guide the clergy and staff in the best practices for the Shul to follow at this unusual time. The three areas of focus have been synagogue services, religious school operations and preschool operations. The goal of this task force, working with our clergy, has not only been to understand the county and state guidelines, which – like the pandemic – have been incredibly volatile over the summer, but also to balance the spiritual needs of the congregants with their physical safety.
Our priority has been to keep our clergy and families from exposure to the virus and follow practices for the safest interactions possible while managing risk of infection. The model we follow is a layered approach which combines the use of masks, distancing, hygiene, disinfecting, symptom screening, testing and reduced ratios of people gathered together. The county and state have provided guidelines for houses of worship which allow gathering when cases are lower. Although we have not returned to the bustle we experienced before the pandemic, there is quite a lot of activity between the staff and students of both the preschool, religious school, our clergy and office staff working occasionally on-site, as well as ongoing maintenance. Our clergy have been able to perform weddings, funerals and b’nai mitzvah to support those families through pivotal moments.
Here is where we stand:
Synagogue Life Cycle Events
As mentioned above, we have started to offer on-site lifecycle events, which, while closed to the general congregation, have allowed extended families to get together to celebrate, or to mourn.
We are starting our B’nai Mitzvot season, and are now able to offer the B’nai Mitzvah families options to hold the service in their homes, at CBJ on the newly restored patio, or in the Sanctuary (under limited circumstances). Each option provides an opportunity to zoom in distant family and friends. Each of these choices comes with its own set of prerequisites in terms of COVID-19 precautions, as defined by the board of directors working with the COVID-19 Task Force. Families will have an opportunity to discuss their choices with Clergy in advance of the Simcha date.
We are putting preliminary plans together to start to hold limited Friday evening and Saturday morning outdoor services after the high holidays. Again, these plans will be under the auspices of the COVID-19 Task Force and clergy, and they will be driven by the local pandemic status at that time. Our priority must continue to be to protect the health of the congregation and the clergy. You can expect to see outdoor services with extremely limited numbers of congregants, who will be offered pre-reserved seats based on a first-come first-served basis.
We have been holding religious school classes since the middle of September. We are able to offer a choice of online only or hybrid on-line/in-person religious school curricula for the 2020-2021 academic year. In person classes are held entirely outdoors, with social distancing and face masks. In cases of inclement weather, in person classes switch to online. But on nice days, the children get to enjoy our beautiful yard and patios, and the pleasure of meeting in-person. Religious School operations are being conducted around the recommended CDC/County/State COVID-19 protection protocols, and the COVID-19 Task Force.
Preschool has also been running outdoor classrooms since the beginning of September and shares many of the same protocols as Religious School, plus the requirements to follow State Licensing regulations for childcare centers. Clearly an online only curriculum for preschool would be somewhat inappropriate as current recommendations pertaining to young children are not to spend much, if any, time online on screens. However, we know the lasting value and impact of quality early childhood education throughout life, and the tradeoff for our preschool is to continue to allow for the social development of these youngsters.
Adult Education and Other Activities
Our clergy will continue to hold virtual classes, and as conditions permit, may soon begin to hold informal outdoor socially distanced gatherings for class members. We plan to follow the safest standards for our members and consider the desires of the group, age, risk factors, and success of the class online before transitioning back to in-person classes.
As I mentioned in my remarks over the high holidays, we all yearn for the opportunity to greet each other in person again, and I commit to all of you we will work as quickly as we can to do so, while physically protecting our congregants, staff and clergy.
Shana Tovah to everyone.