TO REOPEN OR NOT TO REOPEN — THAT IS THE QUESTION
This is an agonizing issue—whether Temple should reopen our sanctuary and conduct in-person services and gatherings or whether we should continue to worship together virtually? I know that after almost 5-months, there is a strong sense of disappointment and, yes, suffering as the result of our lack of human contact. I know we long for something beyond our virtual community and to actually get together to sing and dance, smile and hug. And I know we long for a return to our real world, the one before COVID-19 struck. I get that and the Temple Sinai Board gets that. So the Board has spent significant portions of the past several Board Meetings in vigorous discussion about this very issue. And each month we have unanimously come to the same conclusions: (1) not to reopen this month and (2) to reevaluate new information and data at next month’s meeting. I want to take a moment to explain our decision.
Our number one concern is minimizing the health risks to our members, Rabbi, Stacie and all guests who may come by our Synagogue. This deserves a cautious approach. Accordingly, we have followed the recommendations and guidelines of the Vermont Department of Health and the CDC, spoken directly with experts, and routinely communicated with other congregations and religious institutions. Our decision not to reopen at this time is deeply informed by these actors. We are also aware that the nature of our services would likely change dramatically if held in-person. While 6-feet is commonly understood as appropriate social distancing under normal situations, when singing, that distance increases to 21-feet. And we all know the important and central role singing has in our services and prayer. While we have established a practice of obtaining necessary supplies and cleaning our facility commensurate with our current use, reopening dramatically changes all that. Maybe a bit simplistic, but what we have decided not to do is to engage in continuous policy decisions about how many people can attend services, who those people should be, where they should sit, how to use prayer books, and how to make bathrooms available. In my mind, and the Board’s mind, the calculus on these matters involves too many judgment calls each of which has too much potential to put our health at risk.
Importantly, I believe our approach is consistent with Jewish principles. Pikuach nefesh, “saving a life,” is the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life is paramount and overrides all the other commandments in Judaism. When the life of a specific person is in danger, we are required to disregard a law that conflicts with that person’s life or health. In our case, as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, pikuach nefesh must guide us. Our practice to remain virtual does this.
Finally, it is important to point out that our decision to continue to hold virtual services is consistent with every other reform and conservative synagogue of which we are aware. No one on the Board thinks this is a time for us to get ahead of the curve.
Nevertheless, we are always entertaining ideas about how we can congregate safely. Sisterhood regularly sponsors pop-up gatherings on our grounds. We are exploring ways to expand our outdoor offerings for Saturday worship including services, Torah study and Havdalah. We are considering an outdoor concert, a service at the Sunset Drive-in, and small group events like Trivia Night where we can all fit under a tent or social distance safely. Our plan is for our High Holy Days to incorporate outside gatherings. I encourage you to look to our website, weekly messages from Rabbi, and other Temple-related emails for updates on Temple gatherings. And please, if you have ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, Stacie or Rabbi.
Outdoor activities, however, are not the panacea. We cannot forget that in this time of COVID- 19 and widespread movements for racial and social equality, we have seen a distinct rise in anti- Semitism and general hate activity. So we must be cautious and proactive about security and make sure that however we are able to congregate, we can do so safely (and at a reasonable cost).
The next Board meeting is scheduled for August 10th. If you have comments or thoughts about reopening, whether for or against, and you wish to share them with the Board for consideration please email me at President@TempleSinaiVT.org.
Shalom. And stay safe.
Your President, Doug Marden