President's Message 7/9/2020

9 July 2020

Dear friends,

We often turn to our Jewish faith for deliverance from the scourge of disease. In Exodus 15:26, the Lord is presented as the Healer who will put no disease upon those who diligently heed his voice. So it is once again that we turn to our Creator for solace. It is in this time of need that we must also ensure that people's expressions of faith are protected from the damaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. People attending services in our synagogue for healing must not return home with the very illness from which they are seeking refuge. Yet, this is a pressing and painfully real threat.

The coronavirus public health threat takes nothing away from us yearning to gather with other members of our community. If anything, the threat strengthens this desire. Indeed, in each other's company, we seek refuge, comfort and hope; from our Rabbi, we seek help, guidance and affirmation. Religion is by its very nature both an individual act and a group practice. For Congregation Or Shalom, it is important to gather for worship.

But these two interests, the yearning to gather and the public health imperative, cannot be more diametrically opposed and we seek to thread a path forward between the two. We must acknowledge people's fundamental need to gather for services, while the public health concerns and strong recommendations against high-risk practices (in a public health sense) such as singing are counseling the opposite.

It is our priority to keep our members, their families, our Rabbi and our employees healthy, as we remain in the midst of the pandemic. As a Jewish organization, we are guided by the following values :

Pikuah Nefesh – "Safeguarding Life" is a bedrock principle of Jewish law, and supersedes most other obligations or mitzvot. To that end, we must ensure that any steps towards restoring physical proximity place preserving life first and foremost.

Sakanat Nefeshot – "Endangering Life" – members, staff, and clergy should not be in positions where they will be unduly endangering their own lives or the lives of their families due to pressure to restore activities. We must honor the needs of those who lead or participate in our communities when they have individual circumstances requiring the need to reduce risk to themselves or to those with whom they live.

She'at Hadehak – "Extraordinary Moment" – Jewish life has always made adjustments in times of emergency and crisis. We will need to come to terms with the fact that this crisis may last for well over a year, and that we will need to continue to change our expectations and operations. We will need continued flexibility in Jewish practice informed by our commitment to authentic modes of interpretation of our tradition.

Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazeh – "We Are Responsible for One Another" – It's our job to look out for the mental and physical health and safety of one another. Those who have resources need to give tzedakah to help others and to sustain our institutions. Our members are connected to others outside our community, and our policies and activities affect the broader rate of infection. And we must be sure that we act in ways in which clergy, staff, and participants do not feel discriminated against or unduly disadvantaged based on their health needs.

Hesed – "Profound Love and Kindness" – Decisions around our operations and the risks involved create uncertainty, grief, and anxiety, and we must act with tremendous love and kindness towards the members of our families, communities, and the world at large.

Given the balancing act we find ourselves in, we've created planning document titled Back To Shul. It is accessible on our website via this link. All should recognize that the rules and protocols in the document rely heavily on public health expertise and it is our intent to implement that guidance to the extent feasible. If our synagogue cannot open under all of the rules presented, it would be the strong recommendation of public health experts and the wisdom of our Jewish values that we should, therefore, stay closed.

We will also abide by governmental guidelines as best we can to balance public health concerns with the needs of our sacred community. Back To Shul details how we intend to reopen our community and still keep everyone safe. This plan is a compilation of State guidelines, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidance, Executive Orders of the Governor, professional Jewish organizations, community groups, local authorities, medical experts, and others. It highlights the responsibilities we have and outlines the steps we are taking to address COVID-19.

We will adhere to all legal requirements around gathering in the midst of COVID-19. Although we are currently in Phase 2 of the state guidelines and it is legally possible for us to gather, that does not mean that we necessarily should allow such gatherings. The Jewish values listed above should take precedence over simple legality. Jewish law (halachah) allows us to live a life of mitzvot without necessarily gathering in person.

While we will implement various protocols to ensure your safety, it's up to you and everyone in our community to comply with them. By releasing Back to Shul, I hope to clearly communicate our plans moving forward, highlight protocols in place to protect your safety and establish a level of comfort for everyone as we make it possible for you to re-enter our congregational home. It is recognized that many of you will not wish to re-enter the building for some time to come. Personal safety is paramount and your decision is encouraged and supported, particularly by those at higher risk of COVID-19 infection.

Stay safe and healthy,


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