Latest News From Our President 6/17/2020

17 June 2020

Dear friends,

Some recent history...we were going to try an experiment. It centered on an idea hatched just a few days before Shavuot, the festival where we celebrate the gift of the Torah. Rabbi Wainhaus and I thought, if we could have a Torah service (our last one was on March 14th), a "re-giving" of the Torah following the COVID-19 induced absence, what a great coincidence that this should take place on Shavuot.

This trial service was to be conducted by carefully, methodically, taking the initial steps consistent with the guidance from the CDC and and state specific guidance on Phase 1 return to quasi-normal operations from the pandemic. But returning to the synagogue, indeed to any building dedicated to worship, carries a uniquely high risk with it that warrants additional consideration.

The goal was to have a minyan, a minimum of 10 volunteers that would sign up to attend, so that a Torah service might proceed in accordance with halakhah or Jewish law. And we would have set a maximum number of allowed attendees at 12. That restriction is based on our understanding how the COVID-19 virus is predominantly spread, which is via airborne transmission. The probability of viral infection depends on risks taken, and certain activities carry more risk than others. Unfortunately, religious services where many people are speaking in unison, by praying and by singing, increase the number of virus particles introduced into the air. Couple that with being inside a building, or more specifically a room, and it offers increased opportunity for airborne viral particle concentrations to become elevated...and thereby increase the risk of contagion for those present. By limiting the number of attendees within a relatively large area (the folding wall was to be open) the concentration of any active virus particles would be reduced and thereby offset risk should anyone be a carrier.

To further mitigate the potential spread of the virus these were some other rules that would require observance: all would be required to wear masks (we have a very limited supply); hand sanitizer would be readily available (until one could wash hands with soap and water), doors would be propped open to circumvent the need to use a door knob, the air conditioner would be on to improve air flow, books used during the service would be put into quarantine for a week following use, the building would be subject to deep cleaning after the service, the temperature of attendees would be taken with an IR thermometer prior to entering the building, and seating would be spaced or otherwise identified to insure proper social distancing. Finally, the conduct of the Torah service would be such that, again, social distancing is preserved and the potential to commonly touch an object (such as the Torah) is eliminated. Standard precautions would still apply. Don't come to shul if you feel ill; no hugging, kissing, hand shaking, etc; cover coughs and sneezes.

We fell short of a minyan, without which there was no compelling reason to have an in-person service. Initially there were 12 committed attendees, but after further consideration, most dropped out. And that's OK. It is a reflection of really where our congregants' risk tolerance sits today. Each person's sense of personal safety is the main determinant of when we will truly be able to restart in-person services, along with what the scientists and doctors are advising us of, and not the economic and politically based all-clear signals dominating the media.

Since then, and given the additional feedback we've received, it is clear that we have many members who are reticent to return to the building for in-person services...at least in the foreseeable future. So what about outdoor services? Yes, that option is under strong consideration. The Ritual Committee has zeroed in on a potential outdoor Saturday morning service in the latter half of July. Not later than 6 July, a Go-NoGo decision will be made by the Ritual Committee to proceed with the service.

It will take place in the grass area in front of the sanctuary and on the adjacent driveway. In addition to the rules I've mentioned above, some others (Ritual committee to finalize) might be:
• the maximum number of people to be accommodated is TBD
• the service will also be on Zoom (WiFi signal is acceptable outside)
• no access to the building...no restroom access
• prayerbooks will not be available...bring your own, or Zoom screen share
• no kippot or tallitot...bring your own
• bring your own chair(s)
• there may be a canopy(s), but...bring hats, sun screen, golf umbrellas, your own pop-up canopy, bottled water, etc.
• required social distancing markers will be displayed to guide chair placement
• must wear masks
• a sound system will be available
• if there is rain within 1 hr before the start of the service, it will be cancelled
• Attendance is by reservation only (The Phase 2 guidelines require logging all attendees for contact tracing). To register, you must email info@orshalom.org, by not later than 11 a.m. Friday, the day before. If there are extenuating circumstances, you can email Rabbi Wainhaus at rabbi@orshalom.org, and he will try to accommodate. If you do not receive an e-mail by noon Friday confirming that you have RSVP'd, you are not registered and cannot attend.
• a security guard will be on site

Let me address the High Holidays. As I said at the Annual Meeting, there are two probable scenarios: 1) no in-person High Holiday services. All services would therefore be broadcast via Zoom and/or other live streaming technology. Many synagogues across the country have already elected to take this step; or 2) in-person indoors services will take place with a minimum of 10 to a maximum of 100 attendees (10 so that we have a minyan and 100 is the maximum people allowed into the building under Phase 2 guidelines). Broadcasts via Zoom and/or other live streaming technology would still be available. Outdoor services are not practical. Essentially all of the rules mentioned in the paragraphs above will be in effect.

There are a lot of moving parts to consider regarding High Holiday services. Several task forces are at work trying to assist synagogues through the process of making very difficult decisions, often with consequential long term effects. To that end, the USCJ/RA task force is focusing on 5 major areas: Education and Programming, Finance and Fundraising, Membership and Messaging, Operations and Technology, and Ritual. Recommendations will be forthcoming from the subcommittees that have the responsibility of addressing each area. Few recommendations have been released as yet with the exception of Ritual. They are expedited, unofficial Responsa (guidance) directly affecting the High Holidays. Some examples: Kol Nidrei, Yizkor, Blowing the Shofar, On Live Streaming and Competition, Services for Children, Teenagers, and Families, Clergy and Prayer Leaders, etc. Each will be taken up by our Ritual Committee to consider their applicability to Or Shalom. When Task Force recommendations are released in the other areas, they will likewise be considered by the appropriate Or Shalom committee and the Board. This will be a very busy summer!

I would like to pass on a link to an article by Dr. Erin Bromage, a University of Massachusetts professor with a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology. His article, https://www.erinbromage.com/post/the-risks-know-them-avoid-them, is a good read.

We are feeling our way into this reopening process while trying to balance two very strong needs. It is absolutely essential that we celebrate our faith together and in-person. It is the very definition of community and what it means to be Jewish. Likewise, we must do all that we can to protect our membership and especially our large high risk population. We'll get there. I ask for your patience and understanding.

Stay safe and healthy,

Bob

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