Your Synagogue Community in a Time of the Novel Coronavirus

Your Synagogue Community in a Time of the Novel Coronavirus

We read in the Mishnah Pirke Avot (2:4) “Hillel says: Do not separate yourself from the community.” And yet, sadly, we are in a temporary time of separation, of “social distancing.” Yet, as Hillel demands, Congregation Beth Israel insists on holding community together – of making sure we do not allow the necessity of physical separation during a time of pandemic keep us from emotional and spiritual connection. You are part of our community and we are with you.

As with many religions organizations, non-profits, and businesses we are complying with and exceeding the recommendations of the CDC and others to limit all in-person contact. While the current directives are for gatherings of 50 or more, we wish to protect our staff and the community to the greatest extent possible. Therefore, as of today, we are closing our offices for at least the next two weeks. Our office staff will be working from home. Phones and e-mail will be answered and normal communications will proceed. All meetings with clergy and staff will be held electronically. Please call the Temple office (503) 222-1069 to reschedule any planned meetings.

As we announced earlier, all worship services and life-cycle events will be held in the Main Sanctuary (for maximum distancing of anyone present), and will be available live and archived via our webcast: . Already hundreds have participated in our “virtual minyans” for Friday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning “Mishpacha Minyan” services. We encourage you to do the same.

Families with upcoming life cycle ceremonies (B’nei Mitzvah, baby namings, etc.) are being contacted and offered the opportunity to reschedule. In-person celebrations will have to be restricted in numbers until we are notified otherwise.

Shabbat Morning Torah study will be held virtually through Zoom video conference calls. Links will be make available each week.

Religious School and IHP are cancelled until further notice. Watch for online learning opportunities and family programs, coming soon.

During this period of time we will be relying very heavily on technology. We recognize that some may be less familiar with these tools. Please contact us if there any concerns or confusion. Also, as we will rely on e-mail and phone as our primary communications, we know that some of our contact information for you may be out of date. If you have not been receiving our weekly e-mail “Beneath the Dome,” please check your e-mail provider’s spam filter. And please call the Temple office to update your information. Please also follow us on Facebook, for frequent, virtual opportunities to connect, learn, and build community.

As always, know that your clergy are available to you. Please call.

The days ahead are unpredictable. There will be disruptions in each of our normal schedules. There will be economic ramifications in our lives. In times of uncertainty, we know you look to your synagogue for stability. We will do everything we can to be present and to insure that you are not separated from the community, even as we work to be responsible citizens and keep safe our synagogue and greater community. We all have a part to play in “flattening the curve” and lessening exposure to COVID-19, especially to those most vulnerable.

May we stay safe while remaining a strong and integrated community.

Biv’racha (with blessings),

Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana
Cantor Ida Rae Cahana
Rabbi Rachel L. Joseph

There is an important Talmudic principle known as pikuach nefesh dofayach hakol  – Saving a life overrides all other considerations (Talmud Yomi 85ab). There is also an understanding of the important role that synagogue plays in the life of the Jewish community. Synagogues are known in a three-fold way: a House of Study (beit midrash), a House of Prayer (beit t’fillah) and a House of Gathering (beit k’nesset).

In this time of crisis, as the World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus which causes the disease a global pandemic, our congregation, as with other houses of worship, must balance our mission of fostering community and offering sanctuary and comfort with our responsibilities of taking care of our community’s physical health and safety.

As we have all heard, the novel coronavirus is present in our community – with infection rates likely far beyond the numbers which have been officially reported. We have learned from experts that the virus is highly transmissible and that many people are unaware that they are carriers. We also know that certain parts of the population, such as the elderly or those with underlying medical conditions, are highly vulnerable to the disease caused by exposure. This vulnerability can be fatal.

We can all take a role in helping those who are isolated and vulnerable. Please use wisdom and caution in maintaining social distance and do not hesitate to contact us and let us know who is in need of help. We want social distancing not to feel so isolating.

Emphasizing this point, we share words of Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles: Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise. It is obvious that “distancing,” if misplaced or misunderstood, will take its toll not only upon our community’s strength and resiliency but upon the very integrity and meaning of our spiritual commitment….

Let’s stay safe. And let’s draw one another closer in a way that we’ve never done before.

The leadership of our congregation is engaged in responsible stewardship during this time. Our principles are to be guided by science and reason and to foster hope and comfort in the difficult times we face.

As we know, Governor Brown has today mandated a cancellation of any events with gatherings of 250 or more for the next 4 weeks. We view this as a guideline which will determine a shift in the way we do things in the immediate future for gatherings of smaller size as well.
Here are the immediate steps we are taking:

  • Religious school and IHP will be cancelled this week.
    • We are about to enter a scheduled Spring break over the next two weeks. During that time we will perfect online learning which we can implement afterwards
    • For this Sunday, we will hold Mishpacha Minyan (our Sunday morning service) virtually, meaning that we will hold the service as usual in the empty sanctuary and encourage everyone to watch online here.
  • Friday Night Services
    • In order to preserve social distancing, we are encouraging everyone not to attend services physically but to join us via our live webcast. We recognize that for some people attending in-person is an important component of your Shabbat experience. We are welcoming you AND we will be implementing social distance protocols. All services will be held in the Main Sanctuary (our largest worship space) and we will encourage any participants to sit at a distance from others. We will have handwashing / sanitizing opportunities and will, as much as possible, use “visual t’fillah” – projecting the words of the prayers – rather than handling prayerbooks. There will be no paper handouts.
    • For those watching from home, please know that kaddish names will be read and you are welcome to say kaddish with us from home. Kaddish names will also be listed weekly on our website which will have a link in our weekly e-mail message. (Please let us know if you do not receive this “Beneath the Dome” message – it is an important way that we communicate with you.)
  • Life Cycle events
    • We are in conversation with all upcoming families celebrating a joyous experience, such as weddings, B’nei Mitzvah, and baby namings. At this time ALL THESE EVENTS will continue. At the same time, we are requesting that they be limited to immediate family ONLY. We are asking the families to communicate with their family and friends, particularly those who are vulnerable, to stay home and watch the service virtually. We are providing live streaming at no additional charge. As with Friday nights we will encourage social distancing during the service (sitting at a distance from others), handwashing / sanitizing and not handling prayerbooks or handouts. These virtual events may be public or private. We have the ability to do either.
  • Pastoral Services
    • Your clergy remain available to you during this time. If you have a need, an illness, a concern or need comfort and reassurance do not hesitate to reach out. In practicality, we will encourage social distancing such as speaking by phone or video calls. But if a personal presence is needed, please let us know. We are here for you.
  • Meetings and events
    • As of this moment, our offices are remaining open and any staff who wishes to isolate at home is being given opportunities for distance work. We are individually suspending meetings and events or holding them virtually. If you have a meeting with clergy or staff scheduled you will be contacted, but feel free to call to see if the meeting can be held virtually. We will provide information about scheduled events which gather several people (i.e. Adult Education) in the coming days and weeks.
    • Torah study will be held virtually only. Information about how to participate will be shared soon. This might be a great way for those who haven’t tried Torah study yet to be able to participate!

This is, as we all know, an evolving situation. The overall message is that we want to keep you, our beloved community, safe AND we are still here for you. We will use all our resources to remain a close community, even if some of that closeness has to be done virtually for a time. And we will remain a kehillah kedosha – a sacred community – for you.

Biv’racha (with blessings),

Rabbi Michael Z. Cahana
Cantor Ida Rae Cahana
Rabbi Rachel L. Joseph

The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has circulated the following list of grants, resources, and ideas:

Portland Jewish Community Response to Covid-19