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Thoughts on Aviv Hadash Reopening

May 8, 2020

Dear Aviv Hadash family,

As the grip of Covid-19 slowly loosens and shelter-in-place restrictions are gradually lifted, Congregation Aviv Hadash is considering reopening its doors. Before that can happen, however, two and a half conditions must be met.

The first condition is that the authorities sanction it. In this context we are primarily guided by the office of the governor and the office of the mayor, although they in turn will undoubtedly be considerate of guidance put out by the CDC and other federal health authorities. A draft of recent guidance that was to be issued by the CDC pertaining to houses of worship is available by clicking on this link.

The second condition is that the president of our congregation, the board and the rabbi feel comfortable with this step. While there are special considerations that may make the governmental authorities more likely to approve an early reopening, such as constitutional constraints on religions, we ourselves are also aware of special considerations that could apply to our congregation specifically, such as greater susceptibility of many of our congregants to Covid-19 due to advanced age.

It is likely that even when we do open, we will limit certain activities or make special arrangements. People who came to shule the last week or two before we closed saw how we had created large gaps between the seats and limited social contact at the kiddush following services. These and similar measures (including limiting the number of attending congregants) will probably be followed going forward as well.

The third semi-condition is that congregants feel comfortable and safe attending. On one level this goes without saying, because if our own members will not attend then we will not have a functioning synagogue. I describe this as a semi-condition because we will probably apply to some extent a laissez faire attitude: Congregants who feel safe and comfortable will show up, while others may choose not to. But this liberal approach is not tenable when it comes to high holidays, in which we hope that each and every member (who is able to and is not out of town) will come to services. It is not acceptable if some members will not feel safe attending high holiday services.

To that end, we will likely be reorganizing high holiday services to promote greater social distancing. We will likely return to have a second service downstairs, we will probably not have a children’s service, and we might even introduce two upstairs services at staggered times. We will also almost certainly have a special community Yizkor service on Yom Kippur during the afternoon gap, geared towards non-members. Even though we are aware that such measures tear at the very fabric of our congregation – our social cohesion and friendships – these steps might be necessary to bolster our safety and well being.

Of course, there is a long time before high holidays, and things are likely to change significantly before then. For one, widespread testing – both for Covid-19 and for the antibodies indicating prior exposure – will probably be available. It is not inconceivable that we might conduct one service for those who test positive for antibodies, and another service for those who have not yet been exposed. Nonetheless, we want all our congregants to know that we are considering these things. If you would like to express your own thoughts and feelings on this topic, feel free to convey them to the rabbi or the president (Uncle Warren, not DJT).

Best wishes,
Rabbi Aaron Liebman

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