This morning I want to update you on our planning process as the High Holidays approach amidst the continued resurgence of the pandemic due to the Delta variant.
As you know, tomorrow will be the second Shabbat of Zoom-only Shabbat morning services after about two months of hybrid services. We decided to step back because in person attendance had dropped precipitously and it seemed wise to reevaluate whether under current circumstances it was worthwhile to continue to provide in-person opportunities on Shabbat morning. When we made this decision, the plan was to reconsider after two weeks and go back to hybrid Shabbat services if it seemed reasonably safe and also worthwhile.
Admittedly it is difficult to predict attendance trends in the DC area in July and August. People are travelling and some of those who did not attend on a particular Shabbat may have been absent due to vacation rather than due to concern about attending in person.
Over my nine-plus years as the rabbi of Kehilat Shalom, I have been very clear in my belief that in a voluntary organization people cannot legislate for others, they can only decide for themselves. I mean by this that a statement that in-person services ought to be available is really meaningless; the relevant statement is “I will attend in-person if it is available and therefore I would like it to be provided.” So, if under present circumstances -- which includes the fact that there is still “substantial transmission” in Montgomery County as defined by CDC metrics, as well as an indoor mask mandate -- you are prepared to attend services in person next Shabbat morning -- please drop me an email and let me know.
On Wednesday night Kehilat Shalom’s board reaffirmed that we are moving ahead with our plans for hybrid services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Because of the size of our sanctuary in relation to the size of our membership, we feel that at this time it is still possible to allow an in-person option in a relatively low-risk way. We continue to require that everyone attending who is medically able to be vaccinated is in fact vaccinated (this by the way is not just our preference but the standard of Jewish law). We will also comply with Montgomery County’s indoor masking regulations, ask people to maintain appropriate physical distancing, and remain at home if they are not feeling well.
We continue to receive High Holiday request forms from members and guests and right now about half of the forms have requested paper tickets which indicate plans to attend one or more services in person. It will make our planning process smoother if we have a better handle on whether people who have requested paper tickets still plan on attending in person and if so, which services. If you have requested paper tickets, some time next week you will receive an email with a link to a Google Form to let us know which services you plan to attend. I want to make it clear that we are doing this for our own planning purposes only. If you have a paper ticket you will be able to attend all in-person services and conversely, you will be able to participate via Zoom if that is your preference for any particular service.
If we’ve learned anything over the past 18 months it is the truth behind Yogi Berra’s famous statement that “making predictions is very difficult, especially about the future.” We hope that local coronavirus metrics will remain steady or even decrease over the next couple of weeks and that we can indeed feel relatively safe gathering together for the High Holidays.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian