Late last week I participated in a United Synagogue Zoom meeting for leaders (both professional and volunteer) of smaller Conservative congregations. The United Synagogue has come to understand that the challenges small congregations face are very different from those of mega-shuls, and it’s great that there are now special programs and gatherings to help us in our planning processes.
The topic, of course, was planning for High Holiday services. Of the twenty-five or so congregations who were represented in the meeting, all but two are planning at this point to have hybrid services. Two have already decided to do services entirely online. Participating in meetings of this type helped me to understand that while there are some challenges that are common to all smaller shuls, there are also challenges that are specific either to a congregation’s particular culture or to the area of the country where a congregation is located. Leaders of shuls in the Deep South are facing some really difficult challenges. Vaccination rates in their areas are low (although Jews in the Deep South anecdotally seem to have a higher vaccination rate than the overall population) but at the same time, they have members who are opposed to shul policies that would require vaccination and mask wearing.
Unfortunately even in areas like ours with very high rates of vaccination and an indoor mask mandate, COVID cases continue to rise. Last week Montgomery County had more new cases than at any time since February -- which was before most local residents were fully vaccinated.
One of the points that was made in the small congregations meeting was the need for shuls to be “nimble.” As the situation around us changes, we need to respond appropriately. I recognize that this is frustrating but Jewish tradition teaches us that the era of prophecy ended when the Second Temple was destroyed. All we can do is proceed with our plans on the assumption that we will be able to hold hybrid services, but our ability to actually do so depends on both the number of our congregants who plan to be in the building as well as what the metrics are telling us about the safety of having large numbers of people gather indoors.
As far as plans for this coming Shabbat, if you are planning to attend in person please sign up as soon as possible at https://forms.gle/gmdqUtjv6VGjgYFR6. I would ask that you sign up only if you are fairly certain that you will attend unless you are feeling ill this coming Saturday morning. While in the past we have set a deadline of Friday afternoon for signups, this week please sign up by 2 pm on Thursday. At that point we will determine whether or not to go ahead with the in-person option, based both on the number of people who have signed up as well as local COVID metrics at the time.
Today is the official deadline to get your High Holiday forms in. If you haven’t done so already, please do -- it’s particularly important this year to help us in our preparations for hybrid services. If you have indicated that you plan to attend at least one service in person, later this week you will receive a link to a Google Form to indicate 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.
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