We learned last week that Hazzan Komrad’s continuing cluster headaches following her brain surgery last summer have made it necessary for her to step back from High Holiday leadership this year. She will be entering the inpatient headache unit at Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia tomorrow for a stay of several days and we fervently pray that the treatment she receives there will bring her some relief from this debilitating condition. We also hope and pray that she will return to leading us in prayer before too long.
As I said on Friday, while no one can “replace” our Hazzan it is necessary for us to “substitute” for her. I’m happy to tell you that my predecessor Rabbi Mark Raphael has graciously stepped up to offer to daven this year. Our congregant Barnaby Yeh, who davened shacharit on both days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur last year, will also be leading services for us again. I look forward to leading services with both of them and I’m confident that while it will be different than what we have been accustomed to, it will be a beautiful and meaningful High Holiday experience.
As of this writing we are still planning to have fully hybrid services for the High Holidays. This means that you can attend in person (assuming you are fully-vaccinated or have a certified medical exemption) or on Zoom. It also means that if you have a “speaking part” such as reading Torah or haftarah, an aliyah or an English reading, you may do your part in person or on Zoom. If you have been honored with an ark opening, as you might surmise that can only be done in person but we are planning on keeping ark openings to a bare minimum this year. If the COVID situation worsens to the point where either government regulations or our own sense of what is prudent require it, we can always “pivot” to a Zoom-only service but it’s premature to make that decision right now. Of course, if your own sense of what is safe or wise dictates that you remain at home and participate over Zoom, that is what you should do.
With the surge of the Delta variant and the reimposition of the Montgomery County indoor mask mandate, we have decided that for the next two weeks Shabbat morning services will be on Zoom only. We’re hopeful that the mask mandate and other public health measures as well as people once again being cautious in their behaviors will lead to a decline in community transmission of COVID. After two weeks of Zoom-only Shabbat morning services we will reevaluate the level of risk posed by in-person services as well as the willingness of congregants to attend them.
I want to absolutely emphasize the fact that this is intended as a temporary measure. Public health experts had long predicted that for some time we would see ups and downs in the level of community transmission, loosening and reimposition of mask mandates and other mitigation measures, and so on. We will once again return to holding services in our Sanctuary -- optimally after a two-week hiatus. Unfortunately we have learned that not everything is in our individual control; we can control our individual behavior but if others in our society continue to act irresponsibly, this pandemic will be lengthened.
As far as High Holidays services, all of the planning necessary to have hybrid services -- building setup, security, tech arrangements, and so on -- is continuing. I firmly believe that a decision to shift to fully online services for the High Holidays would be premature, and I personally look forward to being in our Sanctuary with Rabbi Raphael, Barnaby Yeh, and as many of our members who feel that it is a safe place to be. Fortunately the size of our Sanctuary -- particularly if we open the doors not only to the Sisterhood Hall but to the large Social Hall as well -- will allow us to practice maximal social distancing. If the data indicates that we can do so in a responsible manner and enough congregants plan to attend in person, we will be in our Sanctuary 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.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian