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"Virtual Synagogue"
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"Virtual Classroom"
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"Virtual Community Room"
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Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Virtual Services and Daily Minyan: We have made a difficult decision. Until further notice, daily minyan will be accessible via Zoom, following the instructions hereWe have moved to a “virtual” format in which we will consider a minyan to be constituted as long as we have 10 Jews who can see each other. The leaders will still be at the synagogue, but all others will be asked to stay home unless specifically invited/approved to attend. We will update you with plans for Shabbat soon.

Virtual Adult Education: We have now launched a “virtual classroom,” so that we can continue to serve our community through the current crisis. A list of classes and activities open to the congregation will be updated regularly here.


Friday, March 13, 2020

We have been following the very rapid evolution of the COVID-19 situation, consulting with public health experts at each step. Pikuach Nefesh, saving a human life, is our highest value, and the best advice we have received is that, at this point, aggressive action by all is our best way to protect the lives of the vulnerable in our synagogue and the larger community. We are sure that each of our congregants appreciates that all of the decisions reflected here were made deliberately in consultation with experts, to whom we are very grateful. When in doubt, we erred on the side of caution so that we could manage this process in a consistent fashion, rather than scheduling  activities for another few days only to cancel at the last moment. We will continue to monitor and make changes as necessary.

In summary: Starting immediately, Congregation B’nai Torah will only be holding group activities in person if it is absolutely essential (typically only if ritually required), and we will sharply limit the number and proximity of people present in the building at any one time.  Meanwhile, we are ramping up efforts to keep our congregation connected and support those in distress.

Religious Services: We will continue to hold religious services, including daily minyan, as long as our advisors and government authorities indicate that we can do so safely. Our older congregants, and anyone with other health concerns, should stay away. Similarly, if you are not feeling well, have travelled to an area of significant outbreak, have been asked to self-isolate, or have any other reason to think you might be contagious, we insist that you stay home. Services will be held in an expanded sanctuary, and we ask family groups to sit at least 6 feet apart from other families. After this Shabbat, we may actively limit the number of live attendees on Shabbat, and we will roll out a system to do so. Conversely, we may be specifically recruiting individuals who do not fall into any high-risk groups to participate in our daily minyan, and we ask that if you would like to included in that effort, please send an email to minyan@bnaitorah.org. There will be no Kiddush, shaleshudis, or youth services.

Rabbi Heller has been part of crafting the Conservative Movement’s guidance on streaming of services which states that one may participate in a service via livestream provided that a minyan of Jews is present with the leader, and that one should do so in ways that minimize violations of Shabbat. On that basis, we will be moving to livestream our services. This will begin with Friday night services tonight at 6:30 PM. If you have a yahrzeit in the coming week, you may fulfill your obligation by reciting kaddish along with the streamed service, or by letting us know and our rabbis or gabbis will recite kaddish on your behalf. We will stream more services, including daily minyan, beginning next week. Times and login info will be posted on our website. To access the livestream, click here to visit our Facebook page. Please note that you will need a Facebook login to watch this livestream. We are working diligently to create a more accessible livestream platform that does not require a Facebook account. We will send details once this has been determined. For those who do not have a prayerbook at home that they are comfortable using, we will be making a PDF of prayers needed for services available as a download from our website.

Lifecycle Events: Our rabbis will work individually with families to address lifecycle and pastoral needs. We will reach out to Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutors and families to determine the most appropriate ways for their work to continue.

Programs, Family Services, Youth Activities, Affinity Groups: All in-person programs, family and youth activities and affinity groups, including B’nai Bridges, B’nai Babies, and Get Togethers, are on hold until further notice, whether they meet at our facility or elsewhere. We will be encouraging groups to connect using virtual formats. As we work with our event vendors and partners on potential reschedule dates or cancelations plans, we will hold any registration payments as deposits and will do our best to provide refunds or credits as needed.

Adult Education: All in-person learning is suspended until further notice. Starting with Tuesday’s Lunch and Learn, we will be offering adult learning accessible via video and phone. A schedule of times, topics, and instructions for participation, will be sent out early next week.

Religious School: Religious School will be cancelled this Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Elizabeth Bloch, our director, is working with our team to create alternate learning opportunities beginning on March 22 and continuing as long as advisable. We will be in touch with Religious School families next week with more information.

Preschool: Our preschool is already closed today for a teacher workday, and will not reopen on Monday. We will be in touch with preschool families once a return date has been determined. 

Meetings: Committee meetings will move to video or voice conferences. One-on-one meetings with community members will as well, unless there is a truly pressing reason otherwise.

Staff: Some staff will be working from home full time; others will be present when essential for performance of their duties. All will be responding to voicemail and email as circumstances permit. We ask that congregants email ahead to determine whether an in-person visit is appropriate. As a community, we will do what we can to strengthen our dedicated staff, so that they can tend to their own wellbeing and that of their families even as they tend to our congregation’s needs.

Outside Groups: We normally host a range of activities from the larger community, including Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, Israeli Dancing, and various civic groups. These meetings are all suspended until further notice.

What We Will Be Doing: This message is not just about what has paused. It is also about what we are starting. We are taking important steps to enrich the life of our community. As Rabbi Heller wrote, we still have an obligation to see each others’ faces. We will begin streaming services tonight on our Facebook page. We are working to do this for daily minyan and Shabbat morning as well beginning next week.

Rabbi Heller and Rabbi K will be offering several online study opportunities each week. Stay tuned for details on Monday.

Rabbi Heller and Rabbi K will be accessible to our community via phone and FaceTime for those who are in need. Voicemails left at the office will be forwarded to them and to other staff automatically. In the event of true emergency, Rabbi Heller may be reached at 404-788-7357.

An increasing number of our congregants will be physically isolated due to their health status. We are organizing efforts to support these households in a number of ways, including doing errands. Please email Ashley Cohen at acohen@bnaitorah.org if you feel like you might fit on either side of this equation.

We are also mobilizing several of our committees to help virtually check in on one another to maintain our strong community while we are less able to come together in person. If you'd like to be part of that process, please email Ashley Cohen at acohen@bnaitorah.org.

Some of us may have extra time on our hands. We are identifying ways that our congregants can volunteer to do useful work to assist our congregation from home. Email Sarah Woelz at sarah@bnaitorah.org if you are interested.

We understand that this crisis may have a significant financial impact on some of our congregants. We will have some resources available to assist those facing extreme hardship, and we will work confidentially to ensure that finances do not impact anyone’s ability to remain part of our community. Contact Natalie Sarnat at nsarnat@bnaitorah.org if this is of concern to you.

Thank you for your understanding and embracing these changes that will best support our community at this time.

Mon, March 30 2020 5 Nisan 5780