August 25, 2020
5 Elul, 5780
A Message from Our President, Lee Zoldan
Shalom my friends,

The High Holidays are right around the corner; and as we do every year, we began preparing for them in late June. This year, of course, was different, so our preparations were different as well. Although the board wanted to conduct services as usual, we decided to ask the congregants themselves for input. It was a painstaking process, because in June few people wanted to make a commitment for September, but we wanted to start the conversation early. 

Mary Lynn was in charge of that initiative and she called everyone who had attended our services for the past three years. This was not a group eblast; this was a heart-to-heart conversation between Mary Lynn and people she has known, in many cases, for years. In the end, more than 90% of our High Holiday congregation said they would not feel comfortable attending services in person. As much as they wanted to join us, they said COVID-19 made it too much of a risk. In accordance with the congregation’s wishes, the board voted to cancel our regular High Holiday services this year. 

At the same time, Cary started calling our sister congregations to see how they were handling the challenges of COVID-19, and we soon became the center of an area-wide information exchange. This too was a very fluid situation as congregations tried to figure out how to serve their congregants while still keeping everyone safe. By the time he was finished researching he had identified which congregations were having services in person (often abbreviated or outdoors) and which were live streaming zoom services instead.

We knew our congregants didn’t want to attend services in our sanctuary, and we knew our aging infrastructure couldn’t support zoom. But because of the work we have done and the relationships we have forged, we are pleased to present two options for our congregation this year:

  1. For those who would like to attend a live streamed zoom service from the comfort of their home, we have arranged several options being offered from other synagogues, all available for free.  We will ask you to do the right thing and make a donation to the zoom synagogue you choose to attend as well as to Chicago Loop Synagogue, but this is strictly on the honor system. We are deeply grateful to all the congregations who offered to help our people have a place to pray. 
  2. As you know from our weekly eblast, on Saturday mornings a Sephardic minyan meets in our small beit midrash in addition to the Ashkenazi minyan that meets in our large sanctuary. After we decided to cancel our own High Holiday services, the Sephardim asked to use our beit midrash during the High Holidays for their services. Since we were not going to use the sanctuary, we were delighted to make that space available to them instead. Unlike our regular High Holiday services, where men and women sit together and both men and women have a ritual role, this is a mechitzah minyan, with men sitting on the main floor and conducting the service and women sitting in the balcony. The melodies and prayer books they use will also be different than those we normally use. As a courtesy, they are making a very limited number of seats available for our congregants. Space will be available on a first-come first-served basis.

Both these options are completely free, but you must register in advance. Please contact Mary Lynn, loopadmn@chiloopsyn.org, (773) 343-2545 to make arrangements. We also have a few more innovations:

  • Because so many of you have a deep personal connection to our sanctuary, our building will be open the entire week before Rosh Hashanah, September 14-17, so you can spend time in the sanctuary in prayer and private reflection. In order to maintain social distance, please make an appointment with Cary, caryw@chiloopsyn.org, (847) 508-4209.
  • For those who want a familiar machzor to use during the High Holidays, we will have our books available to borrow. These can be picked up any time September 14-17, just let Cary know when you would like to come so we can manage everything in an organized manner. 
  • We will conduct a public shofar blowing downtown on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Sunday, September 20. Details will be announced in our eblast as they are finalized. 

All things considered, I am extremely proud of the work Mary Lynn and Cary have done, as well as the thoughtful and frank input we received from our own congregants as well as other congregations. Not only were we able to arrange free services for our members, but we were able to put our sanctuary to the best possible use by providing a spiritual home for another minyan to enjoy.

An early shana tova to everyone who made this possible, I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and safe, and I look forward to seeing you soon. 

Shalom,

Lee Zoldan
President
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