Shalom my friends,
No one needs a reminder of what went wrong this year, so I’d like to talk today about what went right.
When Covid-19 hit, Chicago Loop Synagogue hit back. We took a hard look at ourselves and said if we couldn’t pray together and we couldn’t attend programs together, what could we do? How could we actually increase our commitment to the Jewish community and use Covid-19 as an opportunity to reinforce our mission of serving all Jews who live and work downtown?
Those might seem like some crazy questions, but we found some inspiring answers:
- Because most of our worshipers belong to other congregations there was no need for us to offer our own zoom services, so we developed a multi-denominational list of services at other congregations.
- When Covid-19 restricted our in-person gatherings, we reached out to our programming partners and became a trusted resource to promote a full spectrum of online opportunities (see them in our weekly eblast and on our website calendar).
- When we couldn’t have our monthly Crain-Maling egalitarian minyan in person on Friday night, we switched to a weekly zoom service and now welcome participants locally as well as from out of town.
- When our congregants were ready, we opened our beautiful 550-seat sanctuary for Shabbat morning services – with plenty of hand sanitizer and social distance.
- When surveys of our High Holiday minyan showed our congregants didn’t feel comfortable attending services in our sanctuary, we arranged for them to zoom other services for free.
- When we realized our sanctuary would be available during the Holidays, we donated it to our Sephardic minyan so they could pray in the way they found most meaningful.
- When our book discussion group couldn’t meet in person, not only did we zoom their conversations, but we arranged for some well-known Jewish authors to join us live.
- When being closed enabled us to spend less on operations, we shifted our budget to making some long-needed building repairs.
- And when our congregants couldn’t come to us, we came to them. Mary Lynn and Cary have done an unprecedented amount of outreach to everyone in our database, and the feedback is helping shape our post-Covid-19 planning. We will be ready to roll as soon as it is safe.
Considering the challenges we faced, our response has been incredible, and my heart is filled with gratitude for all the support we have gotten from our congregants as well as the greater Jewish community. But this is only the beginning and we still have a lot of work to do.
Next year, we want to return to pre-Covid-19 levels of prayer and programming. This won’t be easy because so many of our congregants no longer work downtown, but I remember four years ago I boldly said we would do one in-house program a week – and by the time we closed for Covid-19, we were generally doing four.
We want to do more outreach to the Jewish populations of the South and West Loop, a population that has been Jewishly under-served for years. I believe we have a deep and pressing responsibility to strengthen their connection to our community in any way we can. We want our programming to be more innovative than it has ever been, and we can’t wait to start.
We want to continue repairing our infrastructure so when people walk into our building they see a vibrant facility that makes them proud. The primary areas we will address are our roof repairs (already underway), our electrical wiring and of course the ongoing need for enhanced security.
Right now we are doing as much behind the scenes as we possibly can. We also can’t do it alone, and this is where you come in. If you share our mission – and, if you’re receiving this, I hope you do – then I ask you to support us financially. Help us reach Jews who are searching for meaning and connection through our faith. Help us continue to develop programs and partnerships that put us in the center of Chicago’s Jewish landscape. Help us become the thriving community we should become. Just as you are asking for another year of life for yourself at this time, I am asking you to give Chicago Loop Synagogue another year of life as well. It is the right thing to do, and the time to do it is now.
G'mar Chatima Tovah,