Dear Bet Torah Family,
In response to Gov. Cuomo’s reopening statement issued yesterday, May 20, please know that
Bet Torah will remain closed until at least June 30.
For those who have not seen the Governor’s remarks, yesterday he issued a broad statement allowing religious services to convene with a maximum of 10 participants; in addition, he said “parking lot services” would also be allowed. No executive order has been issued, and no further details have been expressed.
To be clear, we are taking this statement as a good sign. Somewhere up ahead there is light at the end of the tunnel, sometime up ahead we will gather together in prayer and community. We are thankful to have that ray of hope in front of us.
All that said, after consultation with Bet Torah doctors, legal chair, lay and senior leadership, we have concluded that we cannot open Bet Torah for services before June 30. We will of course continue to communicate, to keep our members apprised of conversations, considerations and our decision-making process.
Our decision to keep Bet Torah closed through the end of June is based primarily on the needs of our congregation as a whole. In keeping with our Jewish values, we first and foremost must protect the health and welfare of our members, and we must also preserve the sacredness of our community and how we gather as a community.
As of today, Westchester County has not yet reached the benchmarks New York State has set forth to allow for re-openings. In practical terms, we cannot be sure that our members nor our clergy would be safe gathering even in small groups. Additionally, neither New York State nor Westchester County has provided any guidelines for re-opening. Over the next month, we hope to gather information that will properly guide us in how we can re-open Bet Torah in a safe and sacred way.
Thus far, we expect that when we re-open, Bet Torah will look different than the pre-COVID times. We expect to be wearing gloves and masks. We expect to refrain from embracing. We expect to have guidelines dictating where we sit, how we revere the Torah and what we hold in our hands. There will be differences, and yet we hope we will understand these needs well enough to make decisions that will lead us to meaningful worship in community – one of our most sacred values.
A significant part of our decision to remain closed through the end of June refers back to our need to be able to pray in community. Allowing a maximum of 10 people to come together to pray in the sanctuary, while the remainder of our members watch from their screens, detracts from our community. While we all wish to be together in our sanctuary in person, participating via Zoom has approximated community for many of us. We see one another. We hear one another. We wave into the camera and smile at one another. This current situation isn’t perfect, and yet we at least retain a semblance of community and can participate in our services. Restricting the sanctuary use for a maximum of 10 people at a time puts more barriers between us at a time when we need more connection.
One of our strengths during this unusual time of separation has been the extraordinary job our staff, clergy and lay leaders have done in creating an entirely new online community. We have received enormous appreciation for our Yom Ha’Shoah and Zimriyah community-wide programs, as well as more intimate events, classes and offerings like one-to-one Hebrew lessons for our students and Morah Mindy’s Daily Morning Meetings. Thank you to everyone who is helping us continue to fulfill our mission online.
Again, we will continue to notify our members about decisions regarding re-opening Bet Torah. Until the time when we can re-enter our sanctuary safely and smartly, we will rely on our Zoom services and our talented, thoughtful and caring members, staff and clergy to guide us through this unprecedented time.
We thank you for your patience as we put best practices into place. We thank you for your empathy if we must tweak plans along the way. And we thank you for your support and participation as we continue to hold Bet Torah close to our hearts.
Carol Siege, President
Seth Young, Executive Director