ערב ש׳׳ק לפרשת ״ וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה בָהֶ֛ם נֶ֖גֶף״

Dear Anshe Sholom

Just a few hours ago, we shared plans for a modified protocol for our shul to remain open this Shabbat in a way that honored the public health challenges inherent in gathering in large numbers as a community.

Minutes ago, we received advice from the Orthodox Union to help congregations decide how to operate in this time. Their guidance comes in the aftermath of decisions taken by Modern Orthodox communities in Bergen County, Manhattan, Riverdale, Long Island, Greater Boston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere to shut down their shuls.

According to the criterion that have been shared, reflecting an emerging consensus within our community, it is appropriate to close the shul indefinitely for all public gatherings, including shiurim and minyanim.

The mikvah will remain open under new guidelines which will be shared in the coming days.

The keilim mikvah will be shut until we find a way to operate it consistent with newly emergent best-practices, which we hope to implement prior to Pesach.

The shul will be open on Sunday morning, March 15 (8:30 - 11:30 AM), for people to retrieve tefilin and other personal items.

The shul has already begun planning how it will operate to serve as a Jewish resource for our community for the duration of time when we cannot gather in person. We will share that information with you in the coming days and look forward to your ideas too.

Closing the shul for tefilah is a painful decision to make. Last spring, after the attempted firebombing of our shul, I remarked that the shul was “the beating heart” of our community. My grief at the knowledge that our building will stand empty over Shabbat is intense, but the Torah’s prioritization of human life and human health is clear.

In this week’s Torah portion, we are given instructions about how to count and evaluate our community safely, in a way that will not bring about a plague וְלֹא־יִהְיֶ֥ה בָהֶ֛ם נֶ֖גֶף בִּפְקֹ֥ד אֹתָֽם. The Torah wants each individual to be valued and treasured and not seen as a statistic or as a number. Based on these verses, many have the custom, for example when counting towards a minyan, to avoid counting “one, two, three…” but instead to say “not one, not two, or not three.” Although we will not convene a minyan at our shul, we are facing the same essential challenge this week.

We are making choices to step away from one another, physically, out of a conviction that the life of each and every member of our community - and, indeed, the lives of each human being created in God’s image - who is placed at risk by this pandemic, is of ultimate and sacred value.

To paraphrase the Talmud in Pesachim,כשם שקבלתי שכר על הדרישה , כך אני מקבל שכר על הפרישה - just as we received reward for seeking out one another to join together in prayer and Torah study, so too may we receive reward for temporarily separating from one another to protect the most vulnerable members of our community.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wolkenfeld