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Dear Fellow Congregants,

The Rabbis teach: kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh – all of us are responsible for each other. Now that we have multiple confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the New Orleans area and Mayor Cantrell has declared a State of Emergency, we at Shir Chadash intend to put that principle into practice.

As a synagogue, we care deeply about your health and safety. At the same time, we recognize the warmth and support that being part of our community brings to you. During the past 24 hours, the Shir Chadash Executive Committee and professional staff have had to assess the current situation and make some tough decisions while balancing these two aspects of our shared lives.

We first learned of the serious nature of COVID-19 some two weeks ago when the CDC published a set of recommendations that Shir Chadash implemented immediately. Shortly thereafter we formed a Health Committee, consisting of medical professionals from our congregation, who can offer guidance to the synagogue Board on this disease and health matters in the future. Along with the Louisiana Department of Health, the CDC has provided regular and frequent updates on COVID-19. In addition, we have been in contact with synagogues locally and nationally and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) to gather as much information as possible about the actions under consideration/being taken by other institutions. Rabbi Silver has been in touch with rabbinic colleagues and Ricardo Totah has been monitoring the efforts of other synagogues through the association of synagogue executives. Our Health Committee has studied data from the epicenter in the US – Washington state – and internationally.

The demographics of the Shir Chadash community are heavily skewed towards those age 60 and over, representing roughly two-thirds of our membership. The overwhelming number of attendees at Friday night and Shabbat morning services and weekday minyanim are in the COVID-19 vulnerable population.

After evaluating all available information, in consultation with our Health Committee, and out of an abundance of concern for our congregants, we have decided to cancel all religious services and religious school starting this weekend for the next two weeks . We will continue to monitor events as they evolve and make any necessary adjustments that are warranted .

We realize the gravity and impact of this decision and did not make it lightly. However, we would be remiss if we were to compromise your health and wellbeing and put at risk the safety of our entire community. We firmly believe this is the right action to take now for the right reasons. 

Specifically, we are putting the changes below in place immediately:

  • Shabbat services and weekday minyanim are suspended for the next two weeks.

  • The Ritual Committee is actively considering various ways to provide you with a meaningful Shabbat experience while respecting halakhah. For this Shabbat, Rabbi Silver will send a variety of written materials for you to support a meaningful, peaceful home celebration, enabling you to retain a sense of Shabbat joy. Please use them! Shabbat will be even more of an opportunity during these trying times for us to “rest and re-soul,” as the Torah describes.

  • We are exploring convening a minyan of volunteers once a week, on Thursdays, so we can still read Torah and say kaddish. You may participate remotely provided 10 people are in the synagogue.

  • Shul School and teen learning are suspended for the next two weeks. To help maintain our wonderful Shul School momentum, Rabbi Silver and Jennie Lavine are creating some remote learning materials for grades 4 and up. Students below 4th grade will be supplied with a curriculum of rituals, songs and videos so our youngest students can still taste the sweetness of Shul School from home. The Rabbis teach that the world exists because of the breadth of little schoolchildren – we want to continue to inspire them and share their spontaneity and joy.

  • We are researching technology options to hold classes and meetings remotely and will inform you shortly. Hillel taught al tifrosh min hatzibbur – that we should not cut ourselves off from community. We are grateful for these options and we intend to use them.

We plan to have the synagogue remain partially staffed so we can continue to serve you. Those who are working in the building will follow best practices per CDC recommendations and our Health Committee. The facility will be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis.

Since we will be relying on technology quite a bit over the next few weeks, please stay in contact with anyone you know who may use a computer on a limited basis. Although we may not be able to “touch hands,” we can still reach out personally to look after each other. Let’s commit to taking extra care of one other. By doing so, we can shine light in what might seem like dark moments. Please contact the synagogue office if you have to self-quarantine for any reason so assistance can be offered.

We will continue to provide updates as the situation continues to unfold. Your health and safety are of paramount importance and were central to the decisions we made. As a community, we have an opportunity to grow even stronger together.

Ken Klein, President
Rabbi Deborah Silver