Thursday, March 12, 2020

Corona Virus Letter to B'nai Shalom Synagogue March12, 2020

Dear Members of B’nai Shalom,

I write you in prayer and good wishes as God’s good creation faces the global COVID-19 “corona virus” pandemic. Please know that your well being, both physical and spiritual are my deep concern. 

I believe that God gave us minds and hearts to pursue science, and that medical safety and treatments apply those miracles of God that are in our hands. The Torah commands, you shall not sit idly by the blood of your neighbor (Lev. 19:16). How much the moreso, your own and your neighbors!? Therefore, the directions of the CDC and your physician have the force of halakhah, Jewish Law and should be considered Torah Misinai, equivalent to the Torah given to Moses. It is not a choice, but a commandment to pursue public health safety to the fullest.

Given public protocols for social distancing, the synagogue’s leadership is actively exploring our policies and procedures for programming in the building. A detailed communication will be sent this Wednesday, March 18, after several important conversations will have happened.  Of course, news may happen faster than that.  In the meantime, please refer to our e-happenings for our most up-to-date information and protocols.

As your rabbi, there are several religious and educational items I wish you to know:

  1. Regarding the mitzvah of hinukh education: If the West Orange school district closes, our Religious School will shift to on-line distance learning. We are training the students this afternoon in these protocols. Monday talmud is already live streamed on the Bnai Shalom Morris and Miriam Hammer Campus facebook page.
  2. Regarding the mitzvah of nihum aveilim, please do not make shiva visits during this time period, instead make phone calls and/or write messages. 
  3. Regarding the mitzvah of bikkur holim, please do not visit hospitals, nursing homes and rehabs unless absolutely necessary. Again, please call to express your love and support.
  4. Regarding services, daily and shabbat services are ongoing at this time, and under review.  During this time period, you are exempt from the requirement of public prayer.  Should you attend services at the synagogue, please know the following:
A.             There will be no “Torah Procession” during this time.
B.             Please wish prayer leaders and honorees a hearty “yishar koach,” verbally, without handshaking, high fives or hugs.
C.             I have authorized live streaming of our services on Shabbat, (which we are working on).  While we have had passive video/audio feeds active on Shabbat for many years for security reasons, access to this data on Shabbat is new.
·       The bimah/ark will be in the camera view, and private access will be provided only to those in need of it. 
·       The minyan only counts those in the room.
·       Staying connected to the service and community in this way is important, and the mitzvah for prayer and learning is still fulfilled in this way.
·       This ruling does not extend to any other use of electronics on Shabbat, and a community learning about this topic will be scheduled in the near future.  
·       Please look to the synagogue announcements, which will provide instructions how to access the live stream.

These policies are almost certain to be modified in the days ahead, and I encourage you to remain aware of our correspondences.  

Remember, thoughtful prayer is an important part of facing uncertainty. It is normal to feel fear and anxiety at this time.  Prayer is an important way to connect with God, and with others in the community, while affirming our common destiny and the purpose of our lives.  I encourage you to safely participate in our minyanim, and to consider prayers for healing and comfort for those who are ill.  A lovely resource for this can be found at My Jewish Learning dot com.  

With continued prayers for your physical and spiritual well being,

Rabbi Tobin

Remember:  if you are exhibiting symptoms or suspect that you have been exposed to the Corona Virus COVID-19, please remain at home and call you medical provider for assistance.  Coronavirus questions are being handled by the health experts at the NJ Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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