The festivities are on, yet congregations are taking proper precautions.

The coronavirus is part of this year’s Purim planning as local synagogues and temples prepare for Shabbos services and upcoming celebrations.

Hand sanitizer will be plentiful, and congregants are being urged to take precautions, but not overreact. To date, no events have been cancelled.

“Purim is on at Shaarey Zedek. We are focused on community and gathering in the face of fear with an eye to health and responsibility,” said Rabbi Aaron Starr at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.

At least three local congregations — Shaarey Zedek, Temple Beth El and Temple Shir Shalom —have established medical advisory committees comprising physicians, other congregants and staff members. Dr. Carl Lauter, an allergist and infectious disease specialist, will speak at an educational program after Shaarey Zedek’s Shabbat services on March 6.

In an email to members, Temple Beth El, located in Bloomfield Hills, announced an enhanced cleaning of public areas in response to guidelines from the Oakland County Health Department. After Shabbos services, congregants normally can pull pieces from a large challah, but now the bread will be sliced in advance with tongs for serving. The communication also asked members to avoid directly kissing the Torah.

Both the Temple Beth El letter and one from Shaarey Zedek leadership urged members to switch from greeting friends with hugs and kisses to elbow bumps, waves and other “social distancing” forms of contact.

“We are aware of what’s going on but not feeding the panic,” said Brian Fishman, executive director at Temple Shir Shalom in West Bloomfield. Like other congregations, the temple is providing hand sanitizers and recommending frequent handwashing to those who visit.

The Orthodox Union sent a letter to member congregations this week, including Young Israel of Southfield, urging members to stay calm and pray for those who have contracted the coronavirus.

“However, it is extremely important that if anyone has symptoms of illness, including fever, coughing, stomach bug or any other sickness, that they refrain from coming to shul or other communal gatherings, either during the week or on Shabbat,” the letter states. “This is true even for a mourner saying Kaddish. Protecting and preserving communal health supersedes other considerations. Anyone experiencing such symptoms should immediately contact their physician for further guidance.”

Rabbi Simcha Tolwin of Aish Torah in Oak Park said the congregation is looking at World Health Organization guidelines, stating, “We have ways to respond.” He pointed out that a year ago, the local Jewish community was experiencing a measles outbreak.

For individuals who choose not to attend services, several congregations, including Beth Shalom in Oak Park, will livestream the Megillah reading or regular services. Fishman said that Temple Shir Shalom provides live online adult education classes.

Overall, the focus is on reassurance and preparedness. David Goodman, executive director at Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield, pointed out that precautions for the coronavirus are similar to guidelines for avoiding seasonal flu. These may become the new normal all year long.

Resources for Congregations and Individuals

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