Courtesy of Young Israel of Southfield's Facebook

Local temples and synagogues make major changes to reduce COVID-19 spread.

3:52 p.m.: This story has been updated to reflect Young Israel’s decision to close its shul.

Detroit-area temples and synagogues, which had already instituted enhanced sanitation and other practices to offset virus transmission, quickly ratcheted up their response on Thursday and Friday, March 12-13, with many of them cancelling all in-person services for the foreseeable future.

This followed Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s announcement that 12 individuals in Michigan had tested positive for the coronavirus and that all K-12 schools in Michigan would be closed at least through April 11.

On Thursday, March 12, members of the Michigan Board of Rabbis, which includes local Reform and Conservative congregations, held a conference call with representatives of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, Jewish funeral home directors and other local rabbis. Since then, the state ordered that most gatherings of 250 people or more should be cancelled. Exceptions include manufacturing, grocery stores and public transportation.

According to Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, who participated in Thursday’s community meeting, a medical update was presented by Adam Rosh, M.D., an emergency physician. Based on his advice, it was agreed that religious services, classes, meetings and other in-person congregational events should be cancelled for at least several weeks.

Temples and synagogues quickly notified members about the cancellations, suggesting alternate methods of observance and communication. Congregational notifications stressed the potential need for changes in a rapidly changing situation.

Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield will cancel services and other activities for at least two weeks. Congregation Adat Shalom will resume services on April 16. Congregation Shaarey Zedek expects to resume services during the weekend of April 17. Temple Beth El will forego in-person services through April 19.

Specific policies regarding services, other events and availability of clergy and other staff have been communicated via email to members.

Some congregations are able to live-stream services and educational programs. A member of Shaarey Zedek is arranging a Kaddish service via Zoom. A Temple Beth El family is arranging a way for friends to send video greetings to a bar mitzvah boy.

However, live-streaming on Shabbat or holidays isn’t permitted in Orthodox synagogues.

“We are continuing services with many precautions of cleanliness, hygiene and safety,” said Rabbi Shneur Silberberg, outreach director of Bais Chabad Torah Center. Their Shabbos Kiddush and children’s programs have been cancelled.

“We are keeping our minyanim but following government guidelines for smaller gatherings. Attendance at services has been significantly less the last few weeks. People with weaker systems should perhaps stay home,” he added.

Young Israel of Southfield is also suspending all programs at its shul, including worship services, until further notice, Rabbi Yechiel Morris wrote in an email to congregants at 2:53 p.m. Friday. The congregation had previously planned to go ahead with minyans; instead, Rabbi Morris invited congregants to recite the Psalm of Tehillim 91 simultaneously from their own homes during candlelighting.

“Based upon what I have learned from physicians in the past 24 to 48 hours, we should be doing our utmost to diminish contact with one another in all aspects of our lives,” Rabbi Morris wrote. “If you can, it is best to work from home. We should not be inviting one another over for Shabbat meals for the time being. We should not be getting together with friends. Children should not be sent to daycare and our children should not be having playdates.” 

Rabbi Silberberg spoke on Friday with a rabbi who has served in China throughout the coronavirus epidemic there. “He cautioned against panic and urged that practical measures be followed. It was reassuring to speak with someone who has gone through this,” Rabbi Silberberg said.

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