Orthodox synagogues in the Detroit area do not anticipate using electronic media to facilitate virtual attendance on the actual holy days.
Planning for the Days of Awe, like planning for almost everything else in the first year of the novel coronavirus, involves preparing for surprises. This time, we might have to do things differently.
The rabbis of several local congregations spoke with the Jewish News about how they plan to modify services to comply with the uneven progress of the pandemic, or with changed orders from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, or with new medical advice. Conditions — and plans for the holidays — may change at any moment, rabbis at each congregation stressed that these plans are subject to change.
Liberal denominations of Judaism — Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist — have the option of conducting their services largely over the internet. Rabbi Shalom Kanter of Congregation B’nai Moshe, a Conservative congregation in West Bloomfield, reports that they plan to have only 15 people physically present in the building when the services take place. The rest of the congregation should attend safely in their own spaces, linked by their computer monitors.
But Orthodox synagogues in the Detroit area do not anticipate using electronic media to facilitate virtual attendance on the actual holy days. Congregations contemplate different strategies for in-person prayer that meets state guidelines — which requires congregants to wear masks and stay physically distant from each other. According to Whitmer’s executive orders, however, places of worship are not subject to penalty for failing to adhere to these rules when used for worship services.
Some Orthodox synagogues have already been holding in-person services this summer, and attendees have told the Jewish News that these guidelines are not always followed. In one congregation, according to a congregant who wishes to remain anonymous, even during regular services this summer, a significant cadre attend without wearing masks and without observing the synagogue’s announced rules of physical distancing.
In a handful of other Orthodox congregations in Oak Park, worshippers at weekday services stand together, not wearing masks; a photograph of such a weekday service at one congregation was published by a worshipper who approves of ignoring the governor’s orders. The rabbi of that congregation did not respond to requests for information.
Rabbis at other Orthodox synagogues press forward with new guidelines for this year’s Days of Awe. Rabbi Yechiel Morris explained that at Young Israel of Southfield, the medical team — several physicians among the members — researched the best recommendations for worship. The synagogue leadership then surveyed members to identify their preferences among these recommendations. The congregation determined to offer three choices: An early morning service, somewhat abbreviated, will meet with seating inside in the social hall and outside at the adjacent patio. Next, a second group will meet for a much-abbreviated service in the same location. A smaller group can choose a nearly full-length service in the sanctuary, but with physical distancing. All congregants will be asked to wear masks and observe distancing of close to 10 feet. When the shofar is sounded, the bell-end will have a cloth covering.
In the most painful departure from tradition, according to Rabbi Morris, he will ask parents not to bring children below third grade to services, but only to hear the shofar.
Rabbi Morris emphasized this as “the most important” advice: “We are in a pandemic. Talk to your doctor. If you should not come to shul, do not come.”
Rabbi Shaya Katz indicated that while the Young Israel of Oak Park has not yet set its plans as of late August, it contemplates a similar set of three services, with two out-of-doors and one inside.
Rabbi Sasson Natan at Keter Torah Synagogue, the Sephardic synagogue in West Bloomfield, plans to hold services in the sanctuary, but with reduced attendance. “Every third chair will be available. All other chairs will be removed,” he said.
On Sunday, the shofar will be sounded outside in the parking lot, weather and security concerns permitting. If the shofar has to be indoors, Rabbi Sasson anticipates having two soundings in separate areas.
Rabbi Sasson added that the synagogue will provide hand sanitizer; “of course, everyone will have a mask,” and “no hugging, no kissing — very hard for us, a Mediterranean people.”
Young Israel of Southfield will not use a tent, following the advice of its medical team. But other congregations plan to have services under tents for shade and protection from rain. Kehillat Etz Chayim in Huntington Woods, for example, according to Rabbi Asher Lopatin, will hold services outdoors under an open tent in the spacious backyard of a congregant. Worshippers will have to register in advance, so Kehillat Etz Chayim can limit the number at each of two consecutive services on Rosh Hashanah morning.
At Ohel Moed of Shomrey Emunah in West Bloomfield, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Jundef has arranged for services to take place under a tent. Congregation Or Chadash in Oak Park similarly plans to set up a large tent in the backyard of congregant, with widely spaced seats and everyone in masks. Rabbi Azaryah Cohen has streamlined the service in accordance with Jewish law.
At the Woodward Avenue Shul in Royal Oak, Rabbi M. M. Polter plans a tent in the synagogue parking lot and adjacent area, holding spaces for anyone who reserves in advance. The synagogue will provide bottled water.