President’s COVID-19 Message #5

Dear Fellow Congregants:

I’d like to update you on our plans for the building and programming over the summer. Those of you who attended the annual meeting know that we have formed a committee to navigate our next steps after the governor’s “Stay at Home” order expires on June 15. This committee was originally called the COVID-19 committee, then the Re-opening committee, and is now called the “Reimagining Committee.” We decided that calling our task “reopening” felt incorrect, as our community was never closed. Though our building was shut due to safety concerns and government restrictions, our community offerings continued unabated. We have been holding virtual programming all spring including Hebrew School, Preschool, Shabbat and holiday services, book groups, adult education classes, and much more. So what is next? How are we reimagining?

We have been researching, learning, and collaborating with other synagogues, churches, and Jewish organizations. We will be guided by the following principles for the next few months:

  • Balancing risk and safety. We now know that singing indoors in groups must be avoided for a while as it is one of the most dangerous ways to spread aerosolized virus. Some community members may not be able to be present in the building for some time. However, many others are itching to come together in person.
  • Using technology when it is appropriate. Our new digital upgrades should be installed in the next month or so; they will enable us to offer hybrid programming, with some of us in the building and others at home.
  • Taking advantage of summer light and weather while we can.  We hope to take advantage of warmer weather and increased hours of light by offering some outdoor programs, including socially distanced Kabbalat Shabbat services and group meet-ups. Other summer offerings might include virtual song sessions, Jewish meditation, and online schmooze time with Rabba Kaya, as well as programs that you and others may propose!

The Board of Directors and the Ritual Committee have been thinking about the High Holidays. Typically, High Holiday planning begins right after Passover. After extensive reading, reflection, and discussion, we have concluded that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur will need to be different this year. Social distancing aside, the dangers of group singing have made it clear that the usual 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. services in the building cannot safely occur. Because of the number of unknowns and the lack of ability to plan multiple paths forward, with sadness, the Board of Directors approved the following motion submitted by the Ritual Committee:

We propose not holding High Holiday services in the temple building this fall. Rather, we will plan an array of programming and events, likely including online davening and study sessions, as well as small group gatherings including but not limited to Tashlich and fulfilling the mitzvah of hearing the shofar in person. We will strive to provide programming to guide us individually and as a holy congregation as we journey through Elul towards S’lichot, onwards to Rosh Hashanah, through the Ten Days of Repentance to Yom Kippur and beyond to the joyous celebrations of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

We realize that this decision will be hard for some to accept and will be cause for grief for many. Our congregation is not alone in concluding that our observance of the High Holidays will need to be substantially different this year because of the pandemic. Congregations throughout NH and the rest of the country have determined that because of the risks to the health of their congregants and clergy, they will re-envision how to celebrate the High Holidays this year. Our precious heritage has long been marked by the need and the willingness to adapt. Our prayer services and traditions have evolved while in exile, while under siege, and in vibrant diverse diaspora communities over thousands of years.

We hope to develop alternatives to our customary worship that will be meaningful and powerful during this unusual time in the world. Rabba Kaya and the Ritual Committee are considering a potpourri of options for members to pray, study, reflect, and communally journey through the days of awe, some in person and some virtually. For example, small groups might meet for tashlich and/or to hear the shofar outside the building. Families might reserve some sanctuary time for personal prayers in front of the Aron (Ark). We might develop a Rosh Hashanah seder for families to explore themes of the season through ritual, study, and celebration at home. Please know that we will plan for the most restrictive circumstances and hope that we might be able to relax constraints if it is safe to do so. 

Loss evokes denial, anger, and grief, but with time and acceptance can lead to meaningful change, new openings, and growth. It is our hope and wish that the challenges we face will lead us to embrace new opportunities for a rich, spiritual, contemplative, and joyous journey through the High Holiday season.

So that we might understand your needs and comfort level going forward, we have created a survey, linked below. Please have every adult member in your household fill this out as soon as possible so that we can design meaningful programs and services to meet the needs of our community before, during, and beyond the High Holidays.

Please take the short survey, if possible by noon on Sunday, June 14

Thank you for your patience and trust as we navigate these challenging times. We look forward to seeing you soon, in person or online, as we say goodbye to Rabbi Ira and welcome Rabba Kaya.

L’Shalom,

Amy Hyett, on behalf of the Board of Directors