By ADRIAN GLASS-MOORE / Assistant Editor
Minnesota rabbis are urging people to stay home for Passover seder this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year for Seder, our Minnesota Rabbinical Association [MRA] urges people to gather only with those currently under the same roof as we prioritize health and well-being. We acknowledge that may mean being physically alone,” the MRA said on March 23.
The rabbis’ statement is consistent with Gov. Tim Walz’ executive order directing all Minnesotans to stay at home except for certain essential activities, such as getting food. The order went into effect on March 27 and lasts through 5 p.m. Friday, April 10.
“Limiting activities to only those which are most essential and practicing social distancing at all times are vital tools required to mitigate the community spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota and nationwide,” Walz said in the order. Earlier in March, Walz closed schools, bars and restaurants.
The rabbis stressed the importance of social distancing. “The lack of physical contact will save lives, and we also know it is deeply painful to miss the companionship of a holiday celebration filled with loved ones,” their statement said. “Please stay home now so we can show up together in the future in good health and peace.”
The MRA and Hodroff-Epstein Memorial Chapels have recommended new “funeral practices and procedures” including that “all funeral services will occur graveside.”
Under the new procedure, recommended until at least April 10, “Hodroff-Epstein staff and one clergy person will attend and lead the service in person. All attendees (including immediate family) will be invited to participate over livestream on the Hodroff-Epstein Facebook page.”
The coronavirus has infected more than 160,000 people and killed more than 3,000 across the United States. In Minnesota, as of March 30, the state Department of Health reported 576 people infected and 10 deaths from the virus.
A local rabbi, a Jewish grocery worker and a Sabes JCC member’s relative tested positive for the virus. Synagogues have closed and most public events have been cancelled.
Rabbi Gibber admitted to hospital
Rabbi Chaim Gibber, dean of the Minneapolis Community Kollel in St. Louis Park, was “admitted to the hospital” on March 29 and “tested positive for the virus,” the Kollel said in an email.
“He needs all of our tefillos at this point,” the email said, using the Hebrew word for prayer.
The email did not provide further information on Gibber’s condition.
On March 22, The Kosher Spot grocery in Minneapolis sent an email to customers identifying a store employee who recently tested positive for COVID-19.
The employee has been in quarantine since receiving a positive test on March 15 and is “recovering well,” the email said.
The email included the times the employee had worked on March 11, March 13 and March 15 “after having been exposed.” The grocery advised that customers who had prolonged or physical contact with the employee “must be quarantined for 14 days from the time of your last contact with” the employee.
Other Kosher Spot workers who worked with the employee “during that period have been quarantined at home for a period of time specified by our medical advisors.”
The Kosher Spot said that prior to March 11 it had begun “a very strict regimen” of cleaning the store. The grocery said it regularly disinfects door handles and carts, checkout counters and electronic equipment used by customers and staff.
To allow for social distancing, the grocery has started limiting the number of people allowed in the store at any time.
“We understand that some of our customers might prefer to avoid coming into the store during the current coronavirus pandemic,” the email said. “We are now accommodating customers with curbside pickup.”
The Kosher Spot said it was “fully stocked for Passover.”
Sabes JCC CEO Michael Waldman sent an email to JCC members on March 23 informing them: “We have received information from a Sabes JCC member who has a family member that has tested positive for COVID-19.
“While this individual, who self-reported, has not been tested or diagnosed with the virus, we have promised to be transparent and wanted to let you know that this participant was at the Barry Family Campus multiple times in the weeks before we closed. The last time was on Thursday, March 12.
“We are urging all of our members, staff, and visitors to follow the guidance of medical professionals and take all necessary precautions to help control the spread of the virus.”
Adath Jeshurun Congregation, Beth El Synagogue, Shir Tikvah, Temple of Aaron, Temple Israel and Mount Zion are among the Twin Cities synagogues that have closed due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. The St. Paul and Sabes JCCs closed.
Shir Tikvah explained its decision to close: “As the information about the coronavirus/COVID19 has changed rapidly, we understand that to fulfill our moral obligation to our elders—our parents and grandparents—and those with compromised immune systems, the responsible moral decision is to practice social distancing. Sadly, this means we will close our building.”
Synagogues were offering ways to connect online.
“Over the past week, hundreds of you have participated in our online Shabbat services, youth events, classes, and more,” Temple Israel Senior Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman said in a message on March 25. “As I see your faces and hear your voices, I am heartened by the strength that community creates. Because Temple is here, we will continue to grow.”
Zimmerman said the temple “will remain closed until we are sure it is safe to reopen.”
Mount Zion is also staying active over the internet. In a recent newsletter, it noted that “over the past week, many gathered via Zoom for Daily Services, for Torah Study, a Coffee with Clergy chat, and a Town Hall meeting.” Zoom is a popular video conferencing service.
“Others tuned into services via Live Streaming on our website and to a Havdala service,” Mount Zion said.
The St. Paul JCC was offering group exercise classes through Facebook Live as well as fitness videos.
Seders were cancelled, including Jewish Community Action’s March 15 “Freedom Seder” and Or Emet’s April 11 Humanistic seder.
The Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota cancelled all of its spring events in response to the coronavirus, including Professor Mohsen Goudarzi’s March 24 talk, “Judaism in the Qur’an.”
Temple of Aaron cancelled “The Big Night of Jewish Thought” (March 2020, AJW), an event long in the planning that was to have featured three nationally prominent rabbis on March 29; and Jewish Community Day at Mall of America, set for April 19, was cancelled.