By ADRIAN GLASS-MOORE
AJW Assistant Editor
In an unprecedented series of actions, Twin Cities congregations are closing and Jewish events are being cancelled in response to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.
Shirt Tikvah Congregation and Beth El Synagogue said they were closing soon, while Temple Israel said it was closed “effective immediately.”
All three said they would continue to operate in a limited way, with some activities happening online or by phone.
A joint statement from local Jewish groups called for people to practice “social distancing.”
“We are taking proactive measures in our synagogues and organizations, including suspending large gatherings and non-essential small gatherings in our physical spaces. We remain committed to finding alternative ways for our communities to feel connected,” said the Thursday statement signed by the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), Minneapolis Jewish Federation and St. Paul Jewish Federation.
The statement continued:
We recommend reaching out to family and friends to let them know about financial, mental health, safety, and preparedness resources through our work and that of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) and Jewish Family Service of St. Paul (JFS).
We recommend reaching out to neighbors to check in and help those who might not be able to afford or access food and medicine. This is also a time to work with other communities to enhance security, address misinformation, dispel rumors, and fight prejudice and bigotry that make our whole society ill.
Local Jewish organizations have been cancelling events, from seders to senior fitness activities, in response to COVID-19.
The pandemic is also impacting funerals. According to Beth El, “the Minnesota Rabbinical Association in conjunction with Hodroff-Epstein Memorial Chapels, has decided that at this point, all funerals will be graveside and limited to immediate family.”
Earlier this week, a conference call was organized by the Minneapolis Jewish Federation to discuss the virus. The call was billed by the federation as an opportunity for “community leaders” to get together so that “any future community response is as effective and seamless as possible.”
JCRC Director of Community Security Dan Plekkenpol, who was on the call, told the Jewish World that “we discussed the current status of the virus and covered precautionary actions recommended by the CDC that our community can start to engage.”
When it comes to giving advice on how to stay protected from the virus, Plekkenpol said, “The tips that the JCRC has been distributing are all located on the CDC website. We are adhering to their leadership in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Health.”
The CDC recommends that you avoid contact with sick people; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; stay home when sick; cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue; wash hands frequently; and clean and disinfect ” frequently touched objects and surfaces.”
Across Minnesota, 14 people had tested positive for COVID-19 as of today, according to the state Department of Health. Nationwide, there were 1,629 cases.
Synagogues shut down
Shir Tikvah leaders said they will close for two weeks following Shabbat services at 8 p.m. tonight.
“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,” Lead Rabbi Michael Adam Latz, Board President Bruce Manning and Executive Director Alison Olig said in a statement Thursday. “We will re-evaluate the closure as we have more information.”
Shir Tikvah said it wouldn’t offer Saturday morning services during March and that Friday night services would be available online. “We are figuring out the technology right now. We will send more information as soon as we have it,” the statement said.
The Reform congregation’s religious and Hebrew schools are closed and won’t reopen until April 12 at the earliest. B’nai Mitzva tutoring will continue in some capacity, while pastoral care will be done “via phone or an alternative capacity.” Shir Tikvah said to call the emergency line when it comes to “funerals, shivah and other life cycle events.” Employees will work remotely as much as possible and continue to be paid.
Beth El announced similar steps Friday in an effort to “best support the physical and spiritual health of our congregation and the broader public.”
In an email, the congregation said it was making the changes “out of an abundance of caution and our moral obligation” while noting that we are currently not aware of any diagnosed cases of COVID-19 within our congregation.”
Beth El said it would prepare “to close the synagogue building to daily operations” after observing Shabbat as normal on Saturday, March 14.
“We will share information on upcoming Shabbat services in the coming days,” the email said.
As part of the changes, B’nai Mitzva tutoring will move to “an online format.” The Aleph preschool will close from March 16 through April 17. The USY and Youth Programming won’t be meeting in the building.
However, daily minyan “will continue to gather as usual and be available via live-stream at 7 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.”
Regarding “lifecycle events in the coming weeks,” Beth El said they should be either postponed or limited to family members only.
Business operations will continue, Beth El said.
Temple Israel said today it was closing “effective immediately” through the end of March.
“Starting tonight, we ask that you do not come to Temple for services,” Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman said in a statement posted on the Reform shul’s website. “Shabbat services will be available on our website. In addition, a reading of the Kaddish list will be posted every Friday on our website with names for the upcoming week.”
Zimmerman said the temple could re-open on April 1 “but we will re-assess as we get closer to that date.”
“At times like these, connecting with our Jewish community feels even more meaningful, and we are looking into various ways to keep connected with you via our website, social media, telephone, and other remote offerings,” she said. “Right now, it is our responsibility as a values-driven community to do as much as we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our congregants, friends, and all those around us.”
Jewish organizations have been cancelling public events, including Passover seders.
St. Paul-based nonprofit Jewish Community Action said Wednesday it was cancelling its annual “Freedom Seder” that was set for March 15 at Mount Zion Temple. Gov. Tim Walz was going to appear.
“We are living in stressful times, and it feels like we need affirming gatherings more now than ever,” JCA said.
“However, it is becoming increasingly clear the responsible decision as we grapple with the COVID-19 virus is to limit our in-person large gatherings and take steps to mitigate the spread of infections in our communities.”
JCA said it was working on a “virtual Seder” to include remarks from Walz and others.
Or Emet also cancelled its Humanistic seder set for April 11.
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 talk, “Judaism in the Qur’an,” set for March 24 at Shir Tikvah.
Temple of Aaron Synagogue announced the cancellation of “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,
The Sabes JCC said it was cancelling events “based on recommendations limiting large gatherings,” including Jewish Community Day at Mall of America, which was scheduled for April 19, and “TRYmester: Jewish Fertility Journeys Out Loud,” set for March 22.
Many senior programming and fitness activities were cancelled as well.
The Sabes JCC said it was adding staff hours to spend “more time disinfecting commonly touched surfaces such as door handles, push bars, elevator buttons, Mezzuzot and other such areas.”
The fitness center will remain open during normal hours.