How We Gather: In-Person and Virtual Jewish Life at Congregation Rodeph Shalom
On behalf of Rabbi Eli Freedman, Jennifer James our Director of Youth Learning, and Jeff Katz our executive director, with whom in collaboration I shared these plans at our Annual Meeting, I feel uplifted with a sense of possibility as I share with you our thinking about how we are preparing to gather this summer and fall.
With immense gratitude to the partnership of our Board of Directors and to its How We Gather/Reopening Task Force, led so thoughtfully by our visionary chairperson Chip Ellis, I share our plans that are rooted in principles of Jewish values and safety, that are sensitive to congregants, clergy and staff, and that are driven by Rodeph Shalom’s vision: Immersed in Jewish time, guided by enduring values, compelled to moral action, we create profound connections.
One Community ~ Multiple Access Options
We are shaping Jewish life at Rodeph Shalom as one community with multiple access options. There is no going back. Eager to offer in-person ways to gather, it is clear the virtual options will remain as well. The aim is not to create two communities or two schedules of activities, rather, we will shape experiences that can be accessed in more than one way. Whether experiencing a program in-person or on screen, participants will know we are all a part of something greater than ourselves.
We can finally say we are planning with optimism for potential full in-person capacity, with contingency plans for set-backs, and the understanding that everything is subject to change. Based on science and local thresholds of virus spread rate, vaccination access, and vaccination coverage, we are incrementally and with experimentation adding in-person and hybrid experiences.
Vaccination Expectation for All Who Are Able
According to Jewish values, we are obligated to our Jewish community to vaccinate if we are able. Tradition teaches “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh / the whole Jewish community is responsible for each other.” Now that vaccination is universally accessible to most age groups, Congregation Rodeph Shalom expects all congregants to vaccinate unless a health condition precludes it or unless one’s age group is not yet served by the vaccine (and we are excited for promising recent news for our youngest school-aged children!). All of us who are physically able need to protect ourselves, protect each other, and especially protect those most vulnerable to the dangers of Covid-19.
Shabbat ~ July in the Sanctuary
I am overjoyed to say we plan to return to the sanctuary for Friday evening Shabbat services at the start of July! In-person worship requires we monitor the data not only regarding virus spread and vaccine coverage but also regarding singing as a virus spreader. We are incrementally introducing more opportunities as we experiment. Weather-permitting we plan to offer more outdoor driveway mishkan service components on June 11 and June 25. Assuming data continues to progress so positively, we plan to return to the sanctuary for Friday evening Shabbat services at the start of July.
I feel so uplifted to picture us together in the sanctuary! With new infrastructure now in place to provide the virtual experience as well, please understand, the experience will be an adjustment for us all. When all worshippers accessed services in the same way, such as on Zoom, it provided an intimacy around the common experiences. The Zoom would not provide a superior sanctuary experience and would not leverage the intimacy of the single-accessed experience we have enjoyed this past year. We are preparing, both technologically and emotionally, to move to an experience that was designed primarily for the virtual viewer to an experience designed for both in-person and virtual; once again, adaptability will serve us well as we adjust to a new livestream platform.
For the Shabbat services you would like to experience virtually, we will no longer create an abbreviated prayerbook designed for Zoom. Instead, we will call page numbers. If you would like to participate on a second device or a second screen, please use this no-cost digital flipbook:
https://www.ccarnet.org/publications/resources-repaginated/# or purchase a hard-copy prayerbook:
High Holy Days
I am thrilled to share that we are planning High Holy Day services, both in-person and virtual for each service. For the case of set-backs with virus spread or vaccination coverage that could require capacity limitations, we have prepared contingency plans and we will likely offer an additional Kol Nidre Classical service; please continue to read all communications this summer in case we need to update you with modified schedules and plans.
This past year’s B’nai Mitzvah students brought light and Torah to a dark time and taught us all the true meaning of B’nai Mitzvah! Our B’nai Mitzvah services this spring remain primarily on Zoom but now with open seating capacity. By the time of the fall B’nai Mitzvah, we expect the primary service to take place in the sanctuary with open capacity and full clergy on the bimah. Families can even begin to book reception space once again for celebrations!
Berkman Mercaz Limud ~ Planning for In-Person Class
From Jennifer James’ extraordinary transformation to a zoom school to Micah Marder’s song- and service- leading to the teachers’ devotion, the parents’ commitment, and students’ enthusiasm, this has been an incredible year of learning, soul-growth, and community-building. We plan to be able to offer in-person Berkman Mercaz Limud in the fall, and have contingency plans in case there are capacity limitations at the start of the year. Our focus remains: connection, continuity, and content and the design of our return prioritizes teaching quality, teaching time, community-building, and flexibility.
Connection Groups, Adult Gatherings
Connection Groups, Small Groups, Torah Study, Caring Community and meetings will begin slowly to introduce in-person gathering often with virtual components. These smaller and medium sized gatherings are perfect places to experiment with approaches to hybrid, to serving food, and to cooking food. For the hybrid virtual components, we are developing capabilities for two-way interaction in some of our spaces.
Our professional team members have provided immense support to each other all year, helping one another to combat isolation! We have begun a return journey staggering our transition to on site on a regular basis, working towards full staff (although some accommodations) present full time in mid-June.
Our interim Cantor, Rita Glassman, has nourished our souls all year, without even meeting us in-person! We will have the opportunity to express our gratitude at the Shabbat service Friday, June 18.
Our permanent Cantor, Brad Hyman, will begin in July and has already started to plan with the clergy and become a part of the team. Please help us welcome him at his first service – which we expect to be our first service in the sanctuary – July 2!
Hank Bernstein has experienced a first year of presidency like no other. I am inspired by his clarity of thought, his perspective, his incredibly hard work, his devotion, and his Torah, and I am deeply grateful for his partnership. I am grateful to have walked through this with a senior team and a professional staff by my side who finds that challenge drives them to creativity, energy and purpose. And I am thankful for the teaching and support of our rabbis emeriti. I pray that I thank them all enough; please join me in expressing gratitude to them.
I am profoundly grateful for the connections and support this congregation has maintained throughout this pandemic. You have deepened my faith!
Please be in touch to express what is most important to you in our regathering designs: firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you soon!