Rodeph Shalom Values for Future Phasing In and Reopening
By Chip Ellis, RS Board of Directors

These Rodeph Shalom evolving reopening values and plan guidelines set out possible parameters for our operations over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have been following difficult social distancing mandates and look forward to a relaxation of these rules. However, there is still much uncertainty. Accordingly, our specific path to reopening is still under design. We will continue to remain flexible in our approach as new information becomes available. We hope to learn from others in regions that open up prior to Philadelphia.

Specific timelines for resuming various Rodeph Shalom activities – ritual & lifecycle events, office work, Buerger Early Learning Center, Berkman Mercaz Limud, Post B’nai Mitzvah, adult education and other programing, rentals and other activities — depend on not only the relaxation of local, state, and federal restrictions, but also the advice of public health experts and remain unknown. As these various activities carry different risks and benefits and have different mitigation factors, we will be planning a phased approach to reopening. We will be continuing to evaluate the risks, benefits, and mitigation factors in developing and executing our reopening plans.

Guiding Values

As Jews, we believe that there is no higher value than pikuach nefesh, saving a life. We are entrusted with the holy responsibility of being God’s partners in that work. Halachah places guarding one’s life and health above political and economic considerations.  According to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5):

“Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if they destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if they saved an entire world.”

A task of this magnitude must be informed by a set of clearly articulated and shared values:

  • We will fulfill our Congregation’s Vision. Our Vision remains unchanged, even in a changed environment.
    • Immersed in Jewish time  
    • Guided by enduring values
    • Compelled to moral action
      We create profound connections
  • The health and safety of our Rodeph Shalom community is paramount.
  • Although there are times when regulations may not apply to a House of Worship, Rodeph Shalom will consider a higher standard; we are not seeking to take advantage of these exemptions when offered.
  • Science and pragmatism will guide our decisions.
  • We will be flexible and innovative in the face of evolving circumstances.
  • We will provide inclusive and equitable solutions that address our diverse Rodeph Shalom community.
  • We will heed our responsibility to ensure the Congregation’s financial strength and stability. 

Our Plan Guidelines

Rodeph Shalom has a significant percentage of active members who are considered to be high-risk under government guidelines either because of age, health conditions or both. Further, we will take into consideration the health of household members of those in the Rodeph Shalom community impacted by our reopening decisions. Therefore, we will be quite cautious before making any reopening decision. 

Protecting our members, clergy and staff is the starting point for each reopening decision. Just as much, it is doing our part for the city and the world. When and how we resume our in-person activities will be dependent on mitigating practices available, including social distancing, personal protective equipment, physical barriers, and the use of technology.

For example, we have already provided the New York State Department of Health’s “Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfection for COVID-19 For Houses of Worship” to our Casino custodial vendor.

We will embrace fully the challenge and opportunity of exploring new ways to continue our Rodeph Shalom Vision as the circumstances evolve. The path of this pandemic is not linear; indeed, it will require us to be flexible for quite some time. We will prepare for multiple scenarios and be innovative.

Members, clergy, and staff will be integral to shaping and implementing our plans to reflect the full range of our community’s needs and interests. The approach we take will be thoughtful and attentive to the disparate impacts of the pandemic on members of our community.

The reopening decisions ahead of us will require our utmost imagination and adaptability, as well as patience with and compassion for each other. The success of our response to this pandemic will have lasting effects on the Congregation. We must be mindful to make decisions that not only help us weather the present crisis but also position us for sustained excellence.

As we continue on our sacred journey, we will meet this challenge and have the opportunity to come out of this experience as a stronger Congregation. 

Future Steps: Continue to develop our detailed implementation approach to execute the plan for each phase:

  • Leading services in the sanctuary
  • Leading services in the sanctuary with congregants present
  • Opening the Buerger ELC
  • Conducting in-person Berkman Mercaz Limud
  • Rentals – ranging from moderate attendance to large attendance including Gay Bingo
  • Staff returning to the office
  • Meetings with more than 10 attendees
  • Meetings with less than 10 attendees


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