Dear CBI Community,
This has been an extraordinarily difficult and painful time. We all dream of the day when we can safely gather in person again. And, epidemiologists are clear that SARS-CoV-2 (aka covid-19) will not disappear quickly, and our journey to safely gathering in person again may not be linear. All we can do is listen to scientists, do our best to plan prudently for a couple of months at a time, and build flexibility into every plan.
The document that follows draws on the most recent guidance from the CDC and the White House, and — connecting this guidance with Jewish teachings and values — imagines what community activity at CBI might look like in months to come. Again, we expect that progress through these stages will not be linear. We anticipate moving back and forth through these stages of openness in response to the public health situation.
Our Guiding Jewish Values:
- Pikuach nefesh – saving life. We will prioritize the safety of staff and congregants, and the safety of those most vulnerable to infection, as well as the general public health, in accordance with this core Jewish value.
- Savlanut – patience. We will “open up” as slowly as we need to, even though our hearts yearn for connection. We will cultivate patience as we walk this path.
- Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh – We are all responsible for one another. We act in accordance with this value always.
A note on singing: There is still a lot we don’t know, and research is ongoing. However, several studies suggest that the aerosolized particles released when we sing are significantly more than when we talk, and cannot safely be contained with a cloth mask. This may mean that until we have a widespread vaccine, we will not be able to sing when a group is gathered, even to chant aliyah blessings. We will discern when we should gather in person and abstain from singing, and when we should gather online where we can hear individual leaders sing and each sing in our own homes.
We know that scientific understanding of best practices will change over time, and our understanding of the science will change. Here is how we are thinking and planning at this moment.
Stay safe. During this time of physical distancing, we carry each other in our hearts.
The CBI Board and Rabbi Rachel
Guidelines for Gathering
Version 1.0 – Ratified by the CBI Board on May 22, 2020.
We are here now:
PHASE ZERO: Safer at home
- All gatherings (services, classes, committee meetings) take place online, streamed from individual homes.
- Staff meetings are online or via phone.
- All individual appointments are online or via phone.
- Minimal, drop-in staffing sufficient for essential operations (deposits, mail processing, etc).
- We presume that we will need to offer High Holiday services in a new way this year, to be experienced from the safety of home.
PHASE ONE: Very small groups (up to 10 with distancing and facial masks) – start date TBD by CBI Board
CDC / White House Minimum Criteria for Phase One:
- Downward trajectory of influenza-like and covid-like symptoms reported within a 14-day period;
- Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period;
- Downward trajectory of positive cases as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests);
- Hospitals can treat all patients without crisis care;
- Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers.
Summary: All vulnerable individuals (e.g. elderly, immunocompromised, those with preexisting conditions) should continue to shelter in place. When in public (including parks and outdoor recreation areas), all individuals should maximize distance from others and wear PPE. Social settings of more than 10 people should be avoided. Non-essential travel should be minimized, and individuals should isolate following travel.
Guidelines and Expectations for CBI Community Life during Phase One:
- Continue holding online services.
- Committees and other groups continue to meet online.
- Limit in-office functions to essential operations; encourage tele-working. If more than one person needs to be in the office, coordinate schedules to avoid overlap as much as possible. If not possible, then all should be wearing masks. Make sure that surfaces, including the phone, are regularly sanitized.
- Communal kippot and tallitot will not be used if we gather for a 10-person lifecycle event (though people may bring their own personal items).
- Communally used chairs should be a hard surface for proper disinfection (i.e. we will use blue stackable chairs rather than upholstered chairs).
PHASE TWO: Groups of up to 50 with distancing and facial masks – start date TBD by CBI Board
CDC / White House Minimum Criteria for Entering Phase Two: The region satisfies the original gating criteria a second time, at least fourteen days after beginning Phase One, and there is no evidence of a rebound.
Summary: All vulnerable individuals (e.g. elderly, immunocompromised, those with preexisting conditions) should continue to shelter in place. When in public, including public outdoor spaces, individuals should maximize physical distance and wear PPE. Social settings of more than 50 people should be avoided. Non-essential travel can resume.
Guidelines and Expectations for CBI Community Life during Phase Two:
- During Phase Two, lifecycles can take place with careful attention to the following:
- The total number of people must be under 50, including family, guests, and staff.
- Social distancing must be observed.
- Guests from out of town — i.e. a different viral environment than northern Berkshire — may participate only virtually.
- All present must wear masks.
- We will carefully attend to the most current guidelines on singing/ chanting. Our guidance right now indicates that these are not safe.
- There will be no oneg or kiddush.
- During Phase Two, services may be streamed from the CBI sanctuary with up to 50 congregants present in person under the following conditions:
- 20 people can socially distance in the small sanctuary; for larger groups, we will open the walls.
- Everyone present must wear a mask.
- Whenever possible, gatherings will be held outside or windows and doors will be propped open to increase air flow.
- Chairs will be spaced such that those who live together may sit together, with at least 6 feet of distance between each household.
- We recognize that in-person gatherings will still carry too much risk for many of our members in this phase, so we will continue streaming.
- The best information we have as of this writing indicates that singing poses a particular risk by creating aerosols that carry the virus a significant distance and remain suspended in the air for a significant period of time. A cloth mask is unlikely to be enough to protect us. Therefore, we will not sing yet when a group is gathered.
- There will be no food served, and no mingling after the service.
- Both the parsha and the blessings will be read and not chanted. Distance should be maintained during aliyot.
- Communal siddurim, kippot, yad, and tallitot will not be used (though people may bring their own personal items).
- Communal chairs must be a hard surface for proper disinfection (i.e. we will use blue stackable chairs rather than upholstered chairs.)
- During Phase Two Generally:
- Small groups can meet in person or online, as long as distancing can be observed and PPE can be used.
- Regular office functions can resume while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, or employees can continue to tele-work. Continue to sanitize the building. Pay particular attention to high-touch surfaces and handwashing.
- Individual meetings with the rabbi could resume from appropriate social distance and wearing PPE, or could continue via Zoom.
- Working groups / volunteers could meet in person while wearing masks and maintaining distancing, or continue meeting online.
- Post signs indicating symptoms and urge people to stay home/seek medical attention if they have symptoms.
- Maintain a good stock of tissue, soap, hand sanitizer and disposable paper towels for drying hands.
- Clean the building regularly, paying extra attention to high-touch surfaces.
- If we become aware of someone in the community or a building user infected with COVID-19, we will put our communication plan into action, and cooperate fully with contact tracers.
- For higher risk individuals, e.g. people over 60 and those with underlying conditions, the risk during this phase is still significant. We recommend that these individuals, whether staff or congregant, continue to shelter in place.
PHASE THREE: Groups of More Than 50 – start date TBD by CBI Board
CDC / White House Minimum Criteria for Entering Phase Three: States and Regions that show no evidence of a rebound and satisfy the gating criteria a third time may enter Phase Three.
Summary: All vulnerable individuals (e.g. elderly, immunocompromised, those with preexisting conditions) should continue to socially distance. Low-risk individuals should consider minimizing time spent in crowded environments.
Guidelines and Expectations for CBI Community Life during Phase Three:
During Phase Three we expect to return to more or less “normal” operations. Per Massachusetts guidelines, we presume that some distancing, vigilant monitoring, and robust hygiene practices will be a part of our “New Normal.”
We hold out hope that a vaccine will be identified speedily and soon, and that it will be made immediately available to all, so that we can return wholly to interacting without fear of causing harm to each other or to ourselves.
NOTE FOR ALL PHASES: Remember that progress through these phases may not be linear. We might move to a more relaxed phase, then see a resurgence of cases, and tighten restrictions again for a time.
We are indebted to Rabbi Joshua Lesser and Congregation Beth Haverim, on whose congregational document this one is modeled.
- Opening Up America Again (from the White House)
- The Plan for Reopening Houses of Worship After the Coronavirus Crisis
- CDC Outlines Guidance for Reopening Church
- CDC Guidance for Reopening Schools, Child Care, and Summer Camps
- The Risks – Know Them – Avoid Them
- The coronavirus pandemic and aerosols
- Singing, the Church, and COVID-19: A Caution for Moving Forward in our Current Pandemic
- Statement of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis regarding the Commonwealth’s Phase I Re-Opening Plan, May 19, 2020
- CCAR / URJ Guidelines on Values-Based Decision Making: Returning to In-Person Gatherings During the Covid-19 Pandemic , May 12, 2020
- Rabbis: Synagogues Should Be The Last Places to Open, The Forward, May 2020.
- Why Getting the US Back to Normal in the Next Couple Months is a Fantasy. PBS NewsHour, April 20, 2020.
- The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead. New York Times, April 18, 2020.
- COVID-19: Now I understand King’s truth of the ‘inescapable web of mutuality’, Zachary Helton, Baptist News Global, April 21, 2020.
- Leaders, It’s Time to Ask Critical Questions About the Post-COVID19 Church. John Thornburg, United Methodist Insight, April 14, 2020.