Update on Reopening our Institutions, Shavuot, and High Holidays

Posted on: Monday April 27, 2020

Dear Friends,

As we move through Yom Hashoah, to Yom Hazikaron, to Yom Ha'atzma'ut, the progression of themes of weekly parshiyot are quite striking. We move from illness (Tazria/Metzorah) to death and then to holiness (Aharei Mot/Kedoshim). Throughout these readings, illness and death are juxtaposed with the need for spiritual readiness, holiness, and the affirmation of God as Source of Life. 

This deeply mirrors not only our experience of persecution and national rebirth, but also our own contemporary experience during this pandemic. We are guiding our communities through the anxiety, fear, and loss that accompany illness, isolation, and death by nurturing life-affirming spaces of education, prayer, and deep connection. We certainly need technology, but also ritual, mitzvot, prayer, and a deep connection to Torah and its values. "Kedoshim tihyu" is the phrase that guides us during this period -- that in the face of our mortality and vulnerability, we search for meaning and holy connection.

To that end, I want to update you on three issues that colleagues have reached out about since Passover:

Shavuot -- Our regions in Israel and Latin America are each providing opportunities for communal study before the holiday. In North America we will provide videos, study guides, and also a livestream Tikkun Leyl Shavuot on the first night of the holiday which will feature a mixture of live and pre-recorded opportunities to study Torah with master teachers. Colleagues may use the videos and study guides with their own communities before or during the holiday, begin the evening with their own virtual sessions, and/or direct their communities towards the livestream Tikkun.

Reopening our Institutions -- There is expectation and anxiety around the possibility of resuming proximate activity in our physical spaces. We have produced a short guide and reflection on appropriate Jewish values for clergy and leaders to use as they work through these decisions. Click here for a German language version translated by Rabbi Gesa Ederberg. 

High Holidays -- While we hope we will be finished with physical distancing by September, there is a strong possibility that large gatherings will still not be possible. Our congregations have already started these discussions, and the RA, USCJ, NAASE (executive directors) and CA (hazzanim) are working together to determine how we can share best practices and provide resources. As just one example, the CJLS (Law Committee) is preparing to release a paper on the use of livestreaming on Shabbat/Yom Tov in mid-May, so we can provide guidance on the use of virtual technologies during the holidays. Please send me a note with your thoughts on other resources you might need so we can provide the support you will need. 

It is inspiring to see how our colleagues around the world, and in every setting, are providing comfort, education, and inspiration to millions of people during this crisis. Our RA is here to provide YOU with support, connection, and encouragement. Please let me know how we can be helpful, and I know that while we are "physically distant," we are creating holiness in each moment and encounter.

Please accept my wishes for a meaningful Yom Hazikaron, and a festive Yom Ha'atzma'ut.

Warm regards,
Jacob Blumenthal
Chief Executive