By Lee Chottiner
Keneseth Israel is surveying its members about reopening the synagogue before deciding if, when and how to do it.
The congregation sent out a five-question survey to its members earlier this month to gauge their comfort level with returning to the building or at least gathering in person to worship.
One option the survey puts to the members are parking lot services, much like the ones megachurches are holding.
“We heard about parking church services and the like, and we had been doing online Shabbat services as well as online minyans,” said KI President Joan Simunic. “There’s been a lot of back and forth of ‘Gee, wouldn’t it be nice to get together? We’re kind of looking to see what people are thinking in general.”
The survey is merely one method synagogues in Louisville are using to determine when the time is ripe for reopening. Anshei Sfard and Chabad of Kentucky have already resumed in-person worship.
Following Gov. Andy Beshear’s directives, Jewish Louisville’s synagogues, schools and agencies shut down this past March due to the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. The community, like much of the state, began a gradual reopening in May, though most synagogues are still holding services online and their buildings remain closed.
Responding to an uptick in infections, Beshear signed an executive order Thursday requiring Kentuckians to wear masks in public, but the order is facing a legal challenge.
Among the questions the KI survey includes are:
- How do you currently feel about being inside the building for services and events? (possible answers: not comfortable going back inside, comfortable but with stipulations, comfortable with no stipulations)
- What are the things you would need to have happen in the local area and in the building to feel comfortable coming back to in person?
- Which of the following would you be interested in participating, in person, “in the near future?” (possible answers: parking lot prayer services as worshippers remain in their cars, prayer services in their building with social distancing and following CDC guidelines, prayer services on the lawn with the same restrictions; classes, programs such as holiday celebrations, games such as mahjongg and bridge, or no interest any in-person for now)
The idea for the survey grew out of a task force, including a physician and a public health expert, which KI organized in March. Simunic said the panel meets regularly, tracks pandemic updates and offers input to the issues related to reopening.
“The question is how do we do it from a practical perspective?” she said. “When you see people you haven’t seen for a while, how do you make sure people don’t shake hands and hug?”
She said the task force will offer input on the annual Big Rock Shabbat. KI, along with the Adath Jeshurun, The Temple and Temple Shalom have already decided to hold virtual High Holy Day services this year.
KI isn’t the only congregation to have assembled a pandemic panel. Adath Jeshurun has a team of physicians and attorneys to take up these questions. It includes practitioners from various specialties in the medical and legal professions. Some are from out of state. Others are not members of AJ or even Jewish.
So far, according to Rabbi Robert Slosberg, the panel is against reopening, though its preschool resumed classes on July 6.
“We’re relying on their judgment,” Slosberg said. “So far, their opinions have been unanimous.”
He said the decision to reopen, when it comes, must be based on science.
“This is a decision you can’t get wrong,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of wiggle room for error.”
The Temple also has a “reopening task force,” which includes “a diverse range of congregants, our rabbis and head of The Temple preschool,” Temple President Reed Weinberg said.
Right now, Weinberg said, The Temple is no rush to reopen. “However, we do have a well-thought-out plan for b’nai mitzvahs to be held in the building starting in August.”
Like KI, he said The Temple also is exploring the idea of outdoor worship. “We are beginning the conversation about potentially having some safe outdoor activities on our campus this summer.”
As for congregating indoors, “we are thinking ahead on plans to re-open the building and will be ready when the time is right.”
Temple Shalom’s building also remains closed, though an outdoor concert with members of the Louisville Orchestra is being planned for July 18 (RSVPs are required).
Outgoing President Dr. Rich Goldwin said the congregation is watching infection rates and will decide when to reopen based on those numbers.
“We’re just watching the statistics,” he said. “When we are comfortable that it (COVID) is not presenting an unnecessary risk, then we’ll get back to having in-person services.”