The Dance and the Dimmer Switch: Our Plan to Reopen the Building

Dear Temple Beth El Family,

I write this letter to you having just visited the Blumenthal Sanctuary. I went to record a video, check-in on our building, and retrieve a few books from my office. It is in our sanctuary and sacred spaces at Temple where we pray, where b’nei mitzvah lead our congregation in worship, where couples get married, where young children are brought into the covenant of the Jewish people, where mourners remember, where we sing songs and learn and laugh. We make memories.

We miss you. Standing alone in the empty sanctuary emphasized for me that Temple Beth El’s building has always been an architecture of possibility. Temple is more than an experience. We are a community of belonging and becoming, of support and compassion, of friendship and spiritual growth. We are who we are as a community because of you. In the face of these trying times now – more than ever – the importance of real community and connection is clear.

I want to share a message about our intentions towards reopening Temple Beth El’s building.

Many people have used running metaphors to describe this period with phrases like, “we aren’t running a sprint, but a marathon.” At Temple Beth El, we are thinking of this next period of time as much more like a dance, of shifting and maneuvering back and forth. We all wish for a linear and straightforward process in different “phases.” Reality will dictate the timeline. The phases are going to be set by how the virus responds to our behaviors and the impact that it will have on the healthcare system. Thus, any timeline we set out must be flexible.

Temple Beth El’s path, along with our Shalom Park Partners, is one of constant discernment and response. We are planning to move ahead with a reopening of our building. Yet, it’s hard to actually tell you if we will be able to have 100 person weddings in the Winter or a 50-person b’nei mitzvah in the Fall, or neither. I have instructed our Temple Beth El team to plan a few months at a time, so we can learn and evolve along with the most up to date facts, guidance from our scientists and medical professionals, federal/state and local governance, and alignment with our Park Partners. We will build flexibility into every plan that we make.

As we have already seen uncertainty sparks innovation. Crisis brings opportunity. There is something eternally true about the seeds that bloom after a forest fire, or the Renaissance after the Black Plague. Our spiritual identity as Jews has always been to encounter challenges and to look for ways to grow and change for the better.

So, what does this mean in the near term?

Our building will remain closed to the public through the month of June. Services, classes, counseling with the clergy, committee meetings and so much more are thriving online. We will continue to function in this fashion going forward. Our annual meeting will be an online gathering on June 9th. As stakeholders in our congregation, I hope you will attend and lend your voice to this important meeting and I hope you will make your My Temple Commitment pledge as soon as possible.

We will open the building slowly. There will not be a simple “Open for Business” sign on the doors with all the lights switched “on.” We are working diligently with Shalom Park. Reopening will require a building audit, developing new protocols and procedures, health and safety training for staff, and modifications to our operations.

We prefer the analogy of the “dimmer switch. When the building reopens it will initially be to prepare the building for opening and staffing, then for administrative functions, and individual scheduled meetings with clergy. Throughout, we will be coordinating with and learning from our Shalom Park partners who are also having to think through and implement these types of changes across the Park.

We will continue to embrace those who must, or choose, to stay home, even after restrictions are lifted. Just because we can return, doesn’t mean we all should or that we will all feel comfortable returning. Restrictions on gathering sizes and the limitations on vulnerable population’s participation will likely continue for a while. We pledge to continue to offer vibrant and inclusive pathways for remote participation. We imagine a future in which we continue to re-define “being together” as a mixture of those who are physically present connected with those who are every bit as present as well, albeit from a remote location. Temple is exploring what we will need to do in order to make this a reality.

We will make responsible policy-informed decisions about our programs. We had an incredible end to our Religious School year, with huge participation. We’ve had tens of thousands of people joining us for Shabbat and other learning opportunities. We know the day will come when we will be together again in our larger religious school or in youth groups, for SPICE, or for Brotherhood. Our leadership is working on these questions, heeding all health and public policy guidelines.

We will share an incredible High Holy Day season together. It is painfully unrealistic to think that this September’s High Holy Days will look like they have in the past. Our leadership is already planning for an engaging and powerful High Holy Day experience. We are investing time, energy, and resources into figuring out the best ways to engage people in the spiritual work of the season at home and in our spaces. We will continue to keep you informed as we move forward with our plans.

The Jewish community has known moments like this before. We have navigated uncharted paths through the Wilderness. We have rebuilt holy spaces. Our homes have always been a portable promise – a shelter against the storm and from which vibrant Jewish living emerges. With tradition as our compass, we have survived many moments we thought would defeat us.

Now, as always, your clergy and community are here for you. We are a family. We are a TriBE. Together, we will make it through. I am confident that we will continue to be strong, to serve our community, to teach Judaism, and to offer care and connection to all our members. And wherever we are — at Temple, or, at home, from 6 feet away or across the Zoom gallery — we are in this, together. Thank you for being a part of the Temple Beth El Family. Thank you for doing what we do best: to see one another, to support one another, to build something new and holy. It’s at times like this when we truly realize the value and necessity of community.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Asher Knight


Video Message from Rabbi Knight

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