Program Changes and Closures at Beth El


Dear Beth El Community,
We’re sorry to have to share the news about program changes and closures at Beth El due to the rapidly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19). In short, at this time we have suspended all on-site programming at Beth El at this time. While there are still a limited number of cases reported locally at this time, and no cases reported in our Beth El community, we have a responsibility to proactively protect the health of our members, especially those at high risk, as well as helping to limit the spread of the virus.  The Governor and the County have asked that all non-essential gatherings - regardless of size - be cancelled in order to slow down the rate of community transmission. Nearly all local synagogues, JCC’s and school districts are taking similar steps. We learn in the Talmud: “Kol Yisrael areivin ze ba-zeh – We are all responsible for/to one another.” 

The following changes will be in effect through Saturday, April 11th unless otherwise noted. 
These disruptions are an enormous, but only temporary setback for our community. We look forward to the time when we can again come together to learn, worship and celebrate as a community. 

Shabbat Services, Torah Study, Early Minyan & Talmud Study: We will not be meeting in person to worship and study during this time. Rabbi Kahn and our lay leaders are already planning how to worship and study virtually, and more information will be forthcoming. Information on how to connect via livestream and video will be provided 
Youth & Family Education: YAFE programs are cancelled starting Monday, March 16th through Thursday, March 26th. The closure will continue as planned during spring break - Monday, March 30th through Thursday April 9th. 
Special Events, Katanchicks, Chorus rehearsal, etc., (generally, programs that must take place in person at Beth El): These gatherings at Beth El are suspended through Saturday, April 11th. 
Committee meetings and other program that can take place via phone, video chat etc: The leaders of these programs should communicate with their groups and make arrangements to continue their important work via phone, video chat, etc. Beth El will support our ability to have these less-than-ideal but still very important remote connections. 
Beth El Nursery School (BENS): BENS will be closed for at least two weeks - Monday, March 16, 2020 through Friday, March 27, 2020.  BENS is not alone in having to make this difficult decision. Public school districts, including Berkeley, West Contra Costa and Oakland, have announced closures, including their preschool programs. Local synagogues and JCC early childhood education programs are closed as well.
Homeless Meal program: Beth El will provide packaged meals to-go to attendees on Sunday, March 15th, but we will not have our regular program. Volunteers will be contacted by the Homeless Meal leadership.
Other special programming and celebrations: We will not meet in-person to learn and celebrate during this time. Programming, including our Pesach celebration, are currently on hold. 

What our Jewish Heritage Teaches Us 
We learn in a famous Talmudic phrase “Kol Yisrael areivin ze ba-zeh –We are all responsible for/to one another” (literally, “All of the people of Israel are guarantors of one another” Sanhedrin 27b). This has particular relevance in this epidemic, when most people who get the virus are going to have no to minimal symptoms.  However, they immediately become vectors of transmission to others and the infection is very serious for those who are vulnerable. It is the public health and concern for others – and not just our own personal health - which must motivate us! 
As a synagogue community, we are in the business of bringing people together; telling folks to stay away or to come but keep a meaningful physical distance away is very difficult for us. We need to be guided by another Jewish value: “Asu seiyag la-Torah – make a fence around the Torah” (Mishnah Avot 1:1). This is the foundation for many historical practices, in which, “in an abundance of caution,” the standard of behavior is more stringent than the law actually requires. Moving forward, we may require  "social distancing" at gatherings, modify, postpone or cancel certain programs and events, and offer live-streaming whenever it is feasible and appropriate.

While we will continue to be guided by the recommendations of our public health authorities, there is likely to be a “gray zone” in the days and weeks ahead. We chose to cancel the Purim celebration on Monday evening out of an abundance of caution and because we didn't have the time and resources to redo our plan to ensure that we limited any possible vectors for virus transmission. Our capacity to minimize risk of transmission will inform our decisions about all our programming in the days ahead.

In the meantime, I ask you to frame any response to a decision that is announced - whether at Beth El or in the community - from an attitude of curiosity (“I’m wondering: what were the considerations here?”) and not judgement (“This decision was frivolous [and] a preposterous overreaction!’”). Everyone who is making decisions is doing so after consultation, using their best judgement and with the best interests of the entire community at heart, as we learn in the Mishnah: “Dan l’khaf z’khut – judge each person with the scale weighed in their favor.”  
As one of the symptoms of infection is a fever, let’s each do what we can to notice when we are becoming heated and then seek to lower the temperature in ourselves and in our interactions with one another. Kein yehi ratzon. - so may it be.  Amen.

Use this link to connect to our livestream of Shabbat services.