Thursday, April 09, 2020

With the overabundance of news on the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard enough to stay current on recent developments and determine what are reasonable precautions in your area.

When you’re an observant Jew and your routine includes a weekly 25 hour news blackout, and a shul-going experience that puts you in the middle of a crowd of people for hours, that challenge gets harder. Add to that the concerns that grow as you hear of the Vaad closing shuls and schools in Bergen County, and the perimeter placed around the Young Israel of New Rochelle, and you have all the makings of a very uncertain situation.

Here is a recap of some of the most recent developments in Middlesex County, as shul communities prepared to observe a most unusual Shabbat.

On Friday, March 13, at 1:30 p.m., Rabbi Steven Miodownik of Congregation Ahavas Achim of Highland Park sent out a message to shul members:

“This morning I was all set to compose a letter to the shul explaining that we would be open for Shabbat minyanim only with a series of precautions in place to mitigate possible spread of COVID-19. However, based on new information from trusted medical professionals and policies adopted by respected halachic authorities, we are moving to close Ahavas Achim for all minyanim and shiurim this Shabbat…, out of basic concern for human life, it would be dangerous to expose large numbers of people to each other in shul.”

The message continued, “I am imploring you to not form private minyanim in homes or congregate in groups of adults or children. Even those who feel perfectly healthy may unknowingly be carriers of the virus and could chas v’shalom spread it to those who are vulnerable.”

The Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth sent out an update to members on Thursday night, March 12:

“The COVID-19 crisis is evolving rapidly, and as a community, we must take critical and decisive action...To that end, we are suspending all shul gatherings from Friday, March 13, at noon. That means:

  1. 1. There will be no Shabbat services.
  2. 2. There will be no daily minyans.
  3. 3. There will be no gatherings, such as classes or meetings.”

The message continued, “In this unprecedented and urgent situation, we simply do not know when the resumption of normal activity will take place. We will continue to communicate with the congregation through phone messaging, emails, and also through video platforms. We plan to provide learning and worship experiences on these platforms as well.”

Congregation Etz Ahaim of Highland Park also sent out a message, on Friday, March 13, at 1:50 pm:

“As we have all seen with the various closures in New York City, its suburbs (including Northern New Jersey) and, starting today, in our very own Highland Park, the advice from healthcare providers and government officials is clear: socially distancing ourselves from one another is the best way to slow the spread of COVID-19. In light of that advice, we are writing to inform you that, effective immediately, and until further notice, Congregation Etz Ahaim’s building will be closed due to the ongoing situation with COVID-19. All congregants should pray at home. There will not be any services nor any classes in the building until further notice.”

The Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva (RPRY) in Edison will be closed for the next week and transition to distance education (online learning). The school plans to reassess its policy at the end of the week.

As Rabbi Daniel Loew, head of school, announced in an email to the school community on Thursday night: “Initially, we are closing for one week. We will continue to consult with Dr. Frank and state and local health authorities in order to determine our status for the following weeks...Remote teaching/distance learning will begin on Tuesday, March 13. Please look forward to emails from each of your child’s teachers detailing their plans.”

On Thursday afternoon, March 12, the Young Israel of East Brunswick announced in an email to its members: “Beginning this week, and until further notice kiddushes are not occurring anywhere in the shul, seudah shelishit should be eaten at home and will not be served at shul, youth groups are on hold (we respectfully ask families to only bring children to shul if they can sit attentively with their parents), and all weekday minyanim and shiurim will occur in the main sanctuary, while Hashkama will remain downstairs (please attempt to allow distance between yourself and the next congregant).”

On Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the shul announced the decision to close until further notice.

In his message to the congregation, Rabbi Efrayim Unterman implored: “Please don’t miss a single davening! Daven mincha and kabbalas Shabbos tonight at 6:50 p.m., shacharis tomorrow at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., and mincha tomorrow at 6:35 p.m., just like we would have if we were open. We may not be gathering in the same room, but we can still daven ‘together,’ and Hashem should hear our prayers and answer them.”

The Lefkovits Family Park Mikvah in Highland Park announced to the community on Thursday afternoon, March 12, that it would remain open. To minimize the risks of exposure it will be cleaning preparation rooms between each use, filtering the mikvah pool daily and chlorinating it, and encouraging women to make appointments and pay via the website to decrease contact with others.

By Harry Glazer