The following is the text of Rabbi Howald’s Video Message which was sent to our congregants last week.
Hello to the entire Temple Israel family. I am speaking from our sanctuary to share an important announcement about the upcoming High Holy Days. As many of you know, Temple Israel Reform Congregation has weathered the storms of 4 generations, each time rising stronger and more deeply connected to our history and values. This year of COVID-19 has been no different. Despite the pandemic, Temple Israel has continued to be a House of Study, a House of Prayer, and a House of Gathering for the Jews of Staten Island, only online and by telephone instead of in-person. As we approach the High Holy Days of 5781, our congregation has made the difficult decision to continue to offer our deeply meaningful and beautiful music, prayer and study online as we remain committed to make the safety our members our highest priority. At Temple Israel, we take great pride in being a caring and connected congregation. At a time when some of our members are especially vulnerable, we bear the collective responsibility to make pekuach nefesh, the preservation of health and life, our most important consideration. As our leadership discussed the best way forward, we concluded that truly living our Jewish values meant deciding to conduct service only online for the High Holy Days given the risks and uncertainties the pandemic has presented us. This decision, given the dangers of sustained gathering indoors, is the only decision that can uphold our ethical responsibilities to one another. We might be physically separated but we will still be together this coming High Holiday season in study, in introspection, in prayer and in spirit.
As a result of our congregation’s decision, our High Holy Day services this year will be different than we have ever experienced. Working together with our leadership and our student cantor, I know that these High Holy Days will be powerful, memorable, and meaningful for all of us. Our High Holy Days will combine the familiar with innovation that takes advantage of the technology that allows us to reach into the home of every member of our congregation. We will still hear the melodies we cherish, recite the prayers that make the High Holy Days so special and memorable and remember our past as we look forward to the future. Through it all, we will preserve the sense of belonging and community that makes High Holy Day services at Temple Israel meaningful. We have already begun planning services which will preserve what we love about the High Holy Days while using new technologies that will make news ways of presentation possible. Despite these technologies, we plan on making praying, reflecting, and studying together as simple as the click of a button.
Temple Israel has been the spiritual home of Reform Judaism on Staten Island, in times of both joy and sadness, for 4 generations and our congregation will continue to be there for each another into the future. Our experience together this fall will be different than we are used to, but it will also be moving, spiritual and connected to the traditions of our synagogue. What’s more, we will go through this experience together, as a community committed to the wellbeing of all our members. We look forward to sharing more information with you about the High Holy Days at Temple Israel soon. Thank you for your support, both now and in the future.
Rabbi Michael Howald