Rabbi’s Letter to Congregation

Dear Temple Israel Family:

As the concern about the spread of the Covid-19 continues to influence decisions about whether to hold face to face gatherings, your co-Presidents, Jerry and Alan, and I wanted to reach out to you to share some of our thoughts about how our congregation might best respond to this ongoing crisis.  As a Kehilla Kedoshah, a sacred community, our first thoughts are first and foremost about the welfare of our members.  We want to keep you safe even as we try to find ways to encourage and support the community that is the heart of our tradition.  As you may have already seen, our lay leaders made the decision this morning to cancel a Shabbat Shalom dinner scheduled for next Shabbat.  We are currently considering whether further cancellations are warranted in light of guidance from state and local authorities about the benefits of “social distancing” as a way of limiting and slowing the spread of the Covid-19 virus across our city and state.  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/community-mitigation-strategy.pdf

Given the number of college and event cancellations already taking place on Staten Island, we know you share our concern about what the future holds for our community in the weeks and months ahead.   As of today, we still intend to hold services as scheduled on Shabbat evening and morning.  As part of that decision, we are asking all those who choose to attend services to follow these protocols:

  1. If you are sick, please do not come to services. This applies even if you believe your respiratory illness is not related to Covid-19.  This virus presents, particularly at the beginning of an illness, in a variety of ways consistent with a regular cold or flu.  Even in normal circumstances, coming to services with a potentially contagious illness puts others at risk, including some whose compromised immune systems are threatened by ordinary colds or flus, let alone Covid-19.
  2. When you arrive for services, we are asking everyone to take the time to wash your hands according to these CDC guidelines. https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html
  3. When you look for a place to sit during services, we are asking attendees to observe the “social distancing” recommendation of the CDC by leaving extra space between themselves and others with whom they do not already share a close social relationship. Please leave a row between those directly in front or behind you as well. The CDC has recommended this distance as a minimum to protect yourself from the airborne spread of infection. See, CDC Implementation of Mitigation Strategies for Communities with Local COVID-19 Transmission (link set forth above)
  4. When you greet others in the synagogue, please refrain from hugs or handshakes. We have many ways of acknowledging and welcoming others that do not include close contact.  We encourage you to develop your own style of remote greeting and we ask for your understanding as members of the clergy and our leadership keep their distance at a time we traditionally associate with personal contact.

We are monitoring the guidance provided by health authorities as we continue to decide, on a week by week basis, whether to hold gatherings within our building.  One of the factors we will consider on a going forward basis is whether we can still gather and practice social distancing as set forth in the protocols for services.  As the situation evolves over the weeks ahead, we will always put your safety first in deciding how to respond to this extraordinary health crisis.

For now, our Sunday and Wednesday school classes are still meeting.  We ask parents to ensure that their students wash their hands upon arriving in the building and we will implement a social distancing protocol in the classrooms as well.   As always, we will be guided by the decisions of the New York City Department of Health about the public schools.  If New York City makes the decision to close the public schools, we will immediately confer to decide whether to follow its lead.  Over the next week, we will be gathering information on remote learning and service streaming although, with variable access to computers and Wifi among our membership, we will also be exploring simpler and more familiar methods for maintaining contact and community with our members.

We are also aware of how upsetting and anxiety-producing all the news about the spread of the virus has been over the past few weeks.  If you are suffering, or feeling overwhelmed, we want you to know, first, that you are not alone and, second, that we want to help.  In the belief that our tradition has something to offer in times like these, we are sharing some links to prayers we hope you will find meaningful.  First, for those who do not have a prayer book at home, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) indicated today that the Shabbat version of Mishkan T’filah, our regular prayer book, is now available in Kindle formal for only $4.99, a 50% discount from the previous retail price.  Here is the link:  https://www.amazon.com/Mishkan-Tfilah-Shabbat-Reform-Siddur-ebook/dp/B016R0HSLU/

You will also find a free online flipbook for the Shabbat edition of Mishkan T’filah at this link: https://www.ccarnet.org/publications/mishkan-tfilah-for-shabbat/?fbclid=IwAR2YWLT9ti89IHRVNdF_3qJPKdAB1T85Xy2s5ek6jNExI6MlsyLLLyEt5qI  In addition to the prayers for healing and comfort found in our prayer book, the rabbi has also prepared a special prayer for anxiety in the face of this health crisis, unprecedented in our lifetimes.  We have attached it to this email and will also post it on the Temple’s Facebook page.  We hope it will provide some additional solace, even if just to know that you are not alone.

With love and concern for each one of us,


Rabbi Michael Howald, Co-President Alan Siegel, Co-President Jerry Gross