London shuls to reopen for Purim

United Synagogue says six shuls will be reopening and expects others to follow


Synagogues which closed in response to the surge in Covid cases and deaths are planning a careful reopening in time for Purim.

The United Synagogue revealed this week that “there are half-a-dozen shuls which have already told us they will be reopening”, adding to its nine congregations in the London and surrounding area which have continued to hold services during lockdown.

It believes that others will follow suit, although some will reopen only for Purim. The shuls’ decisions have been prompted by the fall in infections and hospitalisations and the high proportion of older people vaccinated.

The Board of Deputies has reported 14 Covid-related Jewish funerals in the week ending February 5, bringing the total number during the pandemic to 830.

However, the latest figure represents a considerable drop on the 33 funerals reported for the week ending January 29 — and the 49 recorded for the week concluding January 15.

US communities director Jo Grose said congregations felt it was important “to allow members to hear the Megillah in person in a Covid-secure setting. We are excited to be reviewing their plans, which include drive-ins and outdoor readings.

“We continue to support those shuls that remain closed and are pleased that both they and the United Synagogue centrally will be running a wide range of programmes and live Megillah readings online so that we can all find a way to celebrate safely.”

The US highlights advice from the London Beth Din, noting: “Ordinarily, adults have an obligation to hear the Megillah in person, both in the evening and day of Purim.

“If you can hear a reading in shul or from somebody else while complying with government and US Covid regulations — or if you can read it yourself from a kosher scroll — then you should do so. If owing to Covid restrictions, it is not possible, then you should listen to one of the live recitals we are broadcasting, rather than a recording.”

US president Michael Goldstein commended the Beth Din dayanim “for working thoughtfully and sensitively with the leadership of the Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue to issue guidance which enables our members to fulfil the halachic requirements of the festival in a safe but meaningful way.”

For those staying at home, the organisation is offering a wide array of online events available through its Facebook page and the channel. There will be a variety of live Megillah readings, a Purim adventure for children, a musical extravaganza, cocktail making for young professionals and a magical contribution from illusionist and Britain’s Got Talent finalist Josh Horus.

The US is also ramping up wider efforts to help people to enjoy the festival at home — and support the many enduring hardship because of the pandemic or longer term factors.

For example, its Purim in a Box packs contain a festive breakfast of a challah roll with a selection of fillings, a caramelised onion quiche, granola, yoghurt and fruit, a scone with cream and jam and, naturally, hamantaschen.

Available for collection from six drive-through locations or delivery within the M25, the packs can additionally be ordered as misloach manot (edible gifts) for distribution to those in need or isolating. Non-US members can also purchase the packs.

Meanwhile, movements such as Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism, whose shuls have been closed, have told the JC there are currently no plans for reopenings.

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