More United shuls shut their doors: Only nine still holding in-person services in London area

Difficult decisions taken by local leaders in light of general rise in Covid cases


More United synagogues have taken the decision to abandon physical services in the light of the general rise in Covid cases.

As of Wednesday, just nine remained open in London and Herts — Hendon, Edgware, Finchley, Golders Green, Hampstead Garden Suburb, Highgate, Kingsbury, South Tottenham and Radlett. Its shuls in Birmingham and Sheffield were also open, although the US suggested that Sheffield was likely to cease in-person services.

Five of the remaining London area nine are within Barnet, where the council has sent a letter to places of worship signed by its leader and director of public health recognising the “important role” they play.

The council’s current position was that “we will not be asking local places of worship to close. However, we would strongly encourage that all sites ensure that Covid-19 secure assessments are in place.”

It also urged that “those responsible for the places of worship consider the risk to their congregations and staff [taking into account age, clinical vulnerability, local infection rates and rates within respective congregations] and strictly follow the rules.”

The council subsequently told the JC that “to support safe prayers, we are offering lateral flow device tests [rapid tests for asymptomatic residents] to all places of worship on a voluntary and pilot basis”.

According to the US, its synagogues with larger space are reporting attendances of between 15-20 on weekdays and 20-40 on Shabbat (some are holding two services in the morning). Smaller shuls are getting up to 15 people on weekdays and 15-25 on Shabbat.

“So for a Shabbat morning service, even if it’s a ‘bigger’ one of 35 people, it’s 35 people sitting in a shul that has capacity for 900. There is plenty of space to socially distance.”

US chief executive Steven Wilson pointed out that “the government has deemed places of worship an essential service and sufficiently safe to remain open.

“Government data shows the risk of transmission in places of worship is extremely low.

“As an additional precautionary measure, we have required our shuls which remain open to reduce their capacities.”

Maintaining physical services enabled “mourners to say kaddish and families to celebrate a bar- or batmitzvah in a very limited way. The situation is changing daily and we continue to monitor it, supported by the Chief Rabbi, United Synagogue trustees and scientific advisers.

“It is not impossible that all shuls will need to close again and we will continue to act responsibly to support our members, as we have done for the past year.”



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