United Synagogue tells shuls not to reopen on July 4 - unless there is a barmitzvah

US advises congregations to start with smaller weekday services


The United Synagogue has urged its shuls not to open for Shabbat on July 4, the date on which the government has said services in places of worship can resume in England.

In its latest advice to communities, the US has recommended that synagogues open initially for smaller weekday services, enabling them to “roll out the new arrangements before larger crowds attend on Shabbat”. The sole exception would be if a barmitzvah is scheduled for July 4 – “and only then if the community is confident that all measures are in place to ensure that the site is Covid-secure”.

The aim should be “to limit the number of people on our sites to a reasonable number. The fewer the people inside our buildings at any one time [even with social distancing] the lower the risk of the transmission of the virus.

“Please consider how you might spread attendance out over the course of a day, or across several sites in order to achieve this”.

The US restated its commitment to “a cautious and steady” resumption given that global evidence suggested “that places of worship have been centres of outbreaks.

“As much as we all wish to return to as close to normal as soon as possible, it is our responsibility to do so in a controlled and careful manner, particularly at the start, as we get used to implementing and managing a new way of running our communities.

It was “essential that all attendees book their place at services in advance. This is to ensure that numbers do not go beyond capacity and also to allow us to be able to contact people should a case of coronavirus be confirmed."

Equally, it was important to understand that the recent government announcement of a shift from two metres to one metre for social distancing was “not intended to be a blanket change but rather to be applied in situations where two metres [which is the ideal] is not possible.

“In our settings, the length of time spent together in services and the age profile of many of our members highlights the importance of maintaining this distance, both indoors and outdoors.  Our policy remains that two metres social distancing is required.” 

However, this would be reviewed in August following consultation with communities.

All congregants must wear face coverings indoors and shuls were advised, for the moment, not to allow children under 12 to attend services.

The advice – signed by the US’s Jo Grose and Rabbi Nicky Liss, chair of its rabbinic council – concluded that “in ordinary times, our buildings are community centres hosting support groups, educational events, social get-togethers, sports sessions, youth programmes and much, much more.

“In a Covid-secure and responsible way, we can carefully plan to restart some aspects of this broader communal provision. The messages that you share with your members ahead of opening  - particularly those that emphasise the responsibility that we all have for each other’s safety  - will be a vital part of our safe return to our buildings.”

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