Indoors at Emanu-El
You may have heard that San Francisco now allows indoor religious services in limited circumstances. It is a great sign for our City and the community’s health that the efforts to control the Covid-19 pandemic are working.
Yet, in the same Directive that allows indoor services, the Health Officer “acknowledge[s] that engaging in any gathering that includes individuals who are not part of a single Household increases the probability of transmitting COVID-19.” Thus, the Directive states that it is “strongly recommended that all people avoid gatherings including for religious or cultural services, especially indoors.” (emphasis added)
While allowing indoor services, the Directive places many restrictions and recommended restrictions when conducting them, including but not limited to:
- Singing and chanting activities are not permitted during an indoor religious gathering at this time, even while wearing a face mask.
- Face masks must be worn by all participants at all times, including clergy officiating services.
- Prohibiting any gathering or congregating before or after services.
- Recommending that institutions prohibit members of vulnerable populations from attending indoor services.
Also, both the rules and the safety environment change frequently. For example, San Francisco has been spared a “third wave,” but such an increase in infections could occur anytime, and a tightening of restrictions is always possible. Thus, long term planning remains difficult.
Current Emanu-El Position
Emanu-El is open for business. Every week we run our fabulous pre-school at the temple and conduct life cycle events such as weddings and B’Nai Mitzvah in the Courtyard. During the High Holy Days, we conducted Ark Moments for dozens of individual members and families. We’ve hosted blood drives and Census drives at the temple and now regularly stream Shabbat services from the Main Sanctuary. And we have just begun a partnership with Wilderness Torah to teach outdoor classes for our Youth and Family Education students.
Our values have guided us whenever we consider changing Covid-19 safety protocols. Values such as respect for life, following the experts in our medical community, respecting our community’s diversity, and being a positive role model have been our guide star all along.
With these values in mind, we reviewed options with clergy, staff, COVID-19 advisory team, and Board of Directors. After careful consideration, we cannot perform most religious services that are meaningful, engaging, and safe at this time.
We will not conduct most indoor services, such as Shabbat, for now. The sanctuaries are being used for memorial services, weddings: ceremonies as a backup for weddings scheduled in the Courtyard, and other religious services approved on a case by case basis. We will always follow all applicable rules and guidelines. We are also working on making the Courtyard more useful during the winter and are already in conversation with vendors.
Shelter in place while limiting the traditional ways we’ve provided services and programming has also been a time that spurred creativity. With your help, we know that the Jewish tradition is up to the challenge of providing news ways of connection and meaning.
We look forward to seeing you in and out of the building soon.
David N. Goldman
Executive Director and General Counsel
Rabbi Jason Rodich
Clergy Liaison to Covid-19 Advisory Group
Doctor Larry Rand
Board of Directors – Board Liaison to Covid-19 Advisory Group
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