This Past Year in Pandemic
What a difference a year makes! The approaching AGM marks a year since NLJC met only on Zoom. As news of corona virus spread last year we knew something was coming, but I’m not sure any of us expected to be here one year later, with stricter governmental regulations than before. A year of online community and a new Rabbi you’ve never met in person! Yet, we’ve adapted. Thanks to Zoom we’ve found ourselves creating a meaningful, online community which sometimes even has its bonuses. We are able to be joined by Suffolk, Peterborough and BKY as well as members, friends and visitors from all over the world. Online community has even meant that some members and friends who had been unable to make it to the Old Meeting House for services have now been able to join regularly online. Yet, while some of my colleagues worry that people will get too comfortable with ‘shul from home’ and our synagogue communities will suffer for it, I am in no doubt that human interaction, being able to separate space, having those natural in-between moments, and being able to eat together, laugh together, sing together and be together are so missed that the comfort of a service from home could never replace the in-person experience of synagogue community life.
Like most other progressive synagogues in the UK, NLJC has had almost no in-person activity since March last year. The decision was made partly in response to governmental restrictions and once those were slightly eased, a decision was made based around both risk assessment and values. Currently the Government guidelines allow for religious communities to meet in person under very strict regulation. Currently those restrictions include;
• Singing or chanting only be done by the service leader who must be behind plexiglass to protect worshipers.
• No mixing or mingling between households
• Any communal prayerbooks used must be quarantined for 48 hours after use
• People must adhere to social distancing.
The guidance recommends that, ‘where possible, places of worship continue to stream worship or other events to avoid large gatherings and to continue to reach those individuals who are self-isolating or particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.’
With so many people feeling the effects of the pandemic restrictions, careful decisions had to be made about what was the safest response to take. For me the Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh, sanctity of life — the teaching that saving a human life is more important than following the majority of the mitzvot — has been paramount in my thinking of how we as NLJC respond to this pandemic. Where the Government allowed for religious institutions to hold services, I asked myself, what is the safest thing to do? Just because we’re allowed does it mean we should? The restrictions limited numbers of worshipers, how do we choose amongst our community who is allowed to come and who is not? Did it feel responsible asking people to travel during a pandemic to have only a limited community experience? What would happen if, God forbid, the virus spread amongst NLJC members because of the choice to meet in person? Because of these questions and more NLJC has stayed online throughout the pandemic.
As we reach the year mark, more and more people are being vaccinated, the virus rates that sky rocketed at the end of the year are coming down and while there is still a long way to go, there certainly is light at the end of the tunnel. Until we can safely meet together again, we’ll continue to do the best we can, creating spiritual moments and replicating that community feeling through our screens. If anyone wants support in getting online please do get in touch. I look forward to the day we can meet in person again.
Rabbi Anna Posner