Progressive shuls stay online
The South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR) has made the decision to recommend that its progressive shuls remain closed for the time being.
“The Jewish value of pikuach nefesh [saving a life] has the highest value in Jewish tradition, and the safety of our community is our primary concern. Until it’s safe to gather in numbers, we will continue to offer online services on Zoom and Facebook for all congregants,” says Rabbi Julia Margolis, the chairperson of the SAAPR, and the rabbi of the Bet Luria congregation in Johannesburg.
“When arranged with individual rabbis and in accordance with strict COVID-19 protocols, some life-cycle celebrations may take place outside synagogue buildings. We look forward to a time when we can all be together, safely, once more,” she says.
Rabbi Greg Alexander of the Cape Town Progressive Hebrew Congregation (Temple Israel), says the rabbinic team are offering to officiate at life-cycle events via Zoom, “as this is the safest way of celebrating the milestones of one’s life without endangering family and friends. Should celebrants wish to have in-person ceremonies, then the event must take place outdoors and only close family that are living in the same household bubble – limited to five individuals – may be present with the officiating rabbi. All present must strictly observe COVID-19 protocol throughout the ceremony, including the wearing of masks, sanitising of hands before and after any instance of contact, as well as observing social distancing between themselves and the rabbi, who will sadly not be able to offer hugs or handshakes.”
In the interests of pikuach nefesh and to avoid super-spreader events, the organisation strongly urges celebrants “not to host gatherings for in-person seudot mitzvah (celebratory meals)”, Alexander says.
“Even though the infection numbers are, thank G-d, dropping and it looks like the second wave is passing, we are still in the middle of a pandemic and it’s not the time for people to relax their guard. If there’s anything we can do to keep ourselves and our community safe, we should do it and be as creative as possible in helping people to connect to their rabbis and shuls online, and where possible, in-person.”
Margolis says the same protocols will be implemented in Johannesburg and elsewhere in the country. “We are a united movement,” she says.