To Our Beloved Shuls:

We are deeply moved by the devotion and dedication of our incredible community as we have together navigated this health crisis with faith and perseverance. The virus which has sickened so many and temporarily suspended our public communal functions has been met with countless acts of chesed and private service of Hashem.

We are extremely grateful for your strict adherence to social distancing guidelines, which we believe has saved lives within our neighborhood. The medical professionals with whom we regularly consult have lauded our shuls for the seriousness with which we have acted to minimize our exposure to Covid-19.

Throughout the pandemic these past two months, we, the rabbis of the Vaad, have had many Zoom conferences and have communicated almost daily by phone and email to discuss numerous aspects of our new reality, and received counsel from an experienced team of physicians affiliated with numerous area hospitals.

Due to the substantial downward trend of infection and decreased levels of hospitalization in Middlesex County facilities, these same professionals have given us strong indication that we may likely have reached a local risk level low enough to begin limited minyan gatherings. The Governor’s executive order earlier this month had already permitted properly outfitted and spaced “gatherings of 10 persons or fewer,” making it legal to form minyanim in the State. We had refrained from acting on this in an abundance of caution, as advised by the doctors. Today, the Governor permitted public gatherings of up to 25 people.

We are thrilled to announce that our shuls will very shortly begin to phase in minyanim. While we are leaving it to the individual shul’s discretion to determine the exact start date and frequency of minyanim, we unanimously agree that these minyanim adhere to the following guidelines:
* outdoors on shul property and under shul auspices
* strictly limited to 25 or fewer people
* no one under bar mitzvah
* no one who has a fever or ANY Covid-19 symptoms or who has contracted the virus and is not 14 days past recovery
* no one whose physician has determined he is vulnerable to Covid infection based on age or any other factor
* participants standing at least eight feet apart at all times and wearing masks at all times
* no building use permitted
* participants bring their own siddur
* canceled in event of rain
* absolutely no food or drink served

These minyanim are a reshus, and not a chiyuv. No one should feel compelled at this time to be “moser nefesh” in order to attend one of these minyanim, if he feels his circumstances warrant more caution and protection. He should continue to daven at home until he feels that attendance would be the proper course for him.

We also strongly discourage any private minyanim from forming in backyards or street corners and implore the community to join their respective shul minyanim as we slowly and carefully reintroduce shul life back into our daily routines.

This positive step, for which we have prayed, should not be interpreted as a signal to return to pre-Covid behaviors. Instead, we ask you to continue to practice social distancing in all your interactions with others. This consistent vigilance will allow us to take future positive steps toward restoration of shul life as we knew it. With Chag Hashavuos coming, we ask you to consult your doctor before inviting others into your home, as sharing indoor spaces assumes a far higher level of risk.

Thank you for being so cooperative and patient as we all try to work together in the interests of safeguarding life as best as we can. We hope each measured step we will be taking over the coming weeks will successfully lead to a full reopening of our shuls, and to a time of complete health and well-being for all.

We look forward to your participation in our Vaad Harabonim Tikkun Leil Erev Shavuos program on Wednesday night on Zoom. May we always learn from each other and join together as one.

Vaad Harabonim of Raritan Valley.

[May 22]