We are living in difficult times. Jewish community is built around gathering together in prayer, ritual, and relationship. And yet, during this Covid-19 pandemic, we are unable to do these things together in the ways to which we are accustomed. We have seen remarkable innovation, creativity, and lovingkindness from the individuals and institutions of the Toronto Jewish community, which have risen to meet this moment–all the while, looking forward to the day when we are able to resume gathering and celebrating our rituals together in person.
The time has not yet arrived when we can welcome each and every person back into our communal spaces. With new Ontario guidelines coming into effect on June 12, 2020 allowing houses of worship to reopen only up to 30% of capacity and with physical distancing, we reaffirm the need for patience and caution as we each consider plans for reopening our in-person synagogue and communal functions. As we begin to reopen and return to our holy spaces, we must be guided by the recommendations of public health officials.
Our main concern is for health and safety. Our tradition teaches “You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which humans shall live.” (Leviticus 18:5).
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֤ם אֶת־חֻקֹּתַי֙ וְאֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֨ר יַעֲשֶׂ֥ה אֹתָ֛ם הָאָדָ֖ם וָחַ֣י בָּהֶ֑ם
The purpose of our rituals and mitzvot are to live by them. The mitzvah of pikuach nefesh–saving a life–is paramount to all discussion of reopening. Each institution should make decisions that are appropriate both for its facilities’ capabilities and communal needs, and with strict adherence to the guidelines of public health officials.
We do not advocate to expedite the reopening of congregations, religious schools, and other Jewish community gathering places beyond what is recommended. Our gatherings, once allowed, will continue to be subject to public health restrictions, and we commit to abide by those conditions for as long as they are in force.
We know personally the sacrifices that each person has been making during this pandemic. We have, G-d-willing, many Shabbatot and holidays ahead of us to spend together in person. For now, each of our communities will explore reopening when possible, but with an abundance of caution and consideration.
To all of us, we share the words of G-d to Joshua as he charged him to lead the people into the impossible, a new land: “Be strong and have courage; do not be terrified or dismayed, for the Lord your G-d is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
חֲזַ֣ק וֶאֱמָ֔ץ אַֽל־תַּעֲרֹ֖ץ וְאַל־תֵּחָ֑ת כִּ֤י עִמְּךָ֙ ה’ אֱלֹקיךָ בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תֵּלֵֽךְ
16 Sivan 5780/June 8, 2020