Dear Members,

We know that with Premier Ford’s announcement on Monday, June 8, permitting houses of worship to reopen to 30% capacity, many of us are eager to hear when we can once again have in-person Shabbat services at Darchei Noam. You will likely hear soon that in the coming days a few synagogues in the GTA will be reopening for services. The Security and Emergency Preparedness Committee, the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors and our rabbi have reviewed currently available information. We have determined that we are not yet ready at Darchei Noam to resume holding services until such time that current restrictions are reduced further, the steps referred to below are taken and we are completely satisfied that it is safe to do so. We would like to share with you how we arrived to that conclusion.

We are in agreement with the statement issued by the Toronto Board of Rabbisand the joint statement from Reconstructing Judaism and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, both of which urge patience and caution in considering how and when to reopen.  In addition, our Security and Emergency Preparedness Committee will take its direction from two sources in determining our own protocols:

  • Toronto Public Health
  • Toronto Jewish Community COVID-19 Task Force.

This task force steering committee is headed by:

  • Dr. Chaim Bell (Professor of Medicine and Health Policy Management and Evaluation, University of Toronto; Chief of Medicine, Sinai Health System),
  • Dr. J. Ari Greenwald (Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, McMaster University; Emergency Physician, Hamilton Sciences and Mackenzie Health; Medical Director, Hotzoloh Toronto)
  • Dr. Barry Pakes (Assistant Professor, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto)
The task force has committee leads and members that represent a wide array of expertise on issues related to COVID-19.  All task force members are involved in Jewish communal life, including many who are involved in synagogues of various denominations. In addition to their medical expertise, they also understand the needs of the Jewish community.

We believe that when it comes to our responsibility towards pikuach nefesh, preserving life and not taking irresponsible risks with people’s health, we must exercise the utmost caution.  Therefore, when either Toronto Public Health or the Toronto Jewish Community COVID-19 Task Force is stricter than the other, we will follow the stricter guidelines, subject to taking the steps outlined below.

At the end of last week, Toronto Public Health published COVID-19 Guidance for Reopening Houses of Worship.  In addition, the Toronto Jewish Community COVID-19 Task Force published Guidance for Safer Minyanim During COVID-19.  Some of the protocols in these documents include:

  • Allowing attendance for the service only, no gatherings before and after.
  • Social distancing maintained at all times.  People enter the building, go directly to their seat, and leave immediately after services.
  • Everyone must wear a face covering. Anyone leading services or otherwise taking part must continue to wear a face covering while leading services.
  • No congregational singing.
  • Excluding from attendance children, anyone over age 70 and several other groups of people.
These are only a few of the extensive guidelines provided in these 2 documents.

We believe that with the restriction of only allowing for 30% capacity, even if we continue to simultaneously stream our services on Zoom, we are creating a divide between those who could attend and those who could not.  We believe that excluding certain populations from attending means that we would not be a complete community.  Moses, when he pleads with Pharaoh to let our people go, states that “We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters … for we must observe the Lord’s festival.” (Exodus 10:9). Since the very formation of our people, that has been the foundation of what it means to come together as a community for Shabbat, festivals, and other occasions.  We believe it is not in concert with our values to hold services in person while excluding our children, our elders and others.  We believe that having a Shabbat service with no congregational singing just would not feel like a Darchei Noam service.

Below this letter you will find information on the process we will follow to determine when we are able to resume holding in-person services again. While we know that many of us yearn for the time when we can gather again and are disappointed that it seems to be some time off in the future yet, we hope that until we can gather in person again, you will join us for our Shabbat services on Zoom.  They have been powerful, transformative and inspirational.

We would like to hear from you, with regards to reopening, what is important to you, your concerns and your priorities.  Please share your thoughts with us here [link removed].

We look forward to seeing you on Zoom and thank you for your support.

Esther Enkin,

Erez Enzel,
Chair, Security and Emergency Preparedness Committee

Rabbi Tina Grimberg

Joanna Sasson,
Executive Director

How will Darchei Noam determine when we are ready to resume holding in-person Shabbat services?
  • We will await further announcements from government officials or public health officials that current directives can be relaxed.  We expect that at such time Toronto Public Health will issue new guidelines in writing.
  • ​​​We will seek input from the Toronto Jewish Community COVID-19 Task Force.  Currently, the task force is advising that as the government relaxes restrictions, it would be best practice to wait at least 2 weeks to elapse, and to then evaluate if we feel safe to follow suit.  If this continues to be the advice of the task force, it likely means Darchei Noam will not reintroduce in-person services or any other activities until at least 3-4 weeks after restrictions are further relaxed, in order to have the time to review data and evaluate the results of the first two weeks.
  • The purview of the Security and Emergency Preparedness Committee is to advise on health and safety protocols.  The committee will provide the Board of Directors and Rabbi Tina with a protocol document outlining how services (and/or other activities) can be conducted safely in line with current recommendations from the government, public health, and the Toronto Jewish Community COVID-19 Task Force.  The Board and Rabbi Tina will evaluate if they believe holding services (and/or other activities) in this fashion are in line with Darchei Noam’s values.  The Board will also evaluate additional costs associated with reopening, such as the cost of additional cleaning staff.
  • When we are ready to propose resuming services, aspects of the plan will likely touch on how rituals can be conducted safely. The Security and Emergency Preparedness Committee will propose that from the health and safety perspective. Once the Board indicates that they are willing to proceed with the committee’s recommendations, the next step will be for the Ritual Committee to review and approve from the ritual practice perspective.
  • We believe that anyone with an active role in our services, including our Rabbi, service leaders, parnassim, Torah / Haftarah chanters and person designated to give the D’var Torah, must feel comfortable returning to the sanctuary. After the Board of Directors and the Ritual Committee approve the plan, we feel it is imperative for the plan to be presented to the above-mentioned service participants first and to hear their feedback.
  • Once the above steps have been completed, and we feel that we are ready to proceed, we will inform and gauge the interest from our membership.

[June 19, 2020]