This week marks a year since the first coronavirus lockdown was announced. Our community – like our country – has suffered greatly. More than 126,000 people have died in the UK, nearly 1,000 of whom were Jewish.
It has been the most challenging of my life too, both personally and professionally. It is possible that the past year has been the most challenging 12 months the United Synagogue has faced since the Second World War.
Together with the Chief Rabbi and trustees, I took the hardest decision of my career to close all our shuls. While our buildings may have been shut at times, our communities have remained open and thriving.
I have been proud of how we have responded to the crisis. Together with our communities we have supported our most vulnerable members with food parcels, collecting medicines and outstanding pastoral care from our rabbinic couples and volunteers. We have streamed hundreds of entertaining and educational programmes online. We have re-imagined religious services and brought thousands of people together virtually to celebrate our festivals.
We have learned together, laughed together, cried and mourned together and prayed together.
Now we look forward to spending time together because after an extremely challenging winter, from 29 March our members will be able to see their loved ones safely over Pesach outdoors, albeit in limited numbers. We know that many of our members have not seen their children and grandchildren, their parents and grandparents for many months and rejoice in how special these reunions are going to be.
We also know that many people are still shielding or will be separated from their friends and family. The United Synagogue has distributed 400 Seder in a Box kits this year with wonderful materials and delicious food. Thanks to funds from our recent charity appeal, we’re also supporting hundreds of United Synagogue families in need this Pesach.
We’re supporting the wider community too: KLBD has again this year compiled a list of Covid-19 guidelines allowing the use of some regular products. These guidelines are intended only for circumstances when regular supervised products are not available, or if people are in isolation and unable to go shopping or have supervised products delivered to their home.
By Pesach, thanks to the dedication of our rabbinic, synagogue and lay teams, some 40 communities will have re-opened for religious services. We know how important our shuls are to our members, providing a Covid-secure place for communal prayer, enabling mourners to say kaddish and marking bar and batmitzvahs in a cautious but joyful way. We will also continue to fully support our communities who feel it best to remain closed for the time being.
I am so excited that thanks to the outstanding vaccination programme, in-person communal life is reawakening. In line with the government’s roadmap we are charting our safe return to our cherished communal life.
As lockdown eases, we will be announcing a gradual easing of restrictions too: bringing back much-missed children and youth services, re-introducing kiddush and ultimately permitting programmes and events as before. We’ll continue to assess and be led by the data as we have done for the past 12 months.
But it is now time to prepare for, please God, a bright, engaged, healthy communal future! It has been too long. We have had too many tragedies. Hundreds of our members have lost loved ones. Many more are suffering financial hardships.
But we also have so much gratitude to our doctors, nurses, scientists, key workers, Rabbis and Rebbetzens, volunteers, friends and colleagues who have done so much to keep us safe and motivated. I wish you and your families a chag kasher v’sameach.