Nu!? So When Are You Opening the Shul???

From the years 1978 through 1992, AT&T used a commercial jingle, “Reach out and touch someone.” It sent the message that physical touch was unnecessary and could be replicated by using the phone to communicate. For another 28 years that premise went unchallenged; cell phones offered us the ability to text, Skype and FaceTime. In our mind it truly felt like we were there. However, the past few months have proven how wrong we were.

I speak to my children and grandchildren multiple times a day and usually see them eating breakfast and playing. I watch them doing their homework or riding their bicycles. I revel in their smiles and hold back my tears when seeing theirs, but nonetheless, I can’t wait to physically reach out and touch them. A phone call is pleasant and FaceTime is even better but it’s not comparable to actually giving them a hug and kiss. A few months ago family interaction was under appreciated and today, as much as we crave and long for that physical contact, it’s not yet the time.

Thank God, as a community we are coping regardless of the hardship. We realize that for many these past few months have been incredibly difficult. Our heart goes out to those who lost family members but were unable to adequately mourn or attend the funeral. We must show concern to the many who lost their income source and are struggling to pay rent and purchase life’s necessities. We share the sadness of those unable to share in their family’s smachot and special occasions. And how do we console the bride and groom who walked down the aisle without parents, grandparents, and siblings? We commiserate with the graduate who is unable to walk down the aisle to receive their diploma. We empathize with the bar and bat mitzvah children who diligently prepared only to see their event cancelled. Yet in spite of life’s difficulties, we have managed to persevere and carry on.

Yesterday I drove by Atlantic Ave, the pulse of activity in Delray Beach (Florida), expecting the street to be empty and restaurants shuttered. Much to my shock and dismay, traffic was crawling at a snails pace and restaurants were serving customers with no care in the world. I observed limited, if any, social distancing and masks and gloves were nowhere to be seen. For a brief few moments I imagined I was glancing at a parallel universe where Covid19 didn’t exist.

I use Atlantic Ave to segue into why we collectively should have no desire to quickly reopen the shul. We must act in a manner that is logical in the short term and grasp the danger that lurks in horizon by speeding the process. We must be cognizant that new rules and regulations have to be strictly enforced regardless of the sentiment of those who strongly disagree. We have to follow the advice of the medical authorities and have confidence that our local federation, in conjunction with the rabbinical community is taking these matters seriously. New Yorkers may think of their city as the world’s epicenter but what is suitable and appropriate for New York may be inappropriate for Delray Beach. The Orthodox Union letter about when and how to open shul is important, but we must make our decisions based on the local realities.

We love our shul and we love our families, but sometimes that love requires us to do what is in their best interest even if it negatively impacts on us. I want to see my grandchildren and give them a big hug and kiss but I won’t until I should. I want to open the shul and welcome everyone back, but I won’t until I should. How long until we open? I can hear that question reverberating in my brain and yet I don’t know for sure. However, I feel confident that the question itself is beginning to change. We are no longer asking how long until we open, we are asking how soon? And with your help and continued vigilance I sincerely hope we will see each other at shul very soon.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jack Engel

P.S. I invite you to view a video recorded on Yom Haatzmaut on the dangers of opening Shuls too early.

About the Author
Rabbi Jack and his wife, Miriam have reinvigorated Anshei Emuna, a Modern Orthodox Synagogue located in Delray Beach, Florida, in the ten plus years they have been at the Shul, through their experiences gleaned from serving in pulpits in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They are advocates of a modern Orthodoxy, being open minded, yet adhering to the integrity of halacha. They believe that being an “ohr lagoyim” refers first and foremost to the entirety of our collective Jewish family.
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