In these uncertain times, the rabbinic, professional and lay leadership of the Jewish community in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando Counties want to assure each of you of our entire community’s unified approach to the evolving situation around Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impact on public Jewish life. The health, safety and well-being of you who participate in any aspect of the community has always been and remains our highest priority.
The primary value of pikuach nefesh, the saving or preserving of life, is a paramount mitzvah that transcends virtually all others. From dramatic rescues to judicious precautions, care of health is fundamental in our tradition. But it is also critical to strike a balance between justified concern and impulsive fear. The only thing that can render a threat to the well-being of a community more damaging is to allow fear to obscure fact. Your communal leaders are striving to be thoughtful and measured in our responses to the challenges posed by the Coronavirus Pandemic, knowing that these approaches may be modulated in light of future developments.
Temple Beth-El, Congregation Beth Shalom, Congregation B’nai Israel, Temple B’nai Israel, Temple Ahavat Shalom, and the Jewish Federation of Florida’s Gulf Coast, have agreed to the following course of action:
1) As of this coming Shabbat and continuing through the month of April, we will all invite worshippers to stay at home and join Shabbat services via the livestream, video conferencing or other online video platforms that each of the congregations will be using. We will suspend plans to serve food publicly for the time being.
2) We are committed to reinventing ourselves to find unique ways to study and learn, to meet and conduct community business, and to enable us to remain a cohesive and strong Jewish community. Watch for future announcements from the congregation and the wider Jewish community for opportunities to engage in online learning, podcasts and webinars, interactive video conferencing and so much more.
3) Our goal is to limit the number and scope of in-person gatherings, so that only those that are necessary and of limited size and duration are held.
4) Individuals and families planning a simcha in the next two months are being asked to consult with their own rabbi to determine the best course of action.
5) Each congregation will be making independent decisions about their early childhood centers, as well as the remainder of their youth engagement programming.
We endorse and encourage everyone to follow the CDC guidelines
on hand washing, using hand sanitizer, avoiding public venues if you are sick , maintaining increased social distancing when with others, and, most importantly, taking whatever actions are needed to protect the most vulnerable populations in nursing homes and ALF’s, those aged 60+, people who are immunosuppressed or already facing other health challenges.
Having consulted with medical experts and government officials, including the Pinellas County Department of Health, we used an abundance of caution in reaching this consensus. We are committed to take steps that are known to reduce the possibility of communal transmission of the virus before the rate of infection increases to levels that will trigger mandatory government action.
Mayor Rick Kriseman (St. Petersburg) offered this message of support:
"As people of faith, it is important that we find strength in that faith during these challenging times. My administration is working diligently to monitor this rapidly changing situation -- public safety is our most important job. That is why I want to thank Rabbi Michael Torop, President of the Pinellas County Board of Rabbis, and the entire Jewish community of our county for recognizing the gravity of this situation and for being proactive in protecting their congregations.”
Finally, and most importantly, it is at times of stress and uncertainty, personal or communal, that our congregational community is a beacon of support and solace. Our tradition teaches us to care for one another at times of need, and to reach out to one another to anticipate need. This is an opportune time to check in on an elderly neighbor who lives alone or on a friend who might need a hand with groceries. So, pick up the phone…bring a smile to someone’s face with a random act of kindness… stay connected to one another, and to the Jewish Federation of Florida's Gulf Coast.
שבת שלום ומבורך!
Shabbat Shalom u’mevorach,
May this Shabbat be filled with Blessing, Wholeness, Unity and Peace!