Grapevine March 25, 2020: Pandemic prayers

The overwhelming majority of synagogues in Jerusalem were closed.

A man wears a face mask as he walks in a market in Ashkelon while Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy following the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ashkelon, Israel March 20, 2020. (photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
A man wears a face mask as he walks in a market in Ashkelon while Israel tightened a national stay-at-home policy following the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Ashkelon, Israel March 20, 2020.
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
■ In radio and television interviews last Friday, Chief Rabbi David Lau said that he was in favor of small synagogues staying open. He recalled that never before in Israel had synagogues been closed en masse. Even though some synagogues had been closed when he was a boy during the Six Day War, the majority of synagogues remained open, as they did during the Yom Kippur War and the Gulf War. So long as congregants kept the required distance from each other, he thought that they should go to synagogue services, and in places where it was anticipated that more than the limit of 10 people would attend, additional provisions should be made for them to pray separately.
The overwhelming majority of synagogues in Jerusalem were closed.

■ FOR SHABBAT observers living in the Rehavia/Talbiyeh neighborhoods and their immediate surroundings, there are approximately 20 haredi, Chabad, modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Ashkenazi and Sephardi synagogues within a 3-kilometer radius. Most were closed, but Chabad of Rehavia was open.
Its director, Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, sent out an email advising congregants that it was in their best interests to stay home, especially anyone over the age of 65 or with chronic health issues. Nonetheless, services would be held as usual, although not in the usual place.
Generally speaking because his congregation keeps growing, Goldberg conducts services at Heichal Shlomo, a couple of doors down the street, and then has a kiddush-cum-lunch at Chabad of Rehavia.
Some of the regulars are people who live alone and who don’t have many friends. The Sabbath service is their main social outlet, especially the kiddush, which is quite generous.
Aware of this, Goldberg emphasized in his email that there would not be a kiddush last Saturday, but added that anyone in need of a meal should contact him and he would try to assist.
More than 10 men did show up for the service. Anticipating this, Goldberg had put up a screen in the women’s section, half of which was given to additional male worshipers. As there were only three women present, this did not cause a problem. He also set out chairs at a proper distance from each other, and made sure that bottles of antibacterial hand-sanitizing gel were placed in both the men’s and women’s sections. Despite the congregational shrinkage, ironically, the Torah portion Vayakhel dealt with congregating to build the Ark of the Covenant, a factor which may have spurred the few congregants to put extra verve into the prayers. There’s a lot of singing in Chabad services, and anyone who didn’t see how few worshipers there were, would have been under the impression that there was a much larger crowd.
In his sermon, Goldberg noted that from what he had heard, there seemed to be consensus that the virus would abate when the weather gets warm. He linked this to the fact that Passover, which commemorates the Exodus from Egypt is in the spring. Although the Children of Israel were liberated, they still had the mentality of slaves, and needed to have a reason to celebrate, while simultaneously remembering the past. Everything is a process, said Goldberg, just as the seasons are a process. In winter, everything is stark and dark. The trees are without blossoms, the flowers don’t grow, or don’t appear to grow, but suddenly in spring, the trees are covered in blossoms, the flowers bloom and the sky is bright. It’s something that people don’t really think about in winter, because it isn’t obvious, but the process is nonetheless going on.
With coronavirus, people can only see the traumatic situation of the here and now and are not projecting into the future when the weather will be warmer, and the numbers of fatalities and infected people may decrease.
Even though he had said that there would be no kiddush, Goldberg could not let his 43rd birthday, which was the 30th anniversary of his bar mitzvah, pass without a symbolic kiddush of wine, crackers and water.
A Chabad get-together is known as a farbrengen, during which time a lot of alcohol goes around the tables.
Relating to his birthday, Goldberg said that a celebration is incomplete without family and friends, in light of which he had decided to lead a live farbrengen on Saturday night on Zoom and on Facebook


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