Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion asked community leaders throughout the city to help the city prepare for prayer services on the High Holidays, while staying safe amid the coronavirus outbreak in a letter on Monday.
"In recent weeks, we have been working to formulate a special plan to facilitate the tens of thousands of worshipers," wrote Lion. "I would love to hear more suggestions for streamlining and improving the experience of worshipers in order to enable, as much as possible, the maintenance of routine."
The mayor added that the decision to create a unique plan for the city of Jerusalem was made in order to allow the city's residents "to have as normal a holiday routine as possible." Because the city is made up of a number of different neighborhoods with different characters, the municipality asked neighborhood administrators to provide the city with a list of specific needs.
"We will do our best to help everyone and allow the residents of the city to go through the Tishrei holidays and prayers in the safest way," said Lion.The nation's capital has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with large outbreaks reported in the city for the past few months, although the city seems to have shown progress in fighting the virus in recent weeks. As of Monday, there were 2,558 active cases in Jerusalem, with the city designated as an orange zone. Over 50% of those infected in the city are from east Jerusalem, according to data presented by Lion to coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu earlier this month.
The decision comes a day after the national coronavirus cabinet rolled out an initial outline for prayer services during the High Holy Days in all zones.
Prayer services can be held outside in large groups of up to 250 people who are divided into capsules of 20 people. Each capsule would need to be clearly marked and individuals should sit two meters apart unless they are from the same nuclear family.
Prayers could be held inside, as well, but only in facilities that are minimally 40-square-meters large and with people being able to stay two meters apart. Bigger facilities can hold more prayer goers – up to 1,000 – and so long as there is not more than one person for every four square meters.
The World Organization of Orthodox Communities and Synagogues welcomed a Monday decision by the Israeli government to allow High Holy Day prayer services while following coronavirus regulations.
"The new plan is important and significant, and was presented after deep thought and discussion," said Rabbi Shmuel Slotki, Director of the World Organization of Orthodox Communities and Synagogues. But "it is on us to remember that at the end of the day, human life is the thing that needs to be at the front of all our priorities, and it is upon everyone to take extra care according to what they see fit and their medical condition," he said. "These are days in which it is on all of us to glorify [the principle] 'And you shall watch yourselves very well.'"
The organization recommends that worshipers keep two meters distance between themselves and that prayer services be held in open spaces.Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.