A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 6.18.21

June 18, 2021

There is a palpable change in the air. These last couple of weeks, many of us have been shedding our masks, letting our hair down, relaxing – at least a little bit! – into summer. The pandemic is not over, and there are reasons to be concerned about a resurgence in the fall. We are perennially nervous about new strains of the virus, etc. But even if this current moment is nothing more than a short vacation from COVID, I’ll take it!

Ever since the pandemic began last March (or so), EMJC has taken a conservative approach. We were early to close the building and go virtual, and we have been cautious with regard to returning to in-person services. But the moment has arrived: tomorrow, those who feel comfortable will gather in person for the first Shabbat service since March 7, 2020. For those who are not quite ready to venture out, we will continue to hold Zoom services indefinitely.

I wanted to let people know what to expect from a “hybrid” service that will still be adhering to COVID protocols. Even in that regard, we are continuing to exercise caution. Despite the lifting of numerous restrictions, we are going to continue to observe social distancing and mask-wearing, at least this week. Some of our members are ready to come out but are expressing understandable apprehension, so out of respect for them, we’ll play it safe.

With regard to the service, here’s what you can expect: I will be alone on the bimah, unmasked. The front pews will be ribboned-off in order to maintain distance from me. Anyone who has a role in the service will perform that role (masked) from a lectern set up in the center aisle. That lectern will have a computer set up so that folks on Zoom will still be able to hear and see what’s going on. I will continue to have my computer set up on the bimah as usual, and people in the sanctuary will be able to hear the people on Zoom over the speakers in the room.

When it comes to the Torah service, we will take the Torah out (like we used to in the old days) but will not parade it around the room. People called for aliyot will recite them from the aisle. I will raise and dress the Torah. I will read some aliyot from the Torah scroll, but we will continue to have a few remote Torah readers as well. We will be transitioning back to a full in-person Torah reading over the course of the summer. One of the benefits of the Zoom service has been that it increased participation (it’s been wonderful to have so many Torah readers) and I felt that an abrupt removal of that practice would be a shock to the system, so we’ll ease out of it slowly.

For the time being, we will not be having a kiddush after services, but I hope we’ll resume that before too long.

There will be other oddities and unforeseen glitches here and there – this is all a grand experiment. But it will be wonderful for many of us to be back together in person, and I’m gratified that our Zoom community will be able to experience this as well.

To add to the festivities, we’ll also be celebrating Installation Shabbat. We’ll be installing the new officers and trustees, applauding them for the commitment they are making to the synagogue and the community. And to add even more to the celebratory nature of this Shabbat/Father’s Day weekend, tonight we will be holding the first in-person Shabbat-a-BimBom for families with children (sorry, reservations are closed, but please join us in September!). Audrey and Sally are feverishly preparing for a nice-sized gathering of families and children eager to get back to EMJC after such a long pause.

Parashat Chukkat, which we’ll read tomorrow, is an apt reading for the occasion. While the text does not state it explicitly, this Torah portion marks the transition from one generation to the next. Our sedra records the passage of 38 years in the desert: the generation that came out of Egypt is no longer. Their children have taken their place. There is a dramatic shift in leadership: Miriam dies, Moshe and Aharon are told that they will not lead the nation into the Promised Land, and the parasha then records the death of Aharon. The people are transitioning into a new stage of their national existence. The abrupt passage of 38 years provides a kind of “before-and-after” snapshot, with our parasha representing a major pivot point in the Torah – thus far, the story has been about leaving Egypt. From here on in, it’s about going to Canaan.

The coinciding of Installation Shabbat and our emergence from our COVID isolation echo this theme nicely – congregants surfacing after 16 months into a world that has changed in ways that we still don’t comprehend, with new leaders stepping up to help carry us forward. None of us knows what the near future will bring, but for now, there is much cause for joy.

Shabbat shalom um’vorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat,

Looking forward to seeing your faces (and your legs),

Rabbi Sam Levine