Judaism is obsessed with life. It is one of the most compelling aspects of our tradition. Time and again, our sacred texts exhort us to cherish and protect life. ‘I set before you today blessing and curse, life and death… Choose life, so that you and your offspring may live.’ (Deut. 30:15-20) ‘Take utmost care and guard yourselves scrupulously’ (Deut. 4:9). ‘One who saves a single life, saves the world entire’ (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a). These famous texts from both the Torah and the Rabbinic tradition make one thing absolutely clear: we are here to prioritize life, and this principle of ‘pikuach nefesh’ trumps any individual and communal concerns.
As you have read in President Sue Weinberg’s congregational letter, we are switching our congregational life from in-person services and activities to online activities in accordance with an evidence-based policy of social distancing. There is no denying that this is an anxious time for all of us, especially for those who feel vulnerable. The loss of in-person contact and of physical touch is hard and real; as is the fear of social and emotional isolation. However, we are blessed to live in an interconnected world and Agudas Achim’s leadership – myself included – will endeavor to build deep connection and relationship through virtual means, phone calls and the written word. As your Rabbi, I remain pastorally available. Over the next week, we hope to put systems in place to facilitate virtual and long-distance contact for those who desire it.
This Shabbat, services will be live-streamed at their usual times (Friday: 7:30 pm, Saturday 9:30 am) through my Rabbinic Facebook Page (which is open to the public). The link can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/RabbiEstherHugenholtz/
We will review the quality of the live-stream after Shabbat and discuss which platform is preferable for future live-streams. Due to the resources currently available on short notice, both the Friday night service and the Saturday morning service will be Reform, with the prayer book Mishkan T’filah digitally available through the following link: https://www.ccarnet.org/publications/mishkan-tfilah-for-shabbat/
In this ‘sha’at d’chak’, this ‘hour of duress’, we will waive Halakhic concerns about the ten-person quorum for prayer and consider a virtual presence of ten Jews a minyan and will recite Mourner’s Kaddish. On Friday night, I will light candles with you at the beginning of the live-stream and you are welcome to join me. We will endeavor by any means possible to continue building community as normally and as effectively as we can through digital means.
More plans around our new policy of social distancing will be forthcoming as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. Meanwhile, let us wrap our (metaphorical) arms around each other, our synagogue family, around the Iowa City/Coralville community and our world at large. If you know of anyone in emotional, practical or financial distress, please do not hesitate to inform me or the Caring Committee. In the face of this challenge, we will rise and bring light and blessing to our world.
May the ‘Rofeh Lishvurei Lev’, the Healer of the Brokenhearted, offer us grace, love, strength, compassion, diligence and solidarity.