MARBLEHEAD – When Governor Charlie Baker announced the state was ending COVID restrictions and capacity limits as of May 29 – two months earlier than expected – it sent reopening committees scrambling to come up with plans to welcome members back to local synagogues.
As Rabbi David Meyer put it in an email to members of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead: “The Biblical poet known as Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) wrote: ‘To everything there is a season, a time for every experience under heaven’ … To which we might add: ‘A time to close down and a time to re-open.’”
Some synagogues and Jewish institutions already have reopened with some limits on capacity and requirements for masks and social distancing. Others are looking to do so in June and July while keeping some COVID safety measures in place. Shuls also plan to continue to stream services after they reopen.
“We have already reopened,” said Chabad of Peabody Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman in an email. “Attendance is such that given the size of our room, we are able to social distance and not exceed the CDC mandates. Masks are required by those who have not been vaccinated. And optional for all else.”
“Temple Tiferet Shalom is opening up in June with few restrictions,” Rabbi David Kudan of the Reform congregation in Peabody said in an email. “Vaccinated people do not need to wear masks. Others are required to. We will continue to stream services and events, with the goal of returning to normal.”
The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead planned to welcome back members without capacity limits on May 29.
“We are thrilled to reach this point in time! I want to thank our members and the JCCNS Board Leadership for their steadfast support and encouragement during this difficult and ever-changing time period,” Marty Schneer, the center’s executive director, said in an email.
At Temple Emanu-El, which has about 575 members, students and families were invited into the sanctuary for Shabbat and the 12th grade graduation on May 21.
On June 18, the temple plans to hold a Shabbat Picnic Dinner-To-Go and Outdoor Service at the front of the temple by the main entrance, with masks mandatory.
But it won’t be until July 2 when the Reform temple in Marblehead fully reopens for its 6 p.m. Shabbat services without capacity limits, though the temple will continue with COVID precautions of masks, social distancing, and plexiglass screens on the bima. There will be no congregating in the foyer. In-person Shabbat morning services will begin the first week of August.
The temple will continue to live-stream its services while working on technology to stream classes and meetings.
“I’m absolutely excited to see and be with people in worship,” said Meyer, who added that the reopening has proven to be a more complex endeavor than closing was 15 months ago.
Temple Sinai’s outgoing president, Ira Dinnes, said in an email religious services are being held in-person and on Zoom. The Marblehead temple had been requesting members to sign up to allow for adequate social distancing.
“We will adjust all policies as we see what happens with COVID as the state reopens businesses without constraints after May 29,” Dinnes said.
Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott has been holding limited, in-person services since April, according to an email from Rabbi Michael Ragozin. Shirat Hayam has been holding in-person services on Monday, Thursday, and Rosh Hodesh mornings, on Tuesday evening, and Shabbat morning bnei mitzvah, which are being held in private. Funeral services also are being held in person.
“We will re-open for regular Shabbat services in July with a special summer schedule that includes: Torah Reading and Yoga, Renewal and Traditional prayers, a sermon, and a healing service,” Ragozin said. The synagogue’s reopening committee will meet in early June to hash out the details.
“Shirat Hayam was an early adopter of live-streaming, and we are committed to high-quality, multi-access services,” Ragozin said. “We are excited to welcome people back to Shirat Hayam for an in-person experience.”
Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody has held soft openings for Shabbat with measures in place such as advanced signups, masks, and social distancing, but “this week, they will not have to sign up anymore,” Rabbi Richard Perlman said last week.
“We will no longer ask people to fill out the health form,” Perlman said. Masks usage will be according to CDC’s guidance that vaccinated people no longer need to wear them while they are recommended for those who are not vaccinated.
On July 12, all services at the temple will be available on Zoom, YouTube and Facebook, he said. As for making the quorum of 10 for a minyan, as of Aug. 8 the Conservative temple will no longer consider virtual attendees to count, as has been the case while the building was closed. Various “arms” at the temple, like the Sisterhood and Men’s Club, are welcome to meet at the shul in person.
“It looks like we are heading back in the right direction,” Perlman said.
Congregation Sons of Israel in Peabody, which has 211 members, “has not made a determination about reopening the shul,” said temple President Rosalyn Abrams in an email. “Our Ritual and Return to Shul Life Committees have been meeting on a regular basis in order to make a decision which would be in the best interest of our Congregants.” Services will continue on Zoom, she said.
Congregation Ahavas Achim in Newburyport is planning a soft opening on Saturday, June 19 with an indoor Shabbat service, according to Congregational Leader Alex Matthews and Vice President Barry Salloway. Future service dates will be announced, and the congregation is asking members to sign up in advance and will remain at limited capacity. The temple will continue its services on Zoom, and if the pandemic wanes, they expect to be at full capacity for the High Holidays. “We also recently held an outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat service, something we hope to continue to do once a month as long as the weather holds out,” Matthews said.
The JCCNS’s director of public relations and marketing, Karen Robinson, outlined what the new normal will look like, with fitness floors fully reopen, and fitness class offerings back at full capacity; a new indoor/outdoor summer fitness schedule begins June 7. Those who enter the building will no longer need to do a health questionnaire.
Masks will no longer be required in the building, but the center will urge those who have not been vaccinated to wear one. The JCC’s camps will run at full capacity this summer, and the outdoor pool has reopened with no registration or capacity limits.
Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead will continue with masks and social distancing for the rest of the school year, due to the school’s youngest students not yet being vaccinated, according to an email from Deryn Pressman-Mashin, director of community engagement and communications.
“As guidelines are constantly changing, we’ll re-evaluate this summer what next school year will look like,” she said.
Like other private schools, Epstein Hill saw a spike in enrollment due to the pandemic as public school families looked for alternatives. The K-8 Jewish independent day school will serve more than 100 students in the fall. This academic year, the school reopened for full in-person learning on Sept. 1.
“With the school’s robust health and safety protocols, there was zero spread of COVID-19 cases to date,” said Head of School Amy Gold. The school opened in the fall with 16 kindergarten students and 26 transfers, with 86 percent of the new students planning to continue to attend even as public schools fully reopen.
The Lappin Foundation of Salem, which has been holding programs virtually throughout the pandemic, also will begin in-person offerings, while also holding them virtually, Executive Director Debbie Coltin said in an email. “We are excited about meeting people in person! Our programs through June are scheduled to be held virtually.”