Chizuk Amuno sent out an email to its congregational community Mar. 12 that the Pikesville synagogue will close its facility indefinitely on Friday, Mar. 13, at 3 p.m. due to the coronavirus situation.
More than 1,200 families and individuals belong to the congregation, which was founded in 1871 and is the home base of Krieger Schechter Day School, the Rosenbloom Religious School, the Stulman Center for Adult Learning and the Goldman Early Childhood Center.
The letter — signed by congregational president Sandra G. Moffett, Rabbis Joshua Z. Gruenberg and Deborah Wechsler, and interim executive director Lee Sherman — said the synagogue will move to “Chizuk Amuno online” indefinitely.
“We are following the best advice of our medical consultants and the [Centers for Disease Control] in an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the letter stated. “How fortunate we are that we live in a time when technology will allow us to gather and be close to one another even if not face to face. We will be in touch with information about virtual prayer services and classes. If you have not yet done so, now is the time to sign up for Facebook, YouTube and Zoom. Please bookmark the Chizuk Amuno website as we will still be live-streaming services and classes. …
“While the building will remain open until tomorrow, we strongly urge you not to come to the synagogue unless you absolutely need to pick up an item like tallit or tefillin. Our Schools will be sending out separate announcements regarding their own status. … Let us continue to live connected Jewish lives even as our physical facility is now closed for safety. Check in with one another. Call with personal Shabbat greetings. Facetime candle lighting and shiva visits. Judaism is built on that person to person connection, we will do this in new and innovative ways in the next week.”
The letter concluded, “Together we pray for the ill, for the frightened, for those in pain and those who wait for healing. Adonai oz le amav yitein, Adonai yevarech et amav be shalom. May God give strength to God’s peoples, and may God bless all nations with peace. L’Shalom“
The leadership of Pikesville’s Beth El Congregation announced that the synagogue of approximately 1,700 families and individuals will be closed through Mar. 22 “in our commitment to pikuach nefesh, preserving life over all else …”
A Mar. 12 letter by Beth El president Dr. Edward Mishner, Rabbi Steven Schwartz and executive director Joshua Bender said all services, Hebrew school classes and in-person programming will be cancelled at this time.
“This is a decision we do not make lightly,” the letter stated. “We also know that first and foremost we have a responsibility to ensure the ongoing safety of our members and staff. We believe that a temporary closure of the building is the best way to do that at this time. … We ask for your patience and your prayers during this unprecedented time in our community and our country.”
A letter sent out to Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s membership by executive director Jo Ann Windman on Mar. 12 stated that the Pikesville synagogue and its E.B. Hirsh Early Childhood Center will limit its activities for the week of Mar. 13-20 due the coronavirus.
“Jewish tradition teaches us to place each individual’s health and welfare as our highest priority,” the letter stated. “It is important that we gather as a congregation to study and celebrate, however, it is also important that we do so safely and wisely. After much consultation with experts within Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, leaders of other congregations, and the guidance from government officials, we have decided to curtail BHC’s activities for the coming week, effective this weekend. We take this action out of concern regarding the spread of COVID-19 Coronavirus …
“We will update you week by week as the situation progresses. Though we find ourselves in challenging times, we have great confidence in the compassion and caring that flows within and outward from the BHC community. We pray together for the health and safety of our community.”
Rabbi Ariana Katz and board president Michele Levy of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl sent out a letter to their members on Mar. 12, stating that all of the group’s gatherings “will take place virtually” through Mar. 27.
“After two weeks, when there is more information and the situation develops, we will assess the next most logical step,” they wrote. “Hinenu now has an ad hoc rapid response COVID-19 team, comprising members who are medical professionals, representatives from our executive board of directors, and the rabbi. That group made this decision in alignment with communities around the state, country, and world having to make painful choices that we hope will point towards our collective long term well being.
“At this point we have not been made aware that any Hinenu members have been exposed or contracted COVID-19, however we feel that eliminating in-person gatherings is the most responsible and prudent course of action.”
In a Facebook post on Mar. 12, Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of Moses Montefiore Anshe Emunah Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville wrote, “In order to try and limit the spread of the virus, after this week, March 14th, all kiddushes as well as shul classes and events will be stopped until further notice. If the cases in Baltimore multiply we will also discontinue Shabbos and weekday minyanim. As long as we continue our daily services, we ask those who feel unwell or who may be at increased risk to stay home. … We ask that that everyone avoid kissing communal siddurim, taleisim, mezuzot and the Torah, and avoid shaking hands or hugging.
“We pray and ask Hashem to bless us with health, to heal the sick, to keep us safe, and to bring an end to this pandemic.”
Many congregational gatherings have already been cancelled around the community, including B’nai Israel’s “Descendants’ Day” Shabbaton weekend slated for Mar. 20-22 and Beth Tfiloh’s annual Dahan Lecture on Mar. 19 featuring Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt, professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta.
“Our primary concern is for the health and well being of our multi-generational Beth Tfiloh community,” Rabbi Mitchell Wphlberg said in a statement. “Therefore, all BT synagogue events and programs scheduled for the next two weeks are cancelled. Our Crisis Response Team will reassess in a couple of weeks, in consultation with local, state and national authorities.
“Additionally, in compliance with Governor Hogan’s executive order prohibiting gatherings and events over 250 people, Beth Tfiloh is limiting attendance at Shabbat services this week,” he said. “We are asking all members to use extreme caution and err on the side of staying home. Additionally, there is data indicating that COVID-19 is particularly harmful for the elderly. We are advising our members who are 60 years old or above to strongly consider davening at home this Shabbat. To keep our BT community connected virtually during these uncertain times, we are instituting a daily email with links to online resources and other online classes.”
The Soul Center announced that its Mar. 17 program featuring author and psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb was cancelled as an in-person gathering but hopefully will be presented “in some virtual way.”
The Jewish Museum of Maryland announced it is postponing and/or cancelling all public programming from Mar. 12-Apr. 14. The previously scheduled events for “JMM Live: Jewish Folk Life Festival” featuring Jeff Place, archivist and curator at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, and Nora Guthrie, daughter of folk icon Woody Guthrie, were rescheduled for June 10 and June 14, respectively.
The Bais Yaakov School for Girls indefinitely postponed its Women’s Gala Event scheduled for Monday, Mar. 16, at Martin’s West due to concerns about the coronavirus. “The anticipation for this special evening was palpable and we are hopeful to reschedule for a later date to share in the excitement,” wrote the school’s president, Moshe Dov Shurin. “We will keep you posted.”
Sol Levinson & Bros. funeral home announced it will not hold public funerals at its facility “until this public health crisis passes. Funeral services going forward will be private,” vice president Matt Levinson wrote in an email to the community. “Thankfully, for services in our chapel we already have video webcasting in place and the general public will be able to view and listen to funerals. Those videos are on our website for six months following the funeral. Families may also elect to have a private graveside service. Please make use of our website to leave condolence messages, as well. We are strongly recommending that shiva be private.
“As you know, we take great pride in our level of service, and also in doing the right thing,” he wrote. “We need to keep our community safe. Just as importantly, we need to keep our team safe so that we are prepared and can still help families even in a worst case scenario. Thank you for your understanding,
In related news, the Maryland Department of Health confirmed on Mar. 12 Baltimore County’s first positive COVID-19 case, a man in his 60s who worked at the recent American Israel Political Action Committee conference in Washington, D.C.
In addition, nine Towson University students and a staff member are self-quarantining after attending that conference, at which at least six attendees tested positive for the coronavirus.