National Lockdown: Additional precautionary measures for communities
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Friday 8th January 2021

This email is being sent to all communities. However, it is written specifically to those communities that remain open.

 

Dear Chairs, Rabbis and Rebbetzens,

 

This week we have, again, moved into national lockdown. We hope that you and your families are well and are adjusting, again, to the new measures and their implications. 

 

In July, our Rabbis and Rebbetzens heard the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warn us that we would face a challenging winter. However,  no-one could have predicted the new more transmissible variant, and the rapid rise in infections that it would bring.  It is essential that we encourage members to follow national guidance and act to ensure that our hospitals are not overwhelmed.

 

Under the current National Lockdown guidance, Places of Worship are permitted to open for communal worship, with all social distancing measures in place,  After we moved to Tier 4, we have permitted  communities to determine whether they wish to close or remain open.  Since the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday, we have maintained this position and have supported local leadership teams in making the right decision for their membership and local context. Many communities have made the decision to close and will review this decision at regular intervals. As of today, 20% of our synagogues remain open.

 

Capacity

On 28th December we wrote to you to highlight additional safety measures. This included cutting total ‘Covid-capacity’ by at least 25%.   All communities that have remained open have actioned this and many have cut capacity significantly further.  As an additional precautionary measure, please consider cutting your total capacity even further, basing the new total  on the attendance that you have been receiving over the last two weeks and – even in our largest cathedral-style shuls  - aiming to have no more than 50 people in attendance in one room at any one time and far fewer in smaller rooms.

 

Face coverings

All those who attend services, including the service leader, Rabbi and any speaker must wear face coverings. There can be no exceptions.

 

Smachot

There is an overall concern about the additional risks associated with lifecycle events (note the limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and commemorative events in the government guidance).  Barmitzvahs, Batmitzvahs and Brit Milah are still permitted to take place as part of a regular service.  However, in order to mitigate risk, we are asking that, from next Shabbat, communities reserve no more than 25 spaces for  simcha guests working within the agreed total capacity. If all those who wish to attend the service (guests and regulars) exceeds the agreed total capacity,  an additional service at a different time ideally in a different space can be organised.  Simcha-only services are not permitted, given the lack of familiarity that visitors and non-regulars have with our Covid-secure measures. 

 

All those attending a simcha should receive written guidelines from the community setting out the Covid protocol and the expectations of them in whilst on site. The simcha family should confirm that they will ensure that all their guests understand the requirements to follow the guidance and that, sadly, if compliance is not achieved, the service may be stopped..  Takeaway kiddushim/boxes are no longer permitted as they hinder the smooth departure of people from the site.

 

Departure

All communities must manage a staggered departure at the end of the service. Attendees should be ushered off the premises in households/support bubbles, avoiding mingling not just on the shul site but on the nearby streets.

 

Youth services

Youth services must no longer take place.  This is because of additional concerns regarding social mixing between young people on the way to, and from shul.  Such mixing would reflect exactly the concerns that have caused the closure of schools.  Young people who wish to attend regular services should be made welcome and encouraged to book.

 

To summarise, our communities are now open for services or essential volunteering only.   No-one should feel pressurised to make up a minyan or to attend.  The full United Synagogue Covid guidance can be found here.

 

These measures will be reviewed in mid-February and an update shared soon afterwards.

 

Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any questions or concerns.

 

With thanks for all that you continue to do to keep our communities running in these challenging times.

 

Shabbat Shalom,

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Jo Grose

Communities and Strategy Director

United Synagogue

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Rabbi Nicky Liss

Chair

Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue