Some shuls say that you should not attend services if you are over age 65. Others suggest people age 62 and up not attend shul. These protocols have been suggested and designed by people who are genuinely concerned with minimizing the spread of the coronavirus, and that is, of course, a good thing.
Considering some of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s advice on healthcare, it is not a bad idea to carefully weigh what he says and sometimes even do the complete opposite. Last week, the governor said shuls can now hold indoor services with 25% of their allowable capacity. That is progress, but around here there is no real rush.
Previously, while most shuls were locked and dark in the Five Towns, those who had outdoor minyanim allowed no more than 15 pre-registered men to attend. According to the governor’s executive order, services like davening were limited to 10 people. I suppose it can be said that here, in Nassau County anyway, local law enforcement let it be known weeks ago that if you went up to 16 or maybe even 17 you would not be troubled to disband.
If it became apparent to the naked eye that you were involved with a much larger gathering — let’s say about 30 people, which is obviously not 15 — then police would have no choice but to break it up, especially if neighbors complained, which was not infrequent.
Also for those venturing outside to daven with a minyan, the advice was to hold services in backyards as opposed to front lawns. The reason for this is fairly obvious — fewer people are going to see you if your quorum is being held behind a building. Not that we have any reason to hide, but there are critics out there from within as well as outside the community, and, as they say, out of sight, out of mind.
Governor Cuomo, after all these months, has decided to allow us back indoors — albeit with limitations, but that is still great and important progress.
For now and probably for the foreseeable future, when it comes to daily prayer we essentially have three options: Davening at home, as many have been doing for months; latching on to any number of outdoor minyanim, which — at this time of year, when the sun is out or at least when it is not raining — is a great experience; or beginning to tiptoe back into shul, with all kinds of rules and stipulations.
So let’s just say that out of curiosity and for the purposes of this essay, I made a deliberate effort to experience all three options at different places and at different times to analyze what the various experiences are like today, as we try to reopen life and society as we once knew it.
As far as continuing to daven at home three times a day, I think I’d characterize that as either being very careful, very lazy, or some kind of combination of the two.
A friend with whom I discussed this dynamic told me that as far as he is concerned, he is davening at home for the foreseeable future. He’s not high-risk, is about 50 years old and in good health, but he sees no reason to venture out to shul at this point. He has the ability to work at home and has been doing so for years, so on that count — which is a barometer of sorts — there are no big changes.
The flip side of this entire odyssey is whether, going forward, shuls will be able to fill their pews or the seats at their tables, as the case may be, or if people are going to stick with their backyard minyanim for a while.
This does not mean, by any stretch, that people are rejecting the idea of going back to shul, chas v’shalom. We all love our shuls and miss them dearly. The issue is really a double-sided one. For now, with the nice weather as we head into summer and with our new setup, what can be nicer?
People who have volunteered their homes, putting up tents with no sides so as to facilitate the flow of fresh air, are making an important contribution. I attended a few of those lately and for the most part they feature a personal and engaging dynamic.
I cannot identify the location of these wonderful minyanim for two reasons. The first is that people have a right to privacy, and the second is that for the most part, the hosts want to limit the number of participants.
It is still early on in the process, but some of these minyan hosts and their friends are discussing setting up semi-permanent daily and Shabbos minyanim.
I wrote many weeks ago that I thought there was a crisis for some shuls brewing. The objective here is not to cast aspersions on any shuls. There are other considerations as far as the virus is concerned, and even doctors who disagree on many things will say that the chances of it being spread outdoors is extremely minimal. It is nice and refreshing outside, especially at this time of year here in New York and in many parts of the world.
Are these breakaway shuls or minyanim a serious matter that will have to be addressed at some point? Here’s one sure way to tell. When hosts of the outdoor minyanim begin getting estimates on winterizing or enclosing their designated minyan areas — as is the case in some places — that might be something for shuls to be concerned about at some point.
There is more to being outdoors than just davening. Here on Long Island we are in Phase 2, which allows our restaurants to offer outdoor seating. I’m not exactly ready yet to stand on a socially distanced line for a table, but I did have breakfast with one of our clients last week and it was both strange and refreshing.
We actually sat across from one another at a table, drinking coffee, which was reminiscent of a time not too long ago when we would not give such an occurrence a second thought. Walking and driving around the neighborhood over the last few days, it was great to see the streets in front of the restaurants filled with people dining and enjoying themselves just like old times.
The numbers in New York are good, and if you get your information about the recent uptick in cases in some states from legitimate and honest news sources like the Wall Street Journal then you will understand that there are extenuating circumstances in these states related to the increase. Mostly it is related to an ever-increasing ability to test more people, which means that, mathematically, there will be more people identified as being infected. Take a closer look and you will find that, with rare exception, hospitalizations are down, and that bodes well for the future.
The mainstream media is hoping for a serious second wave of the virus, not because they want to see people taking ill but because they feel that this is the best way to damage President Trump as we move toward the November election.
Right now we are still awaiting the numbers on an increase in the infection rate as a result of tens and hundreds of thousands of people protesting on the street of this country for weeks now. The immense crowds, with most of the people not wearing masks or distancing appropriately from one another, was blessed and endorsed by the likes of Governor Cuomo and Mayor De Blasio. These are the same men who ordered 20 chassidic kids out of a park in Williamsburg because of the danger it posed.
If this thing does not disappear completely, we will have to learn to live with it. As a society and a people, we know much more today than we did when this started back in February. We know that most of the tragic deaths caused by the virus were in people over 80 years old and with a compromised immune system; many were residents in nursing homes. Other large segments who suffered the most losses were the African American and other minority communities.
We now know with some certainty that if there is a real second wave and not a politically fabricated one, those are two communities we have to watch closely.
On Wednesday afternoon, traffic heading from Lawrence into Cedarhurst was at a virtual standstill. Up until a few weeks ago, the streets were mostly empty and many of the stores were just plain closed. During that period, there were plenty of parking spaces, too. On top of that, the folks who scurry around the streets placing parking violation summonses on car windshields were back as well. Who thought it was possible to miss the ticket-writers and bumper-to-bumper traffic? This week anyway, it was good to see that both were back.
The reality is that many things have improved. Our shuls are open, and most of our eateries and food emporiums are open as well. We are living life both inside and out. I think we are enjoying it, but also being cautious not to forget what could be.
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