A Bar Mitzvah boy reads from the Torah. Photo by Getty Images.

 

Introduction and Appreciation
We find ourselves on the cusp of the Chag HaSukkos. We have thankfully just had Yomim Noraim in which we had many Minyanim and we are hopeful that we will have a Sukkos in which we can rejoice as the Torah commands us to. On this festival we live in our Sukkos to commemorate the Ananei HaKavod that Hashem provided for protection in the desert when we left Egypt, and we could certainly use that protection in our times. As always, Hashem invites us to be His partners in creation and we can join in the spirit of Sukkos by helping to protect each other while celebrating Sukkos.

Being Hashem’s partners and protecting each other by following the guidance of our medical professionals is essential in order to maintain our presence in Shuls, schools, and businesses. In preparing those guidelines we owe a debt of gratitude to our medical professionals, especially to Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt who has been leading our community, guiding our shuls, our schools, our camps, and our members in the response to this crisis.

While it is difficult to continue living socially distant lives we must remain vigilant in our adherence to public safety protocols so as to protect each other and save lives. We will continue to follow our expert based medical policies and maintain “mask only” and “proper distancing” in all our shuls and minyanim. We must respect and observe County and State guidelines as we work with our elected officials to maintain our safety and security.

A broader Five Towns, Far Rockaway Rabbinic communal letter discussing distancing and masking will be forthcoming.

Critical Communal Guidelines
As such our celebration of Sukkos this year will not look the same as it has in the past. We are working hard with our schools in an effort to keep our shuls and schools open. To that end we strongly support the following 3 sets of guidelines:
●        Our schools have reached out to our community urging parents to take the school safety rules seriously, with serious consequences for violations. We fully support and endorse this as we try to keep our community open and functioning.
●        Many schools have also issued explicit guidelines about traveling and hosting guests over Sukkos. Our shuls will be working with our schools and we will not be allowing visiting teens to be joining us in shul or for hang outs. This is a stay-at-home Yom Tov. We support their guidelines of maintaining social distancing, not having sleepover company outside of family, and keeping all quarantine laws and guidelines.
●      Our shuls all have strict policies about masking, distancing and about who is not allowed to come to shul (people with symptoms, travelers from States on the quarantine list, people in quarantine, people who have been tested due to exposure or symptoms but not received the results). While each shul may have different applications, advisory committees and consequences, we are all coming together to state strongly: if you have reason not to be in shul for a COVID related concern, you may not come to any of our shuls or any backyard minyan. You are obligated to daven at home and maintain the quarantine instructions you have received.

We will do everything we can to ensure the safety of our community and our communal institutions. We need your help in taking this seriously so we can succeed in keeping our shuls and schools open, and keeping our entire community safe.

Planning for Sukkos
In order to maintain the balance between celebrating Sukkos and protecting our community we are putting in place some guidelines for celebrating Sukkos under the current circumstances..

Guests for Yom Tov and Meals
Sukkos is usually a time for family and friends, and after so many months of isolation, many of us just want to get back into the normal swing of things. However, caution needs to be taken and any decision about having guests should be made in consultation with one’s regular physician. Here are a few important pointers:

  • People traveling in from States which are on the NY State travel advisory should not be invited into one’s home.
  • Anyone who is in quarantine, has symptoms, or has taken a COVID test due to potential COVID exposure but has not yet received results, should not be invited into one’s home.
  • ​​​​​​​Families that have been overall careful may think of having socially distant meals in their Sukkah as a family pod or within their regular bubbles but should not have multiple families at one meal and should limit guests entirely to one or two specific families.
  • If having guests in your Sukkah, it is best if the Sukkah is set to allow for proper spacing when sitting down.
  • If inclement weather prevents using the Sukkah, plans should be cancelled rather than just eating inside.

Hoshanos
Hoshanos present a concern of traffic as many people cluster together to circle around the Bima. Each Rabbi will be making specific recommendations for their shul which may include limiting the number of people who encircle the Bima during Hoshanos or not encircling the Bima at all during Hoshanos if the space does not safely accommodate people moving around with sufficient distancing. Obviously large open areas would make it easier to accommodate Hoshanos in a more complete way and each Rabbi will set guidelines for his Minyanim.

Sukkah hops
Sukkah hops in their regular format with kids running in groups from Sukkah to Sukkah is something which simply cannot take place this year. Creative alternatives for children’s involvement in Sukkos will have to be considered while maintaining mask wearing and proper distancing.

Simchas Beis Hashoeva
Research has shown that events which involve food, singing, and proximity are potential super spreader events. This year we will need to think about alternative Torah events and properly distanced events to take the place of our regular signing and dancing.

Hakafos
Like Simchas Beis Hashoevas, Hakafos as they are conducted in a regular year will not be possible this year. Singing, holding hands, and spending lots of time in close proximity is the recipe for a possible super spreader event. Each Rabbi will make recommendations for his shul based on the logistics, the space and the crowds within each shul, which may include using multiple smaller locations, having certain people nominated for each Hakafa, and doing shorter Hakafos while everyone else remains in their distanced places.
In the place of these more elaborate and involved Hakafos, we will need to celebrate our completion of the Torah with more Torah study and safely distanced and masked shiurim.

Kol Hanearim
Having all the children under the big talis is one of the highlights of Simchas Torah. Unfortunately this will not be possible this year. Instead we are recommending having in shul only children who can wear masks and sit next to their parents. When the aliya is read, each parent can sit with their child, and should they desire they can use their personal talis to cover their child during the aliya.

Aliyos
There is a minhag for every man above bar mitzvah to receive an aliyah on Simchas Torah. This is a beautiful minhag and it can still be done with more careful logistics. One possible  recommendation is sign ups for each different satellite minyan which is leining in order to ensure small groups that can maintain safe distance.

In shuls where the option is available, it is certainly best to use plexiglass dividers for aliyos.

Those who do not feel comfortable coming to shul yet should not put themselves at risk to come out for an Aliya.

Simchas Torah
Some shuls may not be able to make safe arrangements given the setup of their Minyanim and each Rabbi will decide if his Shul will be giving aliyos along these guidelines.

Smachos and Kiddushim

We are coming up to a joyful time of year. Following the Yomim Tovim, we usually have a good number of smachos in our community. We are thankful for every celebration. However, clear research has demonstrated that the wedding season during August and September was one of the cardinal reasons for the spread of the virus. We therefore must be very cautious even as we anticipate the coming smachos.

It should be obvious that every simcha made should abide by state guidelines of social and religious gatherings. This information in readily available at https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/ReligiousandFuneralServicesSummaryGuidance.pdf  and https://forward.ny.gov/reopening-what-you-need-know

The last thing any baal simcha would want is for their simcha to be the spread of disease. That being the case, social distancing for seats during the ceremony and meal must be maintained. Masks should be mandated for all guests at the Simcha, and dancing in its current form needs to be reconsidered. With the rise in cases and exposure, it should be a time for baalei simcha to consider cutting back on their guest lists limiting their smachos to family and a few very close friends.

No one should feel they have to stay at a simcha they are uncomfortable at because of lax guidelines, and we, as Rabbonim, will not feel comfortable being at a simcha which does not adhere to state guidelines, social distancing, and masking.

In addition there has been a rise of backyard smachos over the past months, many of which were beautiful, but many of which have not adhered to adequate safety guidelines. We strongly advise the community not to put themselves at risk at such large unmasked social venues, which display little concern for the safety of others. Similarly, we have not been having Kiddush in shul, and backyard Kiddushim that don’t adhere to social distance guidelines can be dangerous.

We urge our community members to participate and daven exclusively in shuls or minyanim where there will be careful oversight of the current safety standards. It is at times of crisis that we come together and unite safely to daven to Hashem for salvation.

Conclusion
Towards the end of the Chazaras Hashatz on the Yomim Noraim, there is a powerful piyut which begins with the words Avinu Malkeinu. In it we beseech Hashem to save us from:
דבר וחרב ורעב ושבי ומשחית ועוון ומגיפה ופגע רע, וכל מחלה
“Pestilence, violence, starvation, servitude, destruction, plague, negative happenings and disease”

We then add:
וכל תקלה וכל קטטה וכל מיני פורעניות וכל גזירה רעה ושנאת חינם, מעלינו ומעל כל בני בריתך
“And all stumbling blocks, and all fighting, punishment, evil decrees and baseless hatred.”

It is essential at this trying time that we do not devolve into unnecessary and ugly bickering or verbal attacks on each other. We hope this will be a year of health, and even if we have disagreement, a year of respectful dialogue.

With blessings for a full salvation and a Chag Sameach.

Rabbi Shalom Axelrod
Rabbi Benny Berlin
Rabbi Mordechai Benhaim
Rabbi Pinchas Chatzinoff
Rabbi Ira Ebbin
Rabbi Aaron Feigenbaum
Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman
Rabbi Dr. Aaron E. Glatt
Rabbi Kenneth Hain
Rabbi Simcha Hopkovitz
Rabbi Aryeh Lebowitz
Rabbi Avi Miller
Rabbi Jonathan Muskat
Rabbi Ephraim Polakoff
Rabbi Shay Schachter
Rabbi Yehuda Septimus
Rabbi Steven Siegel
Rabbi Binyamin Silver
Rabbi Asher Stern
Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum
Rabbi Ya’akov Trump
Rabbi Dov Winston
Rabbi Akiva Willig
Rabbi Eliyahu Wolf

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