Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, March 20, 2020 / 24 Adar 5780
Summary: I have tried to outline some of the rapid changes and ways that CNS is adapting to the COVID-19 reality. As you know, this is a fast-changing situation, and information can quickly become outdated. Here is a link to Mayor Wheeler’s page to provide guidance on a draft shelter in place policy and to keep you abreast of the latest news for Portland.
If there are areas where you think CNS can provide important support, please let me know.
Finally, the entire Portland Jewish community has rapidly mobilized an emergency fund to help those in precarious situations. Unlike the Hebrew Free Loan support, this has a streamlined format to help get people some of the resources they need as quickly as possible while still providing some level of responsible oversight. Here is the link to donate or to request assistance.
In a later communication, I will be sharing a “halakhic letter” on changes to technology use during what is known as a “sha’at ha’dachak” or time of crisis. It will outline why we can make these changes, and a list of the most preferable to least preferable ways to use technology even in a time of crisis.
In short, during this time, it is acceptable to use Streaming and Zoom to participate in religious services. For those who feel at risk of social isolation and emotional pain, it is also acceptable to use devices to connect with people.
How quickly our lives, our assumptions, our habits and routines can change! The pace of that change over the past week has been stunning.
Just a week ago, Governor Brown limited communal gatherings to 250 people, assuming social distancing measures were in place. CNS quickly responded with a plan that exceeded that directive. Then a few days later, the governor restricted public gatherings to 25 individuals. Our Executive Committee scheduled an emergency meeting and made some sound decisions based on the latest information and laws. Simultaneously, our Board will also be gathering electronically to extend the time horizon of our response. I think we now all understand that in the very near future, we may all be instructed to “shelter in place.”
We are blessed with so many dedicated lay leaders, and their wide range of skills and insights are needed more than ever.
Neveh in a Time of Change
Your Neveh Shalom community and our incredible professional staff have been adapting at breakneck speed. I want to outline some of the changes and new ways to connect below, starting with ritual adjustments, and then moving into other opportunities to learn, socialize and be strengthened by our company.
Our daily minyan has successfully migrated to the Zoom platform. Remarkably, minyan attendance has increased, doubling and sometimes nearly tripling! What a beautiful testament to our community and the resilience of our members.
The Rabbinical Assembly has extended a free two month license to download an electronic copy of our movement prayerbooks. We will be using the same books we use at the synagogue. It would be preferable to download your copies BEFORE Shabbat.
We are fortunate to have implemented live Streaming of Services long before thoughts of a pandemic arose in anyone’s mind. We merely wanted to extend access to our services to those of our community who are shut in, or to family members who live across the country. Now, as we are all increasingly sheltering at home, the power of streaming technology will help us to remain together, to celebrate and to strengthen our faith, which we all need now more than ever.
At this time, we are still intending to stream services according to our normal clergy rotation. Because I was supposed to be in Israel, Rabbi Eve will be leading services this Friday and Saturday, along with Cantor Bitton. The plan was to have a team of two clergy in Stampfer Chapel live-streaming the service.
Should an emergency or late-hour Shelter in Place ruling be issued by the mayor or governor’s office, we will migrate to a Zoom alternative, with all 3 clergy present for this Shabbat. We will have information posted on our Coronavirus page, and will attempt to have signage on the streaming feed if a late change occurs.
There are three main lifecycle events that your clergy have focused our immediate attention on. Funerals, b’nei mitzvah, and brit milah/simchat bat observances. I want to provide an overview of those and assure you that we will be considering other parts of the lifecycle after we implement these more pressing needs first. As a heads up, you can find these details, updated as required by changing circumstances, on our COVID-19 page of the website.
Over this past week, our community mourned at two funerals which reflected those increasing limitations. Through my interfaith channels, I even learned that the Catholic Church has cancelled all funerals. That means families will bury their deceased, and at some point when we are safely past this health crisis, they will provide religious masses for those who were buried without religious rites. For now, I am hopeful that we will be able to provide families with small funerals limited to the immediate members. To enable that, our clergy are on a new rotation plan; our hope is that this way, one of us will always be healthy and able to provide for our congregants at end of life. Simultaneously, we want to minimize the risk of one of us becoming a vector.
A letter went out earlier this week to all of our families with an upcoming bar/bat/brit mitzvah. We are looking at both short term and medium term impacts that the Coronavirus will have on our students. At the current moment, we are offering a family a virtual/web-based option, as well as a postponement to a later date. Regardless of which choice is appropriate for a given family, none of our hard-working candidates will need to relearn a new maftir, Haftarah or D’var Torah. We intend to celebrate these remarkable youth and the accomplishments in which they have already invested.
Because of so many unknowns, we are not yet able to schedule out make-up dates for b’nei mitzvah.
Long time congregants may be able to recall a brit milah over which Rabbi Isaak presided during Yom Kippur! The Bible clearly mandates that every boy be circumcized on the 8th day, assuming no conditions, such as jaundice, pose a concern. Even Yom Kippur doesn’t take precedence. Given that, I have been in contact with the two active mohelim (ritual circumcizers) in town, Dr. Bruce Birke and Rabbi Tzvi Fischer. Each of them are stilll performing a bris, but in each case, Rabbis and non-family members are invited to participate by Zoom or other web-based platform. Please check our COVID-19 page for updates.
The naming of a Jewish baby girl historically happened during an aliyah to the Torah. It was a short and sweet moment. In recent decades, the Simchat Bat, or baby naming has increasingly captured the spiritual imagination of Jews as we have desired to enhance the welcome we give to all new babies, regardless of gender. While I consider this celebration as compelling as a bris, it is not Biblically mandated; as a result, no set time-frame has yet been established. What that means is that we can offer a web-based Simchat Bat close to birth. Alternatively, those families who would prefer an in-person celebration can choose to delay until the Coronavirus restrictions are lifted. Because of so many unknowns, we are not able to schedule out such a naming at this point.
Our history is well-acquainted with different times and places when people were married quickly and when delay was avoided. Sometimes that was because the non-Jewish authorities would sometimes forbid our weddings and families often wanted to get in under the wire. Regardless of the reason, there are few moments more joyous than a Jewish wedding.
Barring further changes in state or federal law, those with weddings can either reschedule them or choose to have a small group of ten people, including clergy, present at your currently slated time. While the weddings I know of are still scheduled some time out, we at least want to acknowledge that no one knows when our AC (after Coronavirus) life will resemble our BC (before Coronavirus) life, and it’s good to consider options.
Education and Youth Programming
I want to publicly thank our very dedicated educational staff—teachers in both Aliyah and Foundation School, as well as our educational leaders—Mel Berwin, Leah Conley and Rabbi Eve Posen, for their rapid adjustments, and the many web-based options they are generating to support our children and their parents. If you have a child in one of our programs, you are already on those mailing lists and should be up to date on the very robust opportunities that our team has put or is putting together.
On a personal level, one of the sweetest moments of this past week was when the 12th graders that Brian Rohr and I teach reached out to us. Even though Aliyah/Tichon is closed for Spring Break, they wanted to connect with us for thirty minutes or so. Like all of us, their lives are also disrupted. It was really lovely to get to see their faces and hear about the adjustments they are making. What a blessed community we have.
Adult Education and Programming by Clergy
Your clergy team is committed to using this time granted to us by COVID-19 to learn and gather in different ways. Please continue to visit our website, linked here. You will see offerings such as a Lunch and learn with Rabbi Eve, Women’s Torah Study with Mel Berwin, and numerous other classes and web-based social gatherings coming on line in the near future.
Mental Health, Social Services, Substance Abuse, ETC
As we spend more time at home, some people will face additional struggles with issues that might normally be under control or well-managed. Please know that your clergy team is available to speak with you. Simultaneously, our training in many areas of need only goes so far. We want to ensure that you have some resources to help you navigate this trying time.
Dialing 211 has been a good switchboard for a wide range of social services. At this time, they are experiencing heavy call volume, and it is more difficult to reach a live person. To streamline that, here is there website with their database of resources. The first link is their home page, the second lists areas of resources
Alcoholics Anonymous’s website is: https://www.aa.org
An online option from them is:
For early morning folks, you can find 6am virtual meetings at:
If you are aware of on-line resources for substance abuse and feel comfortable, please forward those to me and I will make sure those get posted. We want to provide a wide range of resources to help our congregational family be our best selves during this period.
Please, stay safe and healthy. Practice kindness and compassion, to others and yourselves.
Shabbat Table Talk
- Parshat Vayakel-Pekudei is all about creating physical space for gathering and forming community. What are you doing at this time to stay connected virtually?
- This is without a doubt a time of disruption and loss. It is also a time of creativity and blessing. What are some unexpected blessings you have found or experienced?
If you’d like to continue this discussion, follow this link to CNS’s Facebook page to share your own perspectives on the topics raised in this week’s Oasis Songs. Comments will be moderated as necessary.