March 12, 2020 // Adar 16, 5780

March 12, 2020

Adar 16, 5780

Dear Haverim,

At a recent board meeting, the leadership of Tzedek Chicago shared their thoughts and feelings in response to growing COVID-19 pandemic. We also talked at length about its impact on our services and programs: how might we, as a justice-based spiritual Jewish community, offer a responsible way forward that takes this health crisis seriously, without giving into irrational fear or panic?

I'm writing now to let you know that after much deliberation, our board has decided to cancel all in-person services and programs up until (and including) our congregational Passover seder on April 14.

Specifically, this means the following events:

  • March 21 - Shabbat Torah Study/Havdalah
  • March 26 – “Queering Jonah” Class
  • April 3 - Kabbalat Shabbat Service
  • April 14 - Passover Seder

While the in-person nature of these programs is being canceled, we are currently exploring how we might go forward with these events via live stream and Zoom conferencing. We will be in touch with more information as soon as these arrangements are confirmed.

In making this decision, we are heeding the advice of health experts and officials who advocate social distancing and/or event closures in response to the pandemic. I want to stress, however, that social distancing does not and must not mean social isolation. In addition to taking these measures, we feel strongly that this moment be an opportunity to strengthen our ties to each other all the more.

To this end, we are currently organizing a Hesed (“Community Care”) Committee that will spearhead efforts to reach out to members who are experiencing physical and/or emotional isolation as a result of this health crisis. Please contact me at rabbi@tzedekchicago.org if you are in need of this support – or if you are interested in serving on our Hesed committee.

In Jewish tradition, the mitzvah of pikuach nefesh (“saving life”) demands that the preservation of human life take precedence over all others. It is critical that we do what we can to slow the spread of this virus so that our health care systems are better equipped to manage this pandemic. I’m also mindful that this crisis is very much a justice issue as well. Indeed, it is our elders, pregnant people, and people with compromised immune systems (disproportionately disabled, poor, homeless and people of color) who are at highest risk. Every action we take to curtail the spread of the virus will help save the lives of the most vulnerable members of our communities.

In this regard, I highly recommend this response of local grassroots organizers to the COVID-19 crisis, which includes important background information and demands of health officials at the city, state and federal level. Of course, we encourage you remain informed of updates and alerts as they occur via the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Cook County Department of Public Health, the Illinois Department of Public Health, and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, here are links to spiritual resources that I've found particularly relevant and useful:

• Two prayers by Jewish liturgist Alden Solovy: "Healing from Coronavirus" and "Coronavirus: A Prayer for Medical Scientists."

• "A Blessing for Washing Hands During a Pandemic" by Trisha Arlin.

• "10 Guidelines for Pastoral Care During the Conoravirus Outbreak" by Eileen R. Campbell-Reed.

• "Loving your Neighbor During a Time of Coronavirus" by Jim Wallis.

• From 2011, but still very relevant: "Spiritual Practices for Times of Crisis" by Joanna Macy.

I know you join me in sending out blessings to those who are ill and those whose lives and well-being are at risk as a result of this pandemic. Let us work to support those who have been afflicted, those who care for them, and those who are fighting on the front lines to mitigate harm.

In them coming days and months, let us strive to find creative, sacred paths toward communal and spiritual connection.

In Blessing and Solidarity,

Rabbi Brant Rosen