Six Twin Cities Synagogues Closing In Response To Coronavirus

Beth El Synagogue announced Friday morning that its building will close after March 14 mincha services for the next month – including the Aleph Preschool.

Beth El, Shir Tikvah, Temple Israel, Mount Zion Temple, Sharei Chesed, and Temple of Aaron have all made the decision to close since midday Thursday. Adath Jeshurun and Beth Jacob Congregation are opting to stay open.

“We have taken deep consideration to make sure we’ve made a decision that is consistent with our values and mission,” said Beth El Managing Director Matt Walzer. “We put the safety of the community and staff at the forefront of everything. It’s our top priority and what’s driving our decisions.”

The Aleph Preschool and building will be closed from Monday, March 16 through the end of the Pesach break – hopefully resuming April 20. Walzer left open the possibility that the building and its programs could resume sooner. But the closure could last longer as well.

“We’re following the advice of medical professionals and getting advice from risk professionals,” he said. “We’ll make the decision of what’s in the best interest of the Beth El community.”

Beth El is working on different ways to hold virtual events and services.

“We will still operate, just not in the building,” Walzer said. “We will provide meetings, and we’re looking at how to provide different support to our most vulnerable members. Some programs can operate remotely, but the two main components of the building can not.”

Temple Israel has announced that it is canceling or postponing all regular programming through the end of March.

“At times like these, connecting with our Jewish community feels even more meaningful, and we are looking into various ways to keep connected with you via our website, social media, telephone, and other remote offerings,” Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman wrote in an email to the community. “Right now, it is our responsibility as a values-driven community to do as much as we can to ensure the safety and well-being of our congregants, friends, and all those around us.”

The email asked that people do not come to Temple for services starting March 13. Temple will continue to livestream services and there’s even a Kindle version of their siddur available. A reading of the Kaddish list will be posted every Friday on our website with names for the upcoming week.

Mount Zion Temple will be closing before Shabbat services Friday, and will livestream services from the sanctuary Friday night and Saturday morning. Other gatherings and classes will be held by conference call and Zoom.

“We’re trying to help lower the curve on the incident rate so if people do get it, there is capacity in the hospitals to take care of people,” said Mount Zion Temple Rabbi Adam Spilker.

On Thursday afternoon, Shir Tikvah became the first Twin Cities synagogue to close in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that is growing across the United States. The last Shabbat service before the closure will be Friday evening, March 13.

“We didn’t take this decision lightly,” said Michael Latz, Shir Tikvah’s senior rabbi. “We’ve agonized over this for days. Every reasonable, responsible medical professional and public health official has said the way to reduce is through social distancing.”

The planned closure will be for two weeks and will be re-evaluated as information becomes available.

The decision came hours before a joint statement from the Minnesota Rabbinical Association, Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations that called for increased social distancing.

“In our own synagogues and organizations, we are taking proactive measures, including suspending large gatherings and non-essential small gatherings in our physical spaces,” the statement said. “We remain committed to finding alternative ways for our communities to feel connected. Even as we create physical distance, we must use this moment to draw close in other ways. … This is also a time to work with other communities in an effort to enhance security, address misinformation, dispel rumors, and fight prejudice and bigotry that make our whole society ill.” (read the full statement here).

Latz, Executive Director Allison Olig, and president Bruce Manning, wrote in an email Thursday that “as the information about the coronavirus/COVID19 has changed rapidly, we understand that to fulfill our moral obligation to our elders—our parents and grandparents—and those with compromised immune systems, the responsible moral decision is to practice social distancing. Sadly, this means we will close our building.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Shir Tikvah had said in an email to the community that it would remain open. Less than 24 hours later, as more and more places were prohibiting large gatherings, the synagogue leadership reversed course.

“If you think about how the religious community interacts: We gather close, touch the challah, share the wine, kiss the Torah; everything we’re supposed to be doing runs in the face of stopping the transmission of this deadly virus,” Latz said. “We want to be, if we can be, leaders that are being responsible citizens and moral actors.”

Shir Tikvah isn’t planning to stop programming, however. Latz said that they are working on using Zoom video conferencing for davening and services, and will stay in touch by phone, email, and FaceTime as needed.

“We will stay a community,” Latz said, “but we believe – based on all evidence that we are seeing – this is the best decision for our community to love our neighbors with appropriate social distancing.”

Bet Shalom will be remaining open, but will limit the use of the building to the Bet Shalom Yeladim preschool community for the next two weeks. The plan is to re-evaluate in time for Shabbat on March 27.

“We are taking the potential spread of the Coronavirus very seriously and are assessing every day how we can best serve the needs of all our members,” in a statement from Rabbis David Locketz and Jill Crimmings, Executive Director Steve Barberio, and board President Phil Ecker. “Our goal is to mitigate the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve” of infection. We now believe the best way to help each other is to limit our physical contact to the greatest degree possible for a period of time. ”

All meetings and individual appointments will be held online, as will adult education. Shabbat services will continue to be livestreamed.

Temple of Aaron announced Thursday night in an email that the synagogue will be canceling all synagogue activities until Monday, March 23. Minyan, school, programs, and services are canceled until further notice. TOA is directing people to their Facebook page, where several programs will be conducted. Synagogue leadership is looking into new technology to hold classes and meetings.

“We know this is a confusing, painful and potentially lonely time,” said the email, which was signed by Rabbi Jeremy Fine, board President Steve Kafitz, Rabbi Micah Miller, Cantor/Educator Joshua Fineblum, Executive Director Ken Agranoff, and the executive board. “We love you all and have made these difficult decisions out of that love and our hope to stay connected as much as possible.”

With respect to funerals, the TOA email said Hodroff-Epstein and all of the synagogues are only performing funerals graveside with immediate family members.

Sharei Chesed Congregation announced Friday that all prayer services and social gatherings will be suspended until April 4. The religious school classes will be canceled until after Passover/spring break, resuming on April 19.

Adath Jeshurun emailed its congregants Friday afternoon and said that Shabbat morning service and Mincha will go on as scheduled. Adath will, as usual, be livestreaming their services.

Beth Jacob Congregation will remain open for services and minyan for the time being, although beginning this Shabbat, formal education programs, and Shabbat enrichment will be canceled. Ritual items, including kippot, talitot or ritual objects, will not be shared. An email to congregants said they will not touch the Sefer Torah with hands, siddur, or tztitzit.

Darchei Noam will remain open this Shabbat, although is encouraging people who aren’t feeling well to stay home. The usual kiddish lunch after services is being prepared for carry-out.

Sholom announced on its Facebook page on Thursday morning that only essential visits will be allowed to the residents in St. Paul and St. Louis Park.

“Out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of our residents and tenants, Sholom is suspending all non-essential visits to Sholom facilities,” the post said. “Our team is able to set up alternative methods of communication with your loved ones – including assisting with phone calls, texting, video chats and other means.”

On a conference call Monday morning convened by Minneapolis Jewish Federation, Jewish Community Relations Council Director of Community Security Dan Plekkenpol, who led the call, said that community organizations were planning to stay in contact regularly as the situation warranted.

We’ve reached out to many other Twin Cities synagogues and institutions for this story. As we hear back from them, the story will be updated.