Some Local Orthodox Synagogues Slowly Reopen

Moshe Kalatsky was always going to be prepared to read the whole Torah portion at his recent Bar Mitzvah. But he wasn’t counting on having to the blessings for each Aliyah, as well as taking the Torah out, returning it to the ark, and doing all those associated blessings. Welcome to the reality of having a synagogue open during coronavirus.

Moshe’s father, Rabbi Mordechai Kalatsky, leads St. Louis Park’s Kenesseth Israel, which has gradually allowed more and more people to come to services since reopening for Shavuot in late May.

“It’s been going amazing,” said Kalatsky. “Everyone who comes in has to wear a mask, all the doors are open so you don’t have to touch the handle, and there is a bottle of Purell at every doorway. Plus now, everyone who reads the Torah gets all the aliyot, to minimize every interaction.”

Under normal circumstances, the orthodox synagogue in St. Louis Park could hold 300 people in its sanctuary. Now that number is 35.

“Every seat is set up for social distancing, “Kalatsky said. “If every row of seven is 15- to 18-feet long, there will be only two seats available. And the row behind it will be empty.”

In the rear of the synagogue, there is even more social distancing for people who require it – or just want it. Plus there is a downstairs service as well in the 50-by-40-foot multipurpose room, which will hold between 10-14 people.

“Us and Bais [Yisorel] really worked it out to make sure we had room for everyone,” Kalatsky said. “Now it’s set up that there’s enough room. But if ever it would come that there’s an influx (beyond the governor’s and Minnesota Department of Health’s guidelines), we’d have to turn people away – as hard as that would be. It’s against everything I feel.”

Kenesseth Israel isn’t the only synagogue to reopen. Adath Israel in St. Paul posted on Facebook last month that it would be opening for daily services, and Chabad Minneapolis in Minnetonka has also opened to a limited crowd. Its attendees are limited to Bar Mitzvah age and older.

“It’s services and then done,” said Chabad Rabbi Mordechai Grossbaum. “There’s no Kiddush, so it’s not quite back to normal. People are very happy to see each other, and some are being more careful then others.”

Chabad is meeting under a roof but with garage doors open to create a mostly outdoor space. Grossbaum said it also allows those who want to be farther away from other people – even in a normal social distancing situation – to do so. Reservations are required, and can be made by emailing Grossbaum.

“With G-d’s help this will clear through and we’ll get back to normal,” Grossbaum said. “Whatever normal is.”