After 15 Months, Synagogues Starting To Reopen

This past Saturday wasn’t just a normal Shabbat morning service at Beth Jacob Congregation — it was the first time the senior rabbi had the opportunity to lead services to a room full of people. 

Adam Rubin, who moved to Minnesota a year ago to take the leadership of the Mendota Heights synagogue, had spent his first year almost entirely leading services via Zoom. 

“It was extraordinary,” said Rubin. “I found it to be very moving as many congregants did. When Natan Paradise was leading Shacharit, I got very choked up. I was overcome with emotion.

“This is why I stopped being an academic: I like being with people.”

Rubin said the June 12 service was the first time since his job interview in late February 2020 that they had a crowd.

“Having children run around, and hearing people schmooze and sing and pray together, it’s just incredible,” he said.

Beth Jacob’s decision to reopen to in-person services without capacity restrictions or distancing, however masking was required and anyone over 16 years old has to be vaccinated; the honor system is being used.

This weekend will bring the first larger-scale, in-person prayer gathering at Adath Jeshurun Congregation; reservations are required to attend Saturday’s SPA service

“We don’t want to pull the rug out from all of those people who have relied on our robust virtual offering,” said Rabbi Aaron Weininger. “We’re also having a full Zoom service, and we’ll continue to have that while we reintroduce in-person offerings.”

Beth El Synagogue is gearing up for in-person services beginning on July 3, which will also be the first Shabbat that Cantor Ben Tisser will be in the position after being hired to succeed long-time Cantor Audrey Abrams. Beth El Managing Director Matt Walzer said the timing is coincidental.

“Just because we are allowing people to come doesn’t mean they will,” he said. “Everyone’s comfort level isn’t there yet.”

Walzer said that a survey of congregants found that a high number of members indicated they were ready to return to in-person offerings. 

“Our mantra has been around serving the congregation and a growing number of our members need that in-person component,” he said. The synagogue will also continue to offer virtual offerings for those that at method.

At Mount Zion Temple, Executive Director Larry Solomon said that the first outdoor services are scheduled for this coming Friday on the outdoor patio at the synagogue. 

“We haven’t resumed indoor services yet, and we’re starting to talk about what we’ll do for the High Holidays,” he said. “We’re investing in new technology to bring us to another level. This is the future. We have members from all over the country now.”

Bet Shalom is investing in technology and know-how to create a multi-platform approach.

“We’ve been moving ahead with piloting the approach where we have both in-person and streaming, as well as Zoom access,” said Stephen Barberio, the executive director at Bet Shalom. “We’ll ramp it up in July with up to 100 people in the sanctuary. It is complicated: If you look at what the CDC or MDH says, for all practical purposes the state is open. But we’re taking a cautious approach and wanting to make sure everyone is safe.”

Shir Tikvah is also committed to a multi-platform approach in near future. In an email to congregants on Tuesday, the synagogue leadership announced that opportunities for in-person worship will be available, and all Shabbat and High Holiday worship will be offered via livestream. The date for in-person services hasn’t been announced yet.

Temple of Aaron also announced in an email this week that there will be in-person services starting this week, June 19, with a maximum attendance of 200. Social distancing will be enforced with the closing of various rows.