Beth Emet - The Free Synagogue

Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQ’S)

Lawn Sign JPG smallWe appreciate those who have reached out to learn what Beth Emet is doing during these times and thought it would be helpful to share some of the most common questions, along with responses.  If you have additional questions, please submit them online.

When do you think the building will open? (Bekki Harris Kaplan, Executive Director)
Our continuity planning team is looking at every aspect of our operations and activities at Beth Emet, and determining what conditions need to be in place to safely gather in the building, including our ability to physically distance and establish effective cleaning protocols. Of course, we will comply with local, state, and federal guidance as well as take into consideration the importance of the wellbeing of our congregants. We will likely open up gradually, and will be prepared to open and close intermittently, if needed. Our building maintenance staff continues to work on special projects around the building and the building has never looked better. We cannot wait to physically welcome you back!  (Updated 6-15-20)

How will we worship during the High Holidays? (Rabbi Andrea London)
The High Holidays are an essential part of our community and our Jewish lives and, as such, we already have a committee hard at work planning. Rest assured, we will have worship services that will include beautiful music, liturgy, Torah readings, sermons, and more, but we do not know exactly what they will look like yet. As the summer progresses and we closely monitor what precautions are warranted for in-person gatherings, we will determine and communicate the specifics of how we will conduct worship. At this point, we are anticipating the majority of the services will be online.  (Updated 6-15-20)

What will Beit Sefer look like next year? (Marci Dickman, Director of Lifelong Learning)
We are planning for several different contingencies for Beit Sefer. It is possible that all of our classes will be online at the beginning of the school year. If so, our teachers will virtually meet their new students in small groups to get to know them before Beit Sefer classes begins. During the summer, our faculty will participate in a number of professional development sessions to increase their skills and tools for how to teach virtually successfully. In addition, Cantor Cotler is working with me to explore ways to conduct virtual song and worship sessions for our students. We are working through several different schedule scenarios and models for class size and structure. And it may be possible that we will have a hybrid program, with some learning in smaller groups in the building and others learning online.(Updated 6-15-20)

How are we observing B’nai Mitzvah and other lifecycle events? (Cantor Kyle Cotler)
We will be conducting all b’nai mitzvah digitally for the foreseeable future until we determine it’s safe to conduct worship in person. Since b’nai mitzvah services include public singing and other behaviors that could spread the coronavirus, we cannot do these events in person. When we feel confident that in-person b’nai mitzvah celebrations are safe for staff, congregants, and guests, we will work to make that transition as expeditiously as possible. The clergy have officiated at funerals and weddings, complying with all social distancing, masking, and other health protocol. We have recently hosted both a wedding and a memorial service with fewer than 10 attendees each in the sanctuary, and of course ensured that everyone in attendance complied with all health protocols.  (Updated 6-15-20)

How can we stay connected to each other during these times? (Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler)
We have been calling all of our members to check to see how they are doing and what they might need: from a clergy call to prescription pick-ups to technology support. Talented congregants have been volunteering their time and expertise through “BE Connected,” creating programming that’s educational and/or entertaining. Shabbat and Festival Services allow us to pray together, whether one chooses to connect with video or by phone. We have been offering birthday blessings on the first Friday of the month and on Friday, June 12 we shined a spotlight on all our graduates with a special blessing (see presentation here). We are also connected to one another by living the message from Psalm 89, Olam Chesed Yibaneh - “Let Us Build a World of Love.” We have created lawn signs for you to display and spread this message. (purchase one online). And, if you or someone you know needs for us to reach out to them, please contact any of our clergy, Klei Kodesh or staff.  (Updated 6-15-20)

How can we stay up to date as conditions change? (Bekki Harris Kaplan, Executive Director)
We are committed to communicating regularly with the most up-to-date information in our regular emails [Emet Mail is sent on Tuesdays and Fridays], and we have established a dedicated web page which will contain the most current information on our home page, BE Open. We are also planning online ‘town halls’ over the summer as a forum to share what’s happening and to hear your questions and suggestions. The first online Townhall was Monday June 15 (click here for recording).  We are increasingly reliant on staying connected via email. If you do not have access to email or would like for us to use an alternative email address, please contact Shlomit in our office (847-869-4230 / ). For those without email, we can make sure we are sending you important updates.  (Updated 6-15-20)

The Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Movement’s rabbinic organization) offers values that are also guiding our thinking about how to operate our synagogues during the Coronavirus pandemic:

  • Minyan—Jews worship in community—traditionally, in a quorum of no fewer than ten Jewish adults. During this time of social distancing, however, Reform Jewish communities have combated social isolation and loneliness by assembling virtually for services, prayer, and mutual support. Although far from the ideal of being together in person, we emphasize the continued importance of virtual gatherings as long as is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of our respective communities and citizens.
  • Pikuach Nefesh—Saving human life is Judaism’s highest mitzvah, superseding even the commandments concerning the observance of Shabbat. According to tradition, it was permissible to interrupt the ancient Temple sacrifices when necessary to save a life. If continuing to shelter in place will help to save lives, then communities should refrain from in-person religious activities or gatherings.
  • Aseih l’cha Rav—We read in Pirkei Avot 1:6, “Find yourself a rabbi.” Though often translated as “teacher,” the term “rabbi” in this phrase, in fact, suggests expertise. In our Jewish lives, we rely upon the knowledge and guidance of our rabbis, cantors, and educators. As we confront a public health crisis, though, it is the expertise of public health authorities, specialists in infectious disease, and epidemiologists to which we must look for guidance concerning the best decisions for our communities.
  • Mipnei seivah takum—“You shall rise before the aged” (Leviticus 19:32). We celebrate the multi-generational character of communities throughout our Movement, including the synagogue and Jewish professionals of every adult demographic who lead them. We must not take actions within our respective communities that would either stigmatize or compromise the health and well-being of the elderly and individuals with preexisting conditions who are considered most vulnerable to Covid-19.
  • Dina d’malchuta dina—“The law of the land is the law” (Shulchan Aruch). The Reform Movement is a fierce protector of religious freedom and the separation of religion and state, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism was instrumental to the adoption of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Under RFRA, neither federal nor state governments may restrict religious freedom unless there is a compelling reason for doing so; preventing the spread of a deadly disease is assuredly such a reason. Reform Jewish institutions and communities have readily and responsibly honored government restrictions on public gatherings throughout this pandemic, despite the resulting limitations on religious activity.
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Beth Emet is a diverse, multigenerational Reform community with a dynamic approach to Judaism. Our congregation seeks to create a spiritually vibrant, socially conscious, intellectually challenging, and deeply caring environment firmly rooted in Jewish tradition and values.

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