The COVID-19 pandemic forced the temporary closure of all of Congregation Bet Ha’am in-person programs, including worship, religious school, and other communal activities. The leadership of Bet Ha’am is eager to welcome our community back to our building when possible, but we are committed to the health and safety of our congregants, clergy, staff, and visitors. Our Reopening Task Force has developed a protocol for a gradual resumption of programs based on current conditions. Our plans follow the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and the policies established by the Governor’s Office and Maine Department of Public Health.
This memo explains our policies, procedures, and plans for gradual reopening. Please review it carefully and please contact the Bet Ha’am office (admin @ bethaam.org) if you have questions. This memo is a working document and will be updated frequently and without notice.
Message from Rabbi Saks
In Jewish tradition, the role of community is central. We are referred to as Am Yisrael, the Jewish people, not as Dat Yisrael, the Jewish religion. Synagogues and Jewish communities are referred to in Hebrew as Kehilah Kedoshah, holy community. And in the Talmud (Shevuot 39a) we read, Kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh, all Jews are responsible for one another. This rabbinic principle is the basis of the notion of communal responsibility in Jewish law. If one Jew sees another Jew at the verge of sinning, they have an obligation to step in and help. Even more so, it implies an obligation on all Jews to ensure that other Jews have their basic needs for food, clothing, and shelter met. Simply by virtue of being part of a Jewish community, one is responsible for the well-being of all other members of that community, and vice versa.
With this principle in mind we approach the work of reopening our building and outdoor space during the COVID-19 pandemic. In accordance with Jewish tradition, each person considering in-person participation at Congregation Bet Ha’am must consider not only the risk posed to themselves, but also the risk to which they expose others who also choose to be present. In order for our community to be able to gather in person, we will rely upon the full honesty of each member of our community in self-screening. Consider not only your own desire to be in person, but what it means for you to be part of a holy community, to bear responsibility for the well-being of others. Each time you consider coming to Bet Ha’am for in-person programming, ask yourself, “Have I engaged in any behavior that will put others at risk?” This is what it means to be a holy community and to be responsible for one another.
Current Plans for In-Person Gatherings
Online religious school will continue as established.
When we are able to upgrade our building’s HVAC filters, we may offer in-person enrichment programs to families; the programs would not be required. Details of who will meet, how they will meet, where they will meet, as well as details for arrivals, departures, and bathroom use will be available from the religious school director. No more than twenty people (students, teachers, and volunteers) will be allowed in the social hall.
In-person programs will be supported by volunteer teachers and classroom helpers; the plans for meeting in person are contingent on the willingness of volunteers to participate in such programs. For all events, a volunteer will be at the front doors as part of our already established security protocol.
Families will be asked to send children to school with face masks, but extras will be on hand for teachers to dispense in case masks are misplaced or damaged.
We are not planning to resume in-person indoor worship; all worship will be online. The size of our indoor space and our concerns about potential risks to our congregants, clergy, staff, and visitors make it impractical for us to resume in-person worship now. We will continue to closely monitor health guidelines and conditions and we will continue to reassess this policy.
Outdoor Social Events
Opportunities for gathering will be held outside during the fall, off the Congregation Bet Ha’am property. These initial gatherings will be held outside to decrease the risk for infection. These events will be held in a public space, with limited advertisement (only through emails to congregants), to support security protocols.
Attendance for these events will be limited to fifty people. Only registered congregants will be sent information regarding location. The leader of each event will be supported by two volunteers to “admit” congregants, encourage congregants to follow safety guidelines, and navigate any problems that may arise.
Congregants who register after all slots are filled for any one event will be given preference for a spot at the next gathering.
At each event, congregants and staff will be required to complete the health checklist, wear masks covering their mouths and noses, maintain social distance, and use hand sanitizer. Participants will be expected to provide their own masks, but hand sanitizer and extra masks will be available at the event. Singing will NOT be allowed. Family members or other individuals who are part of one “pod” may sit or stand together. A distance of at least six feet will be maintained between such groups and other individuals.
At this time, only staff members and “essential workers” (as defined by the board president, synagogue administrator, or rabbi) are allowed in the building due to concern regarding the steep increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Maine. We will continue to monitor the rate of cases and re-evaluate monthly and as conditions change.
General Safety Precautions
As noted above, our building will remain closed to visitors, including congregants and the public. In preparation for eventual wider reopening, we are taking the following steps to protect everyone’s health and safety:
- Masks and hand sanitizer will be available.
- Hand cleaning and sanitizing will be required upon arrival to any event or gathering whether indoors or outdoors.
- Face coverings will be required of all staff, volunteers, congregants, students, and visitors (with exceptions for children under the age of two years).
- Face coverings must be cloth or paper and have at least two layers. They must start at the bridge of the nose, cover the mouth, and end under the chin. There should not be gaps at the side of the mask. Neck gaiters, bandanas, and face shields are not acceptable substitutes. However, face shields may be worn over a mask.
- Physical distancing (at least six feet) will be encouraged at all times except for family or pod members.
- A limited number of people will be allowed in the building at any time.
- HVAC filters in the new building will be upgraded to MERV-13, the standard recommended by CDC guidelines and HVAC professionals.
- The office will be closed at all times to non-staff.
- Water fountains will be disconnected.
- Signs that visually outline the primary interventions needed to reduce infection (including wearing mask, maintaining social distance, and sanitizing hands) will be placed in the foyer of the synagogue and outside of each area being used for the religious school classes.
- Chairs will be separated to maintain social distancing.
- All rooms not being used for planned gatherings will remain closed.
- Singing will be excluded from all indoor religious school classes and from communal worship when that resumes.
- Doors and/or windows on the first floor will not be opened for ventilation to avoid strain on the HVAC system and to observe security protocols.
- We will carefully follow all CDC protocols for cleaning and disinfection. Current CDC guidelines can be found at cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html.
General Admittance Protocol
Once the building is reopened, and at any outdoor Bet Ha’am event, congregants, staff, and visitors will be required to comply with these protocols:
- Complete the health checklist before entry
- Use hand sanitizer immediately upon entry
- Wear masks (as described above) covering the mouth and nose at all times
- Maintain social distance at all times
Congregants and staff will be expected to provide their own masks, but hand sanitizer and extra masks will be available. Family members or other individuals who are part of one “pod” do not have to maintain distance from each other, but must maintain a distance of at least six feet between such a group and other individuals.
These protocols are currently in place for staff who have access to the building while it is still closed to congregants and the public.
In the Event of a Presumptive or Confirmed Case
If someone who has been in the building or has participated in a gathering associated with Bet Ha’am becomes ill with COVID-19, we will contact the CDC and follow the instructions provided. If the CDC requires staff to contact those considered to have been in “close contact” with the infected person(s), Rachel Lefkowitz, Emily Seigel, and David Soley will complete the necessary calls. The signed health forms, provided by each person entering the building and/or by each participant at an event, will be used to help identify “close contacts.”
At this time, people may not enter the building if they have traveled in the last fourteen days to a state that is not exempted by the Maine CDC. After returning to Maine, they may enter the building if they have first quarantined for fourteen days or quarantined for five days and tested negative for COVID-19, and are able to provide, in writing, evidence of a negative COVID test.
If we are unable to procure adequate supplies to clean the building or to protect staff and volunteers, we will close temporarily.
Health Screening Checklist
We have developed a health screening checklist for use by all congregants, visitors, and volunteers prior to coming to the synagogue. It has been designed to identify individuals who may have COVID-19 and/or may be at increased risk for COVID-19 due to recent exposures. The checklist will help us to reduce the risk of transmission by establishing guidelines for who can be admitted to synagogue property.
The screener is available here. It may also be accessed by the button at the bottom of this page.
The screening checklist does NOT assess whether it is safe for an individual child or adult to participate in in-person gatherings at the temple or whether a child or adult has an increased risk for severe illness if they develop COVID-19.
All congregants, visitors, volunteers, and staff are asked to not come to Congregation Bet Ha’am if they feel sick or have any symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19.
Precautions You Should Take
Please be aware that older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Based on what we know now, those at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are people who
- Are 65 years and older
- Live in a nursing home or long-term care facility
- Have underlying medical conditions, at any age, particularly if not well controlled, including:
- Chronic lung disease or moderate to severe asthma
- Serious heart conditions
- Any conditions that causes a person to be immunocompromised, including cancer treatment, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS, and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other immune weakening medications
- Severe obesity (body mass index [BMI] of 40 or higher)
- Chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis
- Liver disease
Further information from the CDC is available at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-at-higher-risk.html
If you have any of the risk factors named above, or any other health conditions that put you at higher risk, please consider carefully whether you should come to any program or event at Congregation Bet Ha’am.
COVID-19 and Our Community
If you are in need of personal and/or spiritual support provided by our community, but are sick, have symptoms of COVID-19, or are at increased risk of transmitting COVID-19 due to recent exposures, please call the synagogue to explain your needs. A staff person and/or a volunteer can assess and respond to your request via telephone or video. It is the goal of the synagogue to serve all members of the community, whether a congregant is sick or not sick, in such a way that promotes health and is least likely to spread transmission of infection.