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
Our current plan is to offer in-person religious school gatherings for students in Grades 1 through 6, on a rotating basis starting in October, if federal and state guidelines permit it. This age group is considered to be at lower risk for COVID-19 infection and to have more difficulty accessing learning virtually.
In-person religious school 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.
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.
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 currently planning to resume in-person religious school programming for kindergarten or grades 7-12.
Online religious school will continue as established.
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.
General Safety Precautions
As noted above, our current plans are to reopen the building only for some religious school programs. The building will remain closed to all other visitors, including congregants and the public. As part of our partial reopening for religious school, and 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 specific health concerns and for children under the age of two years).
- 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 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.
Religious School Admittance Protocol
- All religious school parents, staff, and volunteers will be asked to complete a health screening checklist.
- Parents or guardians will be asked to complete the screening checklist for the children.
- Any parent/guardian transporting children (whether they plan to enter the building or not) will be asked to complete the checklist.
- When they bring children for religious school, parents/guardians must first text staff from the parking lot. They must have a completed health screening checklist and must put on a mask before staff or volunteers approach their car.
- Staff and/or volunteers, wearing masks, will ask parents/guardians for the health screening checklist and will review the responses with them.
- If a student arrives late, parents/guardians should call the front desk to determine if staff/volunteers are available to greet them and to review the screening checklist.
- Students will enter the building one at a time, or in sibling groups, and go directly to their assigned classroom.
Religious School Safety Precautions
- Students will meet in their assigned classrooms. They will wear masks (except when eating) and will maintain six feet of distance from each other.
- Teachers may bring their classes outside for learning activities with appropriate distancing, following guidelines to be developed by the religious school director.
- All other traffic in and out of the classroom by other staff and/or volunteers will be minimized.
- Separate bathrooms will be assigned to each classroom. Bathroom use will be limited to one student at a time. All other areas are restricted from student access.
- Continuing previous practice in the religious school, teachers may allow students to eat a snack prepared from home. Students will not be allowed to share snacks.
- It is recommended that students remain distanced during snack time, talk quietly when eating, have their snack time limited to ten minutes, and wash their hands or use hand sanitizer immediately after eating.
- There will be staggered dismissal of religious school classes, following guidelines to be developed by the religious school director.
- An assigned staff person will disinfect bathrooms, before and after class, and surfaces in classrooms after class, following CDC guidelines.
- Teachers will have cleaning/disinfecting supplies available to them to wipe surfaces as needed during class.
- Any student materials remaining in the classroom will be disinfected.
- Students may use materials that they have brought from home (such as paper, pencils, markers, and clipboards). Materials should be carried in an individual case, labeled with student’s name.
- Hand sanitizer will be available at the entry door and in each classroom and should be used each time a person enters or leaves the classroom or building.
- Gloves will be worn by staff and volunteers if they have to touch a child’s body or food.
Response to Symptomatic Students
If a student becomes symptomatic for COVID during the school day:
- The student will be escorted to a classroom of the school building on the second floor.
- Windows will be opened in the classroom.
- Teacher will call parent to pick up student.
- The student will remain in the designated area until picked up.
- Additional PPE (face shields and gloves) will be available if staff and/or volunteers need to temporarily care for a student who becomes symptomatic (while waiting for pickup) or in any situation where contact with bodily fluids may occur.
- Staff caring for a symptomatic student will don additional PPE such as gloves and/or a face shield and will maintain six feet distance from student, if possible.
- Student will be given additional PPE to wear including a face shield.
- Parent will be instructed to contact student’s primary care doctor.
If we are notified that a staff person, volunteer, or student has tested positive for COVID-19:
- Office staff and volunteers will be notified.
- Staff will contact CDC for guidance.
- If advised by CDC, the program will be temporarily closed and families notified of reason for closure using script provided by CDC.
- If advised by CDC, contact tracing will occur and relevant parties notified.
- If advised by CDC, area(s) of building will be disinfected per guidelines provided by CDC.
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 checklist 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.
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.