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 section explains our policies, procedures, and plans for gradual reopening. Please review it carefully and please contact the Bet Ha’am office if you have questions. This section may 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
Religious School classes will begin meeting in-person on Sunday, October 17, 2021. 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.
In-person programs will be supported by fully vaccinated 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.
Parents/guardians must complete the Sign-In Form at every drop-off. 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.
Effective September 1, 2021, all individuals who wish to attend worship services in-person must be fully vaccinated and be willing to attest to vaccination status.
At this time, our weekly Shabbat Worship Services are offered in-person in addition to being livestreamed via Zoom. Family Shabbat Worship and Tot Shabbat Worship Services will be livestreamed via Zoom only; no in-person attendance can be accommodated.
Zoom service links are published in the weekly newsletter on Thursdays. If you are not subscribed to our newsletter and would like to attend a service via Zoom, please contact our office for more information.
Outdoor Worship and Social Events
Whenever possible, we will offer Worship Services outdoors. Congregants and staff will be required to complete the sign-in form, wear masks covering their mouths and noses (as we will be singing), and maintain social distance. Participants will be expected to provide their own masks, but extra masks will be available at each event.
Masks will not be required at outdoor social events that do not include worship.
General Safety Precautions
We are taking the following steps to protect everyone’s health and safety:
- Masks and hand sanitizer will be available.
- Sign-in is required at each visit.
- Face coverings will be required of all staff, volunteers, congregants, students, and visitors (with exceptions for children under the age of two years).
- Physical distancing will be encouraged at all times except for members of the same household.
- 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 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.
- Doors and/or windows on the first floor of the new building will not be opened for ventilation to avoid strain on the HVAC system and to observe security protocols.
- Doors and/or windows in the Religious School building will be opened for ventilation whenever possible.
- We will carefully follow all CDC protocols for cleaning and disinfection.
- Eating is not allowed inside the building.
General Admittance Protocol
At any Bet Ha’am event, congregants, staff, and visitors will be required to comply with these protocols:
- Complete the Sign-In Form before entry at each visit
- 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. Members of the same household do not have to maintain distance from each other, but must maintain a distance of at least three feet between such a group and other individuals.
These protocols are currently in place for staff, 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), our Executive Director will complete the necessary calls. The information contained in our sign-in forms will be used to help identify “close contacts.”
Sign-In Form – Attestation
We have developed a Sign-In Form 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 attestation will help us to reduce the risk of transmission by establishing guidelines for who can be admitted to synagogue property.
By completing the Sign-In Form, visitors attest that no person in their household has been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, has been asked to quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure, or has experienced any of the following symptoms, regardless of vaccination status: fever or chill, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, or diarrhea.
The attestation contained within the Sign-In Form 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
Our Shabbat Morning Worship Services sometimes include celebrations of our students becoming bar or bat mitzvah. The entire congregation is welcome and encouraged to join in Shabbat worship when our students are called to the Torah. While we require everyone who wishes to attend in-person to be fully vaccinated, these celebrations may include children who are not yet eligible for vaccination. Unvaccinated children will be seated in a separate area away from the general congregation; however, if you are not comfortable sharing a space with unvaccinated individuals, we encourage you to attend a Shabbat service that does not include a family-centered celebration or join us via Zoom.
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.