As Coronavirus Spreads in America, Synagogues Alert the Faithful

At Shabbat services at Larchmont Temple in New York’s Westchester County this weekend – an area where 82 coronavirus cases have been reported – there was no holding hands, as is the congregation’s custom during the Jewish prayer for healing.

“We are holding our hearts instead of our hands,” said Leora Frankel, a rabbi at the large Reform synagogue.

And Sunday, she said, the synagogue would be taking the advice of the local health department to close and do a deep clean of the building – which means no Hebrew school and a delay of a Purim carnival for children.

For now, the plan is to reopen Monday and still celebrate Purim with the adults.

The synagogue, like synagogues across North America and around the world, is mulling how both to remain a source of community and comfort for its members, and be smart about how to handle the growing wave of coronavirus cases.

Leora Frankel, a rabbi at Larchmont Temple in New York’s Westchester County.Rhoda Levine

“We’re taking it day by day and in some cases hour by hour as the situation develops,” Frankel told Haaretz. “It’s this juggling act of wanting to remain a warm, supportive, nurturing environment and of course caring for every individual’s health, yet balancing that with the daily updates we’re getting from the county and school district.”

In short, she said, the synagogue is “trying to balance what is sacred with what is sane,” borrowing a term that Jeffrey J. Sirkman, the senior rabbi at her synagogue, has coined in the age of the coronavirus.