What a challenging last 2 years for each and every one of us. COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in so many of our lives’ events, whether big or small. Under the direction of our Senior Staff and leadership, Temple Israel has been constantly pivoting to assure the safety of our congregants.
Throughout the last two years, Temple Israel has had a Reopening Task Force. The purpose of this group has been to bring the most up to date medical knowledge as well as well as community school and business standards to the Temple to help make the best decisions to keep our community safe and healthy. This group was initially thought to be a temporary, short-term group. It has been led by our Executive Director, Eric Shatzkin, includes four physicians, the TI board President (who currently is also a physician), a high school principal, a Torah Center teacher, a senior congregant and community leader, and our Director of Education and Congregational Engagement Sharon Amster Brown.
This group met recently, and it was determined that the likelihood is that this Task Force would need to be in place for the foreseeable future. As it has transitioned from a temporary task force to an ongoing committee, we have now renamed it The COVID Advisory Committee. As a standing committee, we also recognized the importance of having it lay-led as opposed to staff-led (although staff will still be actively serving on the committee). The committee will now be chaired by Dr. Carl Schultz, EMS Medical Director of Orange County and Professor Emeritus of Emergency Medicine UCI. We will be meeting once a month, and more often if deemed necessary.
Throughout the pandemic, the philosophy has been one from the Jewish ethic of emphasizing the importance of saving even one life. The group makes recommendations based on the current science, and then shortly thereafter we create policy to enact the latest recommendations for the Temple community. The challenge has always been to find the balance between normalization and safety. Much of this has been mitigated with the advent of vaccinations and easy availability for all.
The current policy for our community is that it is a requirement to be vaccinated to enter Temple Israel. If you are not vaccinated and age 5 and above, you must have a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours to enter the building (exceptions for testing are for those who have had COVID in the previous 90 days). Masks are ALWAYS required and must fully cover nose and mouth. Consistent with latest guidelines, these masks should be N95, KN95, or people can double-mask, with surgical mask on bottom and cloth mask on top. A single cloth mask is no longer thought to provide enough protection at this time.
One of the challenges we have faced is whether we require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test, or do we trust that as a religious institution living in sacred partnership, that this trust will not be betrayed. The argument for asking people to show proof is so you can catch people not telling the truth, but this does not necessarily provide greater protection. As an example, during the 48 hours after a recent Bar Mitzvah service, at least 2 congregants had results of positive COVID tests. Both congregants were compliant with our guidelines, and their showing proof would not have changed the results.
At this point we all must decide as individuals, for anything we do, about how much risk we are willing to take. At Temple Israel we are trying to maximize safety by requiring vaccines, testing within 24 hours if not vaccinated, and appropriate mask wearing. With all these precautions and protections, one must then decide if you feel safe enough to enter, or the risk factor is enough to avoid.
I am so proud and thankful that we continue to livestream, Zoom, and have Facebook Live so that we can include as many people as possible to our programs and services while people are still making the choice to participate from home. As always, I welcome your opinions on this issue. We have been hearing all sides. Please email at email@example.com