Just when we thought we were out, the pandemic pulls us back in.
On Dec. 29, the United States reached 300,886 average new daily cases over the previous week, a new high, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, CNN reported. Hopes of a permanent return to normal and to in-person programming have been once again put on pause, as the recent surge has resulted in organizations updating their COVID-19 policies. Some Jewish organizations in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas are bringing back restrictions, which run the gamut from banning food and drink in specific venues to canceling in-person events.
On Dec. 23, Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation announced that, due to the pandemic, all of its programming and services would be virtual through Jan. 9, said Amy Mallor, the synagogue’s interim executive director. The decision was made by the synagogue’s reopening committee, in consideration of both the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates.
Mallor explained that the shift to all virtual programming is easier now than it was in March of 2020, as the necessary technology is currently in place.
The decision to go virtual was not a difficult one, Mallor said, as the synagogue is concerned first and foremost about its members’ safety and well-being.
“We are extremely disappointed that we will be virtual until at least January 9,” Mallor said in an email. “Last year we had worthwhile and exciting virtual programming, and depending on the length of the surge, we will do [so] again this year.
“Although our members are disappointed to be returning to virtual programming, they stand with us with our decision,” Mallor added.
The surge in cases also led to the Jewish Volunteer Connection canceling its in-person Mitzvah Day event at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC, which had been set for Dec. 24.
In pre-pandemic times, this event — where volunteers were intending to assemble winter care packages — might have been held at two separate JCCs, with between 300 to 500 volunteers at each site working to assemble thousands of winter care packages, said Ashley Pressman, executive director of the JVC.
But this year, even before the cancellation, JVC had been modifying its plans to keep volunteers safer from COVID-19 by scaling the event down, explained Pressman, a resident of Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood and a member of Beth Am Synagogue. The event was going to be held at just the Park Heights JCC with volunteers working in shifts of between 100 to 150 at a time.
As the surge began, it became difficult for JVC to believe it could safely hold an in-person event of even 100 people.
And yet, that did not stop the care packages from being assembled.
“We recognized we have a sacred obligation to get those kind of winter care packages out,” Pressman said.
In the end, around 25 volunteers, including the JVC Community Mitzvah Day committee and some of their family members, came to the JCC on Dec. 23 and 24 to assemble more than 2,000 care packages.
Over at Moishe House Baltimore, in place of the previously scheduled in-person pajama brunch event scheduled for Dec. 26, the residents shifted to a virtual Coffee and Kahoot event.
Stacy Jarvis, who until Jan. 1 was a resident of Moishe House Baltimore, described the original pajama brunch event as an opportunity “to bring our community together and get cozy during this winter month.” However, with the COVID-19 positivity rate rising, the residents realized that face masks would be impractical for a brunch, and that an unmasked indoor event would not be COVID-19 safe.
Instead, Coffee and Kahoot event attendees got a beverage for themselves, logged onto Zoom and played Kahoot! online.
“It was definitely a disappointing decision to have to make, but I wouldn’t say it was particularly difficult,” Jarvis said. “We put health and safety above everything at Moishe House.”
Meanwhile, as of Dec. 27, the Pozez JCC of Northern Virginia updated its COVID-19 policies to temporarily suspend food and beverage consumption in the lobby of its building and at its programs, said Jeff Dannick, the executive director of Pozez JCC.
“The policy was implemented due to a number of factors including the spike in positivity rates and to facilitate effective mask policy compliance to keep safe our members, guests, and children in our Early Childhood Learning Center who are not yet eligible for the vaccines,” Dannick said in an email. “We recognize that not everyone will agree with our decision, but in the interest of our community’s health, we have to do what we can to minimize the spread of the virus.”