Let’s Play It Safe
I’m a long-time member of Har Sinai Congregation-Temple Oheb Shalom and miss the opportunity to worship inside the synagogue (“Why Can’t We Pray in Our Shuls?”, June 12). However, I understand that praying inside would mean a risk of catching COVID-19. While the situation in Maryland has improved a bit, reopening too soon would likely mean an alarming increase in infections. States like Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, Alabama, and Texas that reopened much earlier than Maryland are now seeing a spike.
The police murder of George Floyd — captured in an agonizing 8 minutes, 45 seconds of video — shocked the nation. And this was far from the first black person murdered by police. This tragedy led to outrage and passionate protests by people of all races and religions, especially young people. The fact that the protests were outdoors and most demonstrators wore masks helped mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but we will learn more in a couple weeks. And the experience that this disease is generally less deadly to younger than older people may have factored in their willingness to take risk to speak out against injustice.
The membership of many synagogues is skewed toward older people. Many members also have health conditions like asthma. They don’t want to pray inside, when it means risking catching COVID-19. God certainly wouldn’t want worshipers to pray inside when it meant risking serious illness and spreading the pandemic.
Many synagogues, including Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom, have used technology (e.g. Zoom) to replace inside services with the opportunity to worship safely at home, while connecting with and seeing other congregants. Many members, especially older congregants, like this approach. Now that summer is here and Maryland’s stay-at-home order has been lifted, I would like to see synagogues also have smaller, properly spaced outdoor services. While not risk free, outdoor services are safer than indoor services. And those members who work from home on the computer during the week would welcome the chance on the weekend to worship outside and see their friends and fellow congregants.
– Jeffrey H. Marks, Baltimore