Beth El synagogue holds off on in-person services amid rising COVID-19 cases

Posted at 6:31 PM, Nov 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-22 22:57:14-05

NORFOLK, Va. – When Beth El Temple in Ghent decides to reopen for in-person services, new protocols will be in place.

Upon entering the synagogue, congregants will have their temperature taken by a high-tech device that also reads if a person is wearing a mask or not.

A normal temperature reading means a person can enter the synagogue, but in the event you might be running a fever, of if you’re not wearing a mask properly, you won’t be allowed inside.

“We’re trying to be as careful as we can, because some of the people will be much older than I, and some of the people will have far worse health conditions than I have” said Rabbi Murray Ezring. “We want everyone to be comfortable, or as comfortable as possible coming in.”

Inside the sanctuary, there are more safety measures for when congregants return. Worshipers will have assigned seats, families will be grouped together, and rows are quartered off.

“We have a minimum of two or three rows where people sit and only one group in a row,” Ezring said. “They have to pre-register, sign waivers.”

Houses of worship are allowed to have 250 people but Beth El is playing it safe. They’ll only be allowing up to 50 people inside the sanctuary. Typically, 1400 people can fit inside.

“Although people won’t be close together, they’ll feel as though they’re part of a community,” said Ezring.

After COVID forced places of worship to close in March, Beth El began streaming services online. Even after they were given the green light to reopen in May, they kept their doors closed and stayed online.

Once the synagogue does reopen, the online services will still be offered on zoom and Facebook for families worried about getting sick if they come inside to worship.

“Our attendance at services has gone up tremendously,” Ezring said. “For the high holy days this year, we almost tripled our attendance.”

Beth El was planning on holding in-person services starting this weekend, but leaders in the congregation are reconsidering the timeline after a recent surge in COVID cases.

Meantime, they’re ready for when that day comes. Rabbi Ezring said all changes were made with careful consideration under the guidance of medical professionals to help keep worshipers safe.

“We’re protecting the congregation as much as we can,” he said. “You’ll notice we put up the plexiglass shields at the pulpits.”

Despite all the changes, Ezring said he’s looking forward to having in-person services again.

“It will be different,” he said. “We always missed having people here because a Jewish service there’s lots of singing… and it’s really strange for cantor Wendy and me to be singing alone, so it’ll be nice to have people singing with us.”