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Kipa Exclusive: Synagogues in Israel have opened. What about the rest of the world?

Many communities around the world have begun reopening synagogues in accordance with regulations. The synagogue in Frankfurt, Germany, which opened two weeks ago, was the first in the world to re-open. In some places the list of service participants must be submitted to the local Health Ministry.

Gilad Erlich, Kipa News

Sivan 1, 5780 | May 24, 2020

synagogue in Guatemala
Synagogue in Guatemala

In Israel there is a sense of gradual return to routine, bolstered by the reopening of synagogues at the end of last week in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines. However, throughout the rest of the world the situation is a little different. The data – published here for the first time – was gathered by Ohr Torah Stone’s Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel programs’ 250 emissaries throughout the world, with the help of Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, director of the programs. It seems that many synagogues have opened only partially, without fulfilling their true role of serving as the center of the community.

Synagogues that are only partially open:

Lausanne, Switzerland – the synagogue will open over Shavuot but with many restrictions. Registration is by email and the list of service participants is sent to the local office of the Ministry of Health. Up to sixty people can attend services, not including security personnel; four square meters must be maintained between congregants; and a Corona officer must be appointed.

In Zurich, no kiddush can be held in the synagogue – people must leave immediately after service is over.

In Melbourne, Australia, there is an age limit – anyone over seventy is forbidden entry. Also, temperatures are measured before entering and a distance of 2m is maintained between congregants. Men may have aliyot but without actually going up to the Torah; the length of the service was shortened; and no Kiddush is held here either.

In Munich, Germany, the synagogue is now open for the second week, yet only for morning services on Shabbat. On Shavuot as well, services will only be conducted in the morning. Services are limited to fifty people, all of whom must wear masks, maintain a 2m distance from each other, and register ahead of time.

The Great Synagogue of Frankfurt opened two weeks ago, with restrictions. This is the first synagogue to re-open in the Jewish world – even before synagogues in Israel.

In Oslo, Norway, services have been conducted in the past two weeks, with participation limited to fifty people with prior registration, and there is no Kiddush after services.

The synagogue in Warsaw opened two weeks ago but only on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbat mornings. It will be open on Shavuot.

Wellington, New Zealand, opened limited, 15-people services last week, based on prior registration. They are currently waiting for government notification regarding the possibility of increasing the number of congregants for Shavuot.

Torino synagogue
Synagogue in Torino, Italy

In Florence, Italy, services opened on Shabbat but only the cantor is allowed to sing, and there is a 2m distance between congregants. In Venice, too, the synagogue opened on Shabbat but the congregants remained outside the synagogue and no children were allowed. Everyone wore masks and gloves, aliyot to the Torah were carried out at a distance, there was no Kiddush, and services were shortened. In Modena the synagogue opened on Shabbat in accordance with Ministry of Health guidelines, with no Kiddush, and no children.

In Copenhagen, Denmark, the synagogue opened on Shabbat, with service participants maintaining 2m distance. Here, however, the only limit to the number of participants is the space available. As the synagogue is large, services can hold up to 200 people.

Synagogues that are still closed:

Synagogues in Paris will remain closed over Shavuot, opening only on June 2.

In South Africa a meeting was held between the President and heads of all faiths. Currently there is no date for the reopening of houses of prayer and synagogues.

Synagogues will remain closed over Shavuot also in Manchester, England, and in Scotland, Mexico, Colombia, and Uruguay. Regarding Mexico Rabbi Birnbaum reported that, “all synagogues are closed, the whole country is in lockdown. Reopening may take place a month from now.”

In the United States regulations are determined per state. In New Jersey for example, the synagogues are closed pending the Governor’s announcement.

Rabbi Birnbaum in his study
Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum

Rabbi Birnbaum explained that the Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel programs have some 250 rabbis throughout the world, to whom they have sent the format for a “Returning to Synagogue” ceremony. The assumption is that the world is continuing to re-open, with much disorganization and changes, and at times with differences between cities in the same state.

According to him, it is important to understand that, “synagogues outside of Israel play a much more significant role. They serve as a home for the community and provide a sense of belonging. Not only religious people come to synagogue but also people who are seeking a sense of connection, a connection to Jewish identity. For that reason we prepared this return to the synagogue ceremony, to mark it as a significant event.”

He added that, “what characterizes the return to the synagogues is the fact that although the synagogues have re-opened, the restrictions are very, very confining, and basically mean that the synagogue cannot fulfill its function in Jewish communities abroad. Although in principle the kiddush is not more important than the services, in practice it is very significant, sometimes more than the service itself. The same holds true for the rabbi’s sermon. The people who come do so not only because of the requirement to pray, but because of a spiritual need for identity. Therefore, on the one hand the Jews are overjoyed that the synagogues have reopened, yet on the other hand this is not the normal synagogue.”

Regarding the long-term effect, Rabbi Birnbaum says that in his opinion there will be many changes. “It is possible that the services will be shortened, families may begin praying on their own at home with a musical Kabbalat Shabbat [via Zoom] before Shabbat begins. Possibly fewer of the older members of the congregation will come. One thing is clear, the community and synagogue models in the Diaspora are about to change.”

Data is courtesy of the 250 rabbis and educators who serve as Straus-Amiel and Beren-Amiel emissaries around the world, from New Zealand and South Africa to Poland and Italy, from the United States to Mexico and Colombia.

Read this article (in Hebrew) on the Kipa website 


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