Chances are not long ago the phrase “flattening the curve” would have been unfamiliar to you. Nor would you have known the difference between “social distancing” and “shelter in place.”
But in the midst of responding to the coronavirus pandemic, all of us have needed to learn the meaning of these terms.
I would like to add some other words to our vocabulary. They are specific Jewish values that inform how we should respond as a congregation during this crisis. These central values have been developed over centuries and have stood the test of time.
They are enduring reminders that even during this time when society feels stretched to the limit, our congregation can remain grounded by reminding ourselves what is most important.
I want to thank my colleague, Rabbi Joe Black, and the clergy team at Congregation Emanuel in Denver for providing the following commentary about these core values:
Pikuach Nefesh – "saving a life." This is the most important Jewish value. Our sacred texts teach that we can forgo almost any commandment or prohibition in order to preserve life. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, our top priority must be the health and safety of all. If we as a synagogue are forced to cancel or radically reshape a program, service or class, we are doing so in order to ensure that everyone’s safety is paramount.
Al Tifrosh Min Ha Tzibbur – “do not separate oneself from the community.”(Mishnah, Avot 2:5) “Social Distancing”, cancelling programs, services, educational and social events can easily have the effect of isolating many of us from one another. As such, we are looking for as many ways as possible to ensure that we stay in touch. Utilizing internet streaming, email, our website and Facebook are just a few of the ways that we are striving to remain connected to our community. We also are dealing with the fact that some of this technology is imperfect. We have a learning curve ahead of us, but we are determined to do everything we can to enable meaningful connections.
Simcha – “Rejoicing.” Even in times of difficulty, it is important that we look for ways to celebrate Jewish life. This can be difficult when life-cycle events are cancelled or postponed due to health concerns. We are determined to do all that we can – within the constraints of the reality of our situation – to help everyone achieve this.
Nechama –” comforting the afflicted.” Pastoral care is central to our mission When personal contact is limited, this can be difficult. We will continue to strive to be present for all who are in need in any way that we can.
May these core values guide us in the days and weeks ahead.