This is a developing story.
Area Jewish organizations have begun the process of reopening as Texas Governor Greg Abbott moves the state toward fewer restrictions. On Monday, May 18, Abbott moved Texas into Phase 2 of the process, allowing the following businesses and organizations to reopen:
- Child Care Centers (May 18)
- Massage and Personal-Care Centers (May 18)
- Youth Clubs (May 18)
- Rodeo and Equestrian Events (May 22)
- Bowling Alleys, Bingo Halls, Simulcast Racing and Skating Rinks (May 22)
- Bars (May 22)
- Aquariums and Natural Caverns (May 22)
- Zoos (May 29)
- Day Youth Camps (May 31)
- Overnight Youth Camps (May 31)
- Youth Sports (May 31)
Certain professional sports without in-person spectators (May 31)
Opened services and activities under Phase 2 are subject to certain occupancy limits and health and safety protocols. For details and a full list of guidelines, openings and relevant dates, visit www.gov.texas.gov/opentexas.
Here’s a rundown of what opened this week in the Jewish community and openings on the horizon:
Aaron Family JCC
The J opened its fitness facility to members only on Monday, May 18. The fitness facility is functioning at 25% capacity and those working out are required to keep their faces covered with a mask.
The J tennis facility is also giving limited small group and individual lessons.
The J is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closes from noon to 1 for deep cleaning.
The J continues on-site senior meal drive-thru service, three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“Now more than ever you can feel the spirit of community when people are greeting each other as they enter the facility. Many haven’t seen one another for weeks,” JCC CEO Artie Allen told the TJP Tuesday.
Reform and Conservative synagogues continue to use virtual tools to conduct daily and Shabbat services. At press time, with the exception of very small b’nai mitzvah (less than 10 people) or other simchas which are broadcast virtually, the synagogues have remained closed to the public.
Orthodox synagogues in the area have begun the process of reopening. In a letter to their memberships last week, rabbis from nine synagogues and the Dallas Area Torah Association set forth guidelines. Since the pandemic started, the Orthodox leadership has worked together to coordinate and do their best to ensure the health and safety of their individual shuls and the Jewish community as a whole.
In their May 13 letter, the rabbis shared that they would begin the slow, methodical process of reopening their shuls. They emphasized that it’s not
a one-size-fits-all proposition, because the shuls have a range of membership sizes and facilities.
For example, Congregation Ohr HaTorah on Churchill Way has its own property, which allows them to hold a minyan in their parking lot. Each person is separated by at least one car spot to ensure social distancing. Only men and boys of bar mitzvah age are able to participate.
DATA of Plano’s synagogue is using a different format. Because they are located in a shopping center, the parking lot isn’t a viable option for the shul.
“We are presently having outdoor services on the property of a congregant. Our decision has been guided by the advice of doctors and rabbis who are monitoring the current situation. We do not have, at this current time, a clear time frame for when we will be returning to the physical facility for services. For details please email email@example.com,” Rabbi Nesanya Zakon told the TJP Tuesday.
Rabbi Yaakov Rich of Toras Chaim shared how they have been handling services since May 15.
“Officially our shul is open and has been open since last Friday night. We employ social distancing, 8 feet between people, which only allows for 15 people maximum inside the sanctuary. Allowing only men and boys above bar mitzvah as they are obligated in minyan.”
Rabbi Rich added that wearing a mask while davening is mandatory and everyone has their own hand sanitizer.
“The same person leads every service so as not to have different people touching the siddur and amud and to minimize mixing. The Torah reader gets every aliyah, so as to minimize mixing and keep social distancing. No gabbai.
“We start the service after introductory blessings and psukei d’zimra; there is no singing, and no speech, or teaching of any kind in shul, so as to minimize time together in shul.”
The Sephardic Torah Center announced Tuesday that it would begin holding services again in its newly renovated sanctuary. However, the services are intended for regular participants, and only men and boys over bar mitzvah age. Those wanting to daven who are not regular participants should email Rabbi Zecharia Sionit at firstname.lastname@example.org. As in other shuls, those inside the building will be required to wear masks at all times.
Other synagogues are still sussing out their options. Congregation Shaare Tefilla had a Town Hall meeting scheduled for Tuesday evening at press time.
Rabbi Aryeh Rodin said that Ohev Shalom had not finalized its opening plan. Rabbi Menachem Block of Chabad of Plano said that they hoped to have some form of in-person services by Shabbat services this weekend.
The overriding sentiment from the rabbis in their letter to the community as well as to the TJP is that pikuach nefesh is guiding their approach and keeping the community safe is paramount.
“It is also important to note that even as we open our shuls in different ways and at different times, the Orthodox Rabbis of Dallas are still unified and continue to work together. We have your health first and foremost in our decisions and we will be monitoring the situation constantly, taking whatever actions we deem necessary and are advised to take to preserve our community’s health,” they wrote.
The complete text of their letter and other letters issued by the Orthodox rabbinate as well as the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas, can be found at www.tjpnews.com/synagogues.
Sleep away camps
While Greene Family Camp announced two weeks ago that it would not open this summer, Camp Young Judaea is holding out hope that they will be able to have two two-week abbreviated sessions for registered campers beginning July 5. Iris Toth, CYJ’s assistant director of recruitment and community engagement, told the TJP Tuesday that the camp hoped to have more definitive plans by May 22, as they await guidance from the CDC and American Camping Association.
Last week, Camp Sabra, a JCC camp in the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, which has many campers from the Dallas area, said it will not reopen in 2020.
Several local Jewish day camps hope to reopen this summer assuming that they can meet the health and safety requirements as set forth by the Texas Department of Health Childcare Licensing Division, CDC and other governing bodies. Among the camps exploring their options are the Aaron Family JCC, Akiba Yavneh Academy, Anshai Torah, Chabad of Plano, Levine Academy and Lil Goldman Preschool.
Akiba Yavneh Academy Director of Early Childhood Education Jordana Bernstein explained that should enrollment support camp opening, it will look quite different from typical day camp.
Here are some examples she shared based on the licensing guidelines:
•Children will be screened for fever before they are escorted inside by a staff member.
•No parents will be allowed inside the building.
Favorite toys will not be able to go back and forth between camp and home. Camp groups will be very small.
•Campers will have the same staff with them throughout the day. Rather than forming groups based on friends, they will likely be based on the days campers attend and their dismissal time.
•Groups will stay together like “families.” There won’t be big social assemblies of the groups as is typical at summer camp.
Bernstein emphasized that for summer camp to work and be safe this summer it will require intense cooperation from parents and adherence to the health policies of the program.
“We can only control what’s happening at Akiba Yavneh. It’s up to the parents to follow the guidelines at home,” she said.
While everyone is eager to be together again, organizations, synagogues and camps are following the best practices set by their governing bodies, the CDC, and the Texas Department of Health to ensure the health of their staff, members and campers.