By Sharon Wisch-Ray
This is a developing story.
The Jewish community is waking up to some new rules in Dallas County in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Hours after Orthodox rabbis sent an email to their congregants stating that Shabbat would be held at their synagogues with modifications, Dallas County officials announced a public ban on public gatherings. Although there are some exceptions — office towers, movie theatres and schools — house of worship are included.
Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson has declared a state of emergency for the City of Dallas. He will hold a news conference at 10 a.m.
“As Jews, we consider it a mitzvah to be together, especially in times of joy and sorrow. We must immediately change our thinking and realize it is our duty to social distance ourselves. Call, email, text, livestream, video chat, but I beg you to NOT make a minyan and cancel all events and gatherings,” said Dallas City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents District 12, a heavily Jewish area with an eruv and at least four Orthodox and one conservative synagogue.
“For me, the hardest part already is not seeing my father and his wife, Elsa, who live at the Legacy. I’ve asked them to isolate and have meals delivered. Instead, we check in with each other by phone or video call every day,”
“I’ve pulled my teenage son, who has asthma, out of school yesterday. He is not happy with me.”
“The data is clear, we must take immediate action,” Mendelsohn said.
Temple Emanu-El, one of the largest Reform congregations in the country, sent out an email to its membership late last night.
The email, signed by Temple Emanu-El Rabbi David Stern, President Chris Cheniae and Executive Director Meredith O’Byrne, states:
“Temple leadership has made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend large group gatherings, including Shabbat services. We have also closed our Early Childhood Education Center, effective tomorrow, Friday, March 13.
“We know this is a stressful time for some and that the situation changes rapidly. Pikuach nefesh, saving a life, is the most highly held mitzvah, and in order to save lives, we are permitted to deviate from normal practice. With this value in mind, we follow the caution of the medical community, which has advised us that COVID-19 spreads between people when they are in close proximity and recommends that we adopt the principles of social distancing.
“Even as we put the practice of social distancing in place by canceling large gatherings and moving many of our day-to-day operations to virtual platforms, we remain committed to providing for the social, spiritual, pastoral and ritual needs of our community. As always, our clergy are here to offer spiritual support, and they along with our education staff are here to help parents process these events with their children.”
It is expected that as the morning unfolds, other congregations will announce similar plans.
The TJP will report these announcements on its
website and social media.