Families postpone simchas as COVID-19 spreads

Public safety is top of mind

By Daniela Appel
Special to the TJP

As the coronavirus began to spread rapidly last week, federal, state and local governments have announced increasingly strict guidelines in order to slow the spread of the virus.

The Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas was quick to respond to the new measures and met with “local health experts” last week and decided to recommend a discontinuation of communal Shabbat services last weekend before later discontinuing these gatherings all together. “In order to…uphold the Jewish value of preserving life, we are abiding by the recommendations of the local medical community,” the RAGD stated Friday in a letter signed by 23 area rabbis. 

North Texas’ Jews are grappling with the pandemic and many have been required to make the difficult decision to postpone long-awaited life cycle events as congregations all over the region have responded to health officials’ advice.

“My sermon Saturday morning focused on bridging social distancing in a time of uncertainty when we’d often come together,” Rabbi Ari Sunshine, senior rabbi at Shearith, said. “I can’t imagine what families are going through with [having to postpone] special, happy events they’ve been dreaming of for a long time. It takes a lot of understanding and selflessness to say we will have to wait and think about the greater good,” Sunshine continued. 

The Goldminz family, whose son Zachary breathed a sigh of relief when he was able to celebrate his bar mitzvah two weeks ago. “I was panicked people couldn’t come or wouldn’t want to be in crowds,” said Zachary’s mom, Pamela. Despite having to take precautions such as refraining from kissing the Torah during the service, it was well worth the sacrifice. “Zachary is a cancer survivor,” she explained. “Having his bar mitzvah is something I dreamed of for years — it is a dream come true. It is so easy not to focus on what we’re fortunate for. We can’t take things for granted and need to focus on what goes right for us.”

However, other families with simchas approaching in the coming weeks have had to make difficult decisions for the greater good firsthand and grapple with the reality that long awaited simchas such as weddings and b’nai mitzvah have had to be postponed. 

Seventh grade Levine Academy student, Lainey Wren, and her family made the decision to postpone her bat mitzvah sooner rather than later. “We wanted to do it in enough time to let people know. Lainey has been a champ and I am so proud of her. She knew it was the right thing to do,” Lainey’s mom, Alix, said. Lainey is far from alone in her situation and turning to friends going through similar things has been a source of support. 

Lainey’s classmate, Maren Landgarten, had to make a similar difficult decision to postpone her April 4 bat mitzvah Friday. Maren’s mom, Stephanie, has public safety in mind. “We’d rather be safe than sorry,” Landgarten said. “This has taught Maren valuable lessons: that good things come to those who wait. Sometimes, life gets in the way. [When her big day comes,] it will be even more special for her.” 

In addition to b’nai mitzvah, members of the community have had to alter plans other simchas such as weddings, as well as more sorrowful life cycle events such as funerals and shiva minyans. 

In a quick escalation in the severity of this now pandemic, religious communities across all faiths and denominations are working to unify in times of crisis. “It is easy in this time of worry and uncertainty to give way to panic,” Rabbi Andrew Paley said in an email addressing his congregation last week. “We will not abandon those in need, and most importantly, we will not stop being a community. We might have to be community a little differently for a while, but we will not stop caring. [We] are here for you and will always be a place of shalom-wholeness, hope and healing.” 

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