Few changes for synagogues, Jewish organizations in light of Governor Abbott’s plan to reopen Texas

JFS will reopen food pantry once per week

TJP Staff

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas’ stay-at-home executive order would expire April 30. That means that some businesses and organizations can reopen under “Phase One” guidelines Friday. Among those organizations that can reopen with limitations are houses of worship. However, at press time Tuesday, area synagogues have no plans to reopen this weekend.

“Religious communities, with their heavily social communal lives, are at greater risk for reinfection during this pandemic, and its members are most likely to represent vectors for the spread of the disease once again to the general population. As such, it is premature to reopen shuls at this time,” wrote 11 Orthodox rabbis representing nine synagogues and Dallas Area Torah Association.

North Texas Chabad locations will remain closed as well as Conservative and Reform congregations.

Stuart Snow and Michael Kapin, board members of Congregation Beth Shalom in Arlington, told the TJP that the synagogue follows “Jewish law in that pikuach nefesh, preservation of human life, overrides virtually any other religious rule.” Beth Shalom has an Emergency Response Committee  which monitors local, state and federal guidelines  and will recommend to the board when it believes it is appropriate to open. “Currently no such timelines have been planned and the Congregation will continue to protect its congregants and neighbors by closing all in-person activities for weeks to months ahead,” said Kapin and Snow.   

Rabbi Andrew Bloom, of Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth, added that it is said that based upon a Talmudic principle it is “OK to cancel one Shabbat in order to celebrate many Shabbats together in the future.”

Bloom indicated that Tarrant County and Fort Worth will likely start slowly opening around May 18, and his synagogue will adapt based on the best public health guidelines available.

Other Jewish organizations are carefully weighing their options and balancing the needs of their clients.

Jewish Family Service

Jewish Family Service of Dallas will reopen its food pantry with new measures — drive-thru service — in place May 1.

“Beginning this Friday, May 1, the JFS Food Pantry will reopen, to provide contactless food distribution to more than 200 families. After this week, our distributions will continue to be one time per week, but on Thursdays.  We will be handing out prepackaged food boxes from our partner, the North Texas Food Bank,”  JFS released in an emailed newsletter Tuesday.

The email explained, “The drive-thru distribution will be run by staff only at this time. We appreciate your support and desire to volunteer. Due to our very limited space in the pantry and in support of social distancing guidelines, we want to minimize the number of people working in the pantry. As we begin the process of more fully reopening the pantry, we will send out notifications to our volunteers as to how they can help.”

JFS has seen a 260% increase in the number of calls for its services since March 18.

Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum

As a museum, the DHHRM is allowed to open at 25% capacity beginning Friday, May 1. However, it is taking a more measured approach to ensure that staff and visitors will be safe upon reopening. President and CEO Mary Pat Higgins outlined two key elements in an email to the Museum stakeholders Tuesday, 

“-We are proactively monitoring our staff’s temperatures for a minimum of two weeks prior to reopening.

“-We are also working to deliver an experience that respects social distancing guidelines and best practices for health and safety. The safety of our visitors and staff has always been, and remains, our top priority,” Higgins wrote.

The Aaron Family JCC

Opening the JCC is not covered under Phase 1 of Governor Abbott’s plan. The campus remains closed. The JCC awaits announcements related to Phase 2 which are expected May 18. In the meantime, the JCC continues to provide frozen kosher senior meals for pickup on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from noon-1:30 p.m. In order to facilitate seniors leaving their homes less frequently, additional meals are given on all three days the JCC is open for pickup. Those wishing to come pick-up meals are asked to leave a message with their name, phone number, and day they intend to come at 214-239-7149. The JCC continues to act in partnership with Jewish Family Service to supply their Kosher Frozen Meal Home Delivery program with kosher meals throughout the crisis.

The Legacy Senior Communities

In his news conference Monday, Governor Abbott repeatedly stressed the importance of keeping seniors safe. Senior living facilities are required to remain closed to visitors, except for those who are providing “critical assistance” such as  at end-of-life. The Legacy Senior Communities has been following these procedures since early March. There are no immediate changes, but the Legacy is reviewing its policies to ensure the highest level of care and prevention. 

The Legacy would like to see proactive guidelines added to Governor Abbott’s plans that will mandate hospitals to conduct COVID-19 testing before referring patients to a residential facility that serves seniors and other vulnerable populations. 

These tests should be mandated even if the future resident is asymptomatic and seeking to move into a residential community. 

Additionally, they would like to see the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) made available to all residential communities. 

“While current guidelines are helpful in responding to determined infection, the experience and expertise warrants consideration of strategies that promote more efficacious ‘front-end’ prevention of infection to the resident populations and staff,” said Melissa Orth, president and CEO of The Legacy Senior Communities.

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