Kosher Chili Cook-Off, Interfaith Seder and BBYO events canceled

Synagogues and schools adapt to stem spread of COVID-19

By Sharon Wisch-Ray

Pikuach Nefesh, the principle of preserving life over virtually everything else is an overarching principle in Judaism. In response to the spread of the coronavirus, numerous local Jewish organizations and synagogues have canceled upcoming events and modified the way they conduct their day-to-day activities.

On Wednesday, March 11, following the announcement that COVID-19 had been designated a pandemic, officials from the 27th Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-Off annually hosted by Tiferet Israel, canceled Sunday’s contest citing health concerns for the Dallas Jewish and general community, the cooking teams, vendors and volunteers.

“Canceling the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off was a very difficult decision, however, we feel it is the right decision given the current situation.” said Stuart Roosth, president of Tiferet Israel. 

Cook-Off Co-Chair Ed Jerome added, “While we believe we had adequate health precautions in place, many have called us with concerns about having so many in our community together at this time.  Our primary concern is the health, safety, and welfare of our community members.” 

On Thursday, Federation officials announced that the annual Interfaith Seder scheduled for April 1 was canceled.

“We are saddened that this special community event will not take place this year, especially as so many past participants have told us how much they enjoy and appreciate this annual gathering. But public health and safety concerns are paramount.”

The Texas Jewish Post has been the presenting sponsor of the Interfaith Seder for the last several years.

Also Thursday, Lory Conte and her Dallas BBYO staff, announced to parents via email that several upcoming BBYO events are canceled or postponed.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily stopping all local BBYO in person events. This includes all inperson chapter programs this weekend being canceled and moved to virtual meetings. Teen chapter presidents will be in touch with their chapters directly with video links and updated plans. 

“Spring Regional Convention, scheduled for April 3-5, is currently being rescheduled. While we navigate this fluid situation, we will be in touch to registered teens and parents with information about refunds and/or credits for Spring Convention,” the BBYO email states.

Earlier in the week, the March of the Living canceled its April program to Poland and Israel, affecting Yavneh seniors, teens attending through BBYO and the community’s second adult bus.

Levine Academy also postponed its eighth-grade trip to Israel after learning that Israel had placed a 14-day quarantine on those entering the country.

Throughout the week, synagogues, day schools and other Jewish organizations have sent emails to their members outlining procedures that will be followed to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“There is no higher priority in Judaism than the preservation of life and we want to assure you that our staff and our officers (who are all medical professionals!) are keeping your well-being and the well-being of our community in mind as we work together to slow the spread of the virus,” wrote the leadership of Shearith Israel in Dallas, Thursday.

At Shearith, klei kodesh (clergy) will refrain from physical contact including kissing, hugging, handshakes and fist bumps.

“This is a warm, close-knit, and loving community and we know that warmth can be just as easily expressed through enthusiastic smiles and verbal greetings. It is our hope that everyone will join our klei kodesh in adopting this vitally important preventative measure,” the email states.

Also, new procedures are in place during services. The practice of kissing the Torah with prayer books or tallitot is suspended. Those with aliyot and Torah readers will be asked to sanitize their hands before handling ritual objects like the yad or Torah handles.

In it’s email to the community Temple Emanu-El is also suspending physical contact between people. Emanu-El has also asked that people who are traveling during spring break outside the DFW area refrain from coming to the synagogue for 14 days upon their return.

“Judaism holds the value of kol yisrael aravim zeh b’zeh, that all Jews are responsible for each other, highly. As a congregation, we stand together and take this value to heart in protecting our diverse community and the broader community of which we are a part. At this time, we are reminded that our responsibility is not only to ourselves, but to all of those whose risk can be minimized by our precautions.”

In an email to the Akiba Academy community Wednesday, Rabbi Yaakov Green explained that faculty are being trained to run Zoom meetings in the event that the school implements distance learning.

“While at this time we do not anticipate the need for a prolonged closure due to coronavirus, please be assured that we are diligently planning proactively should the need arise,” Rabbi Green wrote.

Akiba also began implementing the following plan:

  • “Upon arrival, all students will wash hands when they enter their classrooms, and again  before lunch upon entering the lunch room, and then again when they return from lunch and recess before returning to class. We recommend that upon returning home all children wash their hands upon entering the home. 
  • Everyone on campus is asked to refrain from handshaking, using less physical or non physical forms of greeting. 
  • At this time, to prevent the spread of germs, we are asking everyone to refrain from kissing mezzuzot, a beloved custom (and not a requirement) we hope to return to soon. 

As more information becomes available, the TJP will report on it. As a reminder, the CDC recommendations are:

Clean your hands often

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact

Take steps to protect others

Stay home if you’re sick

Cover coughs and sneezes

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Throw used tissues in the trash.
  • Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, clean your hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Wear a facemask if you are sick

  • If you are sick:  You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a health care provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room. Learn what to do if you are sick.
  • If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers.

Clean and disinfect

  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets and sinks.
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water before disinfection.

To disinfect:
Most common EPA-registered household disinfectants will work. Use disinfectants appropriate for the surface.

Options include:

  • Diluting your household bleach.
    To make a bleach solution, mix:
    • 5 tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water
    • 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water

Follow manufacturer’s instructions for application and proper ventilation. Check to ensure the product is not past its expiration date. Never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser. Unexpired household bleach will be effective against coronaviruses when properly diluted.

  • Alcohol solutions.
    Ensure solution has at least 70% alcohol.
  • Other common EPA-registered household disinfectants.
    Products with EPA-approved emerging viral pathogens pdf icon[7 pages]external icon claims are expected to be effective against COVID-19 based on data for harder to kill viruses. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.).

For up to date guidance on the coronavirus, visit

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