Update on Temple Operations. Read our Covid-19 Response

Temple Shalom remains in its virtual operating status as described more fully in our message from April 1, 2021 below: 

April 1, 2021

Dear Temple Shalom Community:


As we say goodbye to Passover and enjoy the signs of renewal all around us with a sense of optimism offered by vaccination and Spring, we write to share a number of exciting developments for Temple Shalom. Perhaps the biggest news is that the Board of Trustees has authorized the resumption of limited outside in-person activities, subject to robust health and safety protocols. More on that at the end of this email.


First some other exciting announcements, introductions, updates, and notes of appreciation:


Rabbi Educator Update. We are sad that Rabbi Ira Rosenberg’s time with us is coming to an end. June 20 will be his last official day with us. As is already well known by those who participated in the various Passover competitions over the past week, Rabbi Ira continues to bring his creativity and energy to our community. Before he leaves, we will show him how much he means to us.


At the same time, we are excited to update you on our search for our next rabbi educator. Many staff, lay leaders, and congregants spent much of last week meeting several rabbi educator candidates. We are excited by the strengths that these candidates offer to Temple Shalom. Look for more details in the next few weeks as the process nears an end. In the meantime, we thank immeasurably the dedication and energy of our Search Committee, staff, and all who were able to help welcome our candidates last week.


Music! Music! Music! We are pleased to announce that Cantorial Soloist Emily Meyer has agreed to a two-year contract extension to continue to share with us her music, creativity, and energy.


We are also excited to share that Erev Cantor Lianna Mendelson has accepted the position of cantor-educator at Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe, New Mexico starting in July. While we are sad that her time with us will come to an end the weekend of May 14, we are thrilled for her as she begins her journey as a cantor. We are grateful that she shared her wisdom, warmth, and talent with us for the past three years. Look for details soon on how we will give her a joyous send off.


We are also excited to announce that Temple Shalom matched with a wonderful new student cantor for 2021-2022. At the end of the summer, we will welcome Student Cantor Sarina Elenbogen-Siegel. She will join us as a second year cantorial student at the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at the Hebrew Union College. She did her undergraduate studies at Indiana University where she majored in Jewish Studies with a minor in Hebrew, and she completed the Jewish Sacred Music program. While in college, she directed Hooshir A Cappella, Indiana University’s premier Jewish a cappella group. An Evanston, Illinois native, she grew up at Jewish day school and has brought her life-long Jewish study to her pre-HUC positions as a cantorial intern at Am Shalom Congregation (Glencoe, IL), cantorial soloist and Hebrew teacher at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue (Evanston, IL), b’nei mitzvah tutor and teacher at Temple Beth Shalom (Bloomington, IN), and music specialist at Jewish summer camp. She is also an accomplished guitarist and active in Jewish social justice work. Student Cantor Ellenbogen-Siegel is as thrilled to be joining us as we are to learn with and be inspired by her. Thank you to the Selection Committee chaired by Debbie Szyfer: Jay Chervenak, Deborah Hutton, Barbara Jacobowitz, Megan Parker, and Rabbi Rachel Ackerman.


We also want to update the congregation on the work of the Worship Exploration Task Force. In consultation with the URJ’s director of worship and music, the Task Force had begun to explore our longer term vision for worship and music when the pandemic hit last Spring. Its work has been effectively put on hold during the past year and slowly began to restart prior to the rabbi educator search. We anticipate that once the rabbi educator search gets settled and once we are in a rhythm with outdoor in-person experiences (again, don’t forget to read to the end of this email!), our leadership will be able refocus their energies on the worship exploration work that has been delayed. Our hope is that the Task Force will help us settle on our long term vision for worship and music over the next 12-18 months.


Mitzvah Corps. Founded originally under the guidance of Rabbi Emeritus Bruce E. Kahn (who is well on his way to a full recovery from Covid-19 and welcomes renewed communications), Mitzvah Corps has for decades helped congregants in need. Over the past more than six years, as chair of Mitzvah Corps, Betsy Kingery helped re-envision and re-energize its role in our community. With our deep appreciation, she now hands the torch to Mary Jacobs to continue its critical work. If you would like to volunteer or if you need assistance, please contact Mary at mitzvahcorps@templeshalom.net. Thank you Betsy and Mary.


Tikkun Olam Committee. After more than three years as co-chair of the Tikkun Olam Committee, Sara Nathan is also passing the torch in order to focus her energies on new projects. With deep appreciation for all that Sara has done, we welcome Fran Paver as a co-chair of the Tikkun Olam Committee where she will partner with Betsy Kingery who continues as co-chair. Thank you Betsy (again), Sara, and Fran in helping lead us as we do our part to repair the world around us.


Maestra of Zoom. We owe you a huge debt of thanks and appreciation to Alyssa Berez for quickly and efficiently mastering Zoom last Spring and making possible behind the scenes so much of what has held us together as a community during virtual services and programming. Alyssa will be beginning her pandemic-delayed full-time career at the end of April. We wish Alyssa the best as her new adventure begins. We quite literally do not know what we would have done without her this past year!


Solar: After permitting and supply delays, we are excited to share that we expect to break ground in the near future on our solar panels -- both on the roof and on parking lot canopies. We are also hopeful that we will be able to include electric vehicle charging stations with the solar canopies. Thank you to Mike Gurevich for continuing to spearhead this project.


Membership Renewals and Religious School Reenrollment. Normally, we would have received at the end of March membership renewal forms and in early May Religious School re-enrollment forms. Look for both towards the end of May as we continue to monitor how the pandemic and vaccination impacts (and, hopefully, continues to increase) our vision for future programming.


Help with Vaccine Appointments. Montgomery County has opened pre-registration to all residents age 16 and over for its mass vaccine site in Germantown (www.GoVaxMoCo.com). If you need help obtaining a vaccine appointment, please contact Julie Newport (janewport@gmail.com), Missy Mandell (missyfmandell@gmail.com), or Alex Zektser (alex_zektser@yahoo.com) who stand ready to assist you. Thank you Julie, Missy, Alex, and all of our other vaccine appointment gurus who have done so much to get so many in our community and beyond vaccinated!


Panim Al Panim, Face-to-Face: In-Person Outside Activities. We are pleased to announce that the Temple Shalom Board of Trustees authorized Senior Staff and the President to begin to permit certain limited in-person outdoor activities after Passover, guided by safety protocols recommended by the Temple’s Advisory Task Force on Continuing Operations (“Advisory Task Force”). We will begin by permitting our b’nai mitzvah tutors and madrichim (who are comfortable doing so) to work in-person outside with families (who are also comfortable doing so). A separate communication to those families, tutors and madrichim has been sent providing details on the health and safety requirements and processes.


We know that many are eager to jump right back into other in-person activities, and also recognize that many are far from ready for anything in-person yet. All core services and programming will remain fully virtual. We will be supplementing that core virtual programming with additional in-person outside activities. We will start small and slow, likely with an initial focus on tweens/teens, who are generally recognized to be in most need of in-person engagement from mental health and connection to Judaism perspectives. We will expand from there.


We ask for your patience and generosity of spirit as we ramp up. Operating a synagogue at times feels like steering a cargo ship through the Suez Canal: turning quickly can be hard. Last Spring, we went dark for a week as we transitioned to virtual programming. Our staff really needed that time to figure it out. We are not going dark again; our professional team will continue all that they have been doing while also adding to it.


We anticipate finalizing the processes and protocols for in-person outside activities over the next week. Consistent with the Advisory Task Force's recommendations, all activities will be outside, physically distanced, require proper mask wearing, and include good hand hygiene and sanitizing. Pre-registration for activities, confirmation of no symptoms/known exposures, and agreement to follow protocols will be required for all Temple-sponsored or -advertised activities including activities that take place on- and off-site and including activities organized by Brotherhood, Sisterhood, Renaissance, and our various clubs. We appreciate everyone’s cooperation with these requirements so that our staff and volunteers can focus their energy and creativity on the programming itself. All protocols put in place are to be followed regardless of vaccination status.


We will be continuously monitoring health and safety developments, including community spread, vaccination status, and CDC and other health advisories. We will modify our protocols (including pausing activities) as warranted and as guided by the Advisory Task Force where needed. We are deeply appreciative of the extensive and dedicated work of the advisory taskforce.


Look for more details in the coming week or so. In the meantime, stay safe, get your shot when it’s your turn, stay masked, and stay physically distant as we continue to navigate this time together.


L’Shalom (In Peace),


Rabbi Rachel Ackerman

Susan Goutos Zemsky, Executive Director

Michael Rubin, President

Jeff Steger, Executive Vice President

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