May 15, 2020
Dear Jacksonville Jewish Center Family,
We see all around us a growing desire to reopen businesses and other institutions to forestall further economic damage and growing unemployment. There is also a great yearning for physical proximity and the need to relieve the isolation and loneliness of the past weeks.
To that end city and state officials have taken the first steps toward reopening public facilities and commercial establishments. It will likely take some time to determine how this impacts on the larger community.
As a synagogue, we look to our Torah and its teachings for guidance concerning the challenges of how and when to re-open our building in the coming days. The imperative of Pikuah Nefesh (“Safeguarding Life”) is a bedrock principle of Jewish law. Accordingly, in taking steps toward restoring physical proximity the Center will place the preservation of life first and foremost; we will not knowingly put congregants and staff at significant medical risk — or whose family members are at elevated risk – in a situation where they or loved ones have to endanger their health or well-being.
We have formed an ad hoc committee comprised of lay leaders, clergy, senior staff, and physicians to navigate through these uncharted waters. The synagogue is also working with other institutions in the Jewish community to share information, resources, and coordinate plans. Because the facts on the ground change quickly and official guidance is sometimes ambiguous, our plans regarding the reopening of the Center are subject to change.
With this in mind, we are planning to resume evening weekday services as well as small-group child care at the DuBow Preschool in the building beginning one early June. In the coming days, we will share more detailed guidelines regarding screening, masks, social distancing, and arrangements to purchase or borrow siddurim for use at daily services. Even with such precautions, there will be some whose health precludes attending weekday minyan. We will, therefore, continue to broadcast weekday services even after June 1 to those unable to be in the building.
While our staff will continue to work in the building as well as remotely, our offices will remain closed for the time being. Of course, you may still reach staff members via telephone and email during normal office hours. All other classes, programs, and activities, including committee meetings, will continue to meet online for the time being. Our Shabbat services will remain exclusively online for now.
After we implement the first steps toward reopening as described above, we will continue to evaluate how to reopen the building for other activities as well. We promise to apprise you in a timely fashion of specific plans regarding such additional developments.
Judaism teaches us that there are blessings to be found in every moment. Moreover, our experience as a people shows us that we can exist and maintain spiritual solidarity even when we cannot be with one another physically. With positive leadership, patience, and tremendous love for each other we will persevere during this challenging period, balancing our health and well-being while honoring our need and desire to participate in the life of our community.
With God’s help and your support, we are confident that we’ll find the way forward. As always, if you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to be in touch!
May 5, 2020
The English word quarantine comes from the Latin meaning “forty.” It came into use during the 14th century when European ports would impose a 40-day waiting period between the arrival in the harbor of a merchant vessel and the time it received permission to unload its cargo. Since epidemics often ensued following the disembarkation of crew and cargo from merchant ships, people correctly deduced that the imposition of a waiting period would reveal whether or not any illness manifested itself on board.
But why forty days? Well, folks knew their Hebrew Bible and were aware that the number 40 is significant in Scripture. In the story of Noah and the Ark, the flooding lasts 40 days and nights; because the period after childbirth was especially dangerous for women in antiquity, Leviticus teaches that new mothers must be isolated for 40 days; Moses remains in God’s presence to receive the Torah 40 days and nights, and God decrees that the Israelites must wander in the desert for 40 years.
Modern Bible scholars suggest that the phrase “forty days and nights” be understood idiomatically to mean a long time without a clear end in sight. Noah and his family embarked upon their journey without a clear end in sight, while the Israelites panicked because they unexpectedly had to wait for Moses beyond the time of his anticipated return. Difficult experiences are certainly harder to bear when we don’t have any knowledge of when, exactly, they will end.
Yet we know that Noah and his family did leave the Ark and saw a rainbow signaling a new start for humanity. Moses did return and, despite the bad business of the Golden Calf, got Israel back on track. A new generation did enter the Land of Israel under Joshua to uphold their end of a covenantal relationship with God. Jews are inveterate optimists who never lose hope, as Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, states. Yet our tradition reminds us that hope and patience walk hand-in-hand – each makes the other possible.
We will return to our lives, schools, and workplaces. The time will come when we can greet each other in person with handshakes or hugs. Even if it takes “40 days,” so to speak, we’ll be there ready to go on the 41st! Until then we will continue to connect each and every day for prayer, study, companionship, and the sharing of occasions both happy and sad. Our commitment to community never stops . . . not even in this time of social isolation.
Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner
Rabbi Shira Rosenblum
Hazzan Jesse Holzer
Planning for Passover (March 29)
Clergy Update about Shabbat Services (March 26)
Update on Email Statements (March 26)
Update from Jewish Family and Community Services re: Financial Assistance (March 24)
Clergy Update About Virtual Services (March 19)
Update on Shabbat Worship from Rabbi Jonathan Lubliner (March 18)