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COVID-19: Reopening Our Building – Q&A

Introduction

At the ELELS AGM held on 26th July, a question was asked about the reopening of our building. In response it was noted that ELELS Council has created a COVID-19 Group, which is monitoring the changing situation and providing advice to Council. It was also announced that the group was working on a Question & Answer document, which would hopefully answer your questions about the ending of lockdown and the reopening of Marlborough Road.

Here are the questions the Group has identified and the answers (as at 30th July 2020). We will update the information as required and we will add any additional questions as they arise. If you have any questions, which we have not addressed, please let us know – contact information below.

When is ELELS going to reopen?
“Our Building May Be Closed – Our Community Remains Open” and at present there are no plans to reopen the Marlborough Road building.

The group provides advice to ELELS Council – taking into account current guidance, including the need to maintain social distancing and other hygiene requirements. The advice provided by the group also takes into account our knowledge of Marlborough Road and how guidance applies to our building; for example on restricted capacity due to social distancing. At this time, neither the group nor the ELELS Council believe it is practical to reopen Marlborough Road.

The decision on when to reopen and under what circumstances sits with ELELS Council.

Other synagogues are reopening why not Marlborough Road?
Each and every synagogue will have to determine when it is safe to reopen their buildings.

There are many factors that have to be taken into account in deciding when it is safe to reopen buildings. This includes the size of the building, the likely numbers or people who will be using the building (especially when attending services), managing admissions to the building, restricted access to kitchen or toilet facilities, and the availability or ability to offer alternative online services.

The Essex Jewish Community Council, an umbrella grouping of Jewish organisations in Redbridge & Essex, has discussed reopening communal venues. Most of the organisations involved in these discussions (including ELELS) are continuing to review plans as guidance changes. Synagogues with larger sanctuaries, communal halls or other large spaces are likely to reopen before ELELS – because it is easier for them to practise social distancing within their buildings.

The Community Security Trust (CST) is offering advice to Jewish communal organisations about security measures linked to reopening, such as the need to limit attendance or stopping people from gathering in open places. The group will take into account the CST advice in its guidance to the ELELS Council.

What criteria will determine when to reopen Marlborough Road?
Our primary concern is to ensure the health, safety and well-being of everyone who is likely to visit our building.

With this mind, the group will continue to monitor guidance from the Government or other sources and look at how the changing guidance can be made to work at Marlborough Road. It is not possible (at this time) to say exactly how ELELS will determine that it is safe to reopen, because guidance is constantly changing (for example, changes to guidance on the use of face masks in confined spaces or the use of choirs and communal singing). We do not want to reopen the building only to have to close it again, nor do we want to open for services if the restrictions that need to be applied – no music, no singing, bringing your own Siddurim, possibly having to wear masks, etc – mean that attending services is difficult or intolerable.

[Update: 4th August 2020] The law covering the use of face coverings will change from 8th August when it will become compulsory (except for persons with a valid exemption) to wear a face covering in places of worship. Further information about the changes to the law on face coverings can be found on GOV.UK

Can I still speak to or meet with Rabbi Jacobi?
Yes, Rabbi Jacobi is available to discuss any matters that members wish to raise with him. However, restrictions apply to face-to-face meetings, which are constantly changing so different arrangements will apply depending upon circumstances and current guidance at the time of requesting a meeting. Until further notice, meetings are likely to be via telephone or video-conferencing (using Zoom) and face-to-face meetings will be the exception rather than the norm.

Members can contact Rabbi Jacobi directly by email at: rabbi@elels.org.uk or, if urgent, on his mobile number: 07802 810580. He can also be contacted via the office at: administrator@elels.org.uk

Please Note: If Rabbi Jacobi is busy when you email or call him, he will get back to you as soon as possible.

What about ELELS High Holy Day services?
ELELS is making plans for the High Holy Day services with the expectation that our building will still be closed.

It is our usual practice to hold High Holy Day services in larger premises but hiring halls is difficult to arrange while under lockdown. Even if there is more easing of the restrictions, there is very little time to book suitable venues, let alone make all the necessary service arrangements before Rosh HaShanah (starts Friday 18th September) and Yom Kippur (starts Sunday 27th September). Therefore, our Rabbi is working with the R&P committee to look at alternative arrangements – as is Liberal Judaism and other Liberal Synagogues.

We hope to be able to provide Members with more information about our plans for the High Holy Day services shortly.

What about members who cannot access ELELS online services?
ELELS is, with the help of volunteers, staying in touch with all our members via our ‘phone tree’ calls. Thankfully, a number of members stepped forward to volunteer during lockdown – but we are aware that some of them will have less time to help out as and when they return to work.

Email and online channels have become our default for communications during lockdown. However, we are also making efforts to keep members without email addresses fully informed about major developments at ELELS – for example, sending them a printed copy of HaGesher magazine and mailing them information about the Annual General Meeting.

As we ease out of lockdown into a new normality, we expect to continue using email or other online channels for communications and to continue offering online virtual events. ELELS is aware of 56 members for whom we do not have email addresses, but we cannot presume that all of them do not have any internet access.

ELELS is aware that more needs to be done to look at how we can better support members who remain offline in the post-pandemic world. There has been some initial discussion about what help ELELS can offer, these discussions will continue as we ease out of lockdown and into the new normality. It is possible that some offline members can get online with the help of family or friends. If you know of a fellow member in this situation, it would be very helpful if you can have a conversation with them about this and help them become better connected if they wish. Nick Young, our Community Development Manager, is happy to discuss options for helping our members to get get online or wish to help their relatives to get online. You can contact Nick at: community.development@elels.org.uk

Likewise, any ELELS members who are online but would like help using Zoom (to access our online services or events) should also contact Nick.

What services and events is ELELS offering while the building is closed?
Throughout lockdown, ELELS has continued to successfully offer a full range of Friday evening and Saturday morning services.

We have learnt a lot about virtual services in a short period of time – necessity being a great teacher. Our range of virtual Shabbat services now includes Shelanu inclusive services, study services, family services, and Bar or Bat Mitzvah services. Cheder classes and Tots services have both very successfully moved online. Sadly, we have also had to adapt the way we hold funeral and shiva prayer services. We know that it is not the same as attending in person but we are seeing the comfort provided by these services, especially the value of reconnecting with family and friends at these difficult times.

We offer a range of education and social activities including: Elevenses our popular virtual coffee mornings, Sunday evening quizzes, ongoing education classes, and a number of talks on a wide range of subjects – given by our members or guests from other organisations.

We have welcomed visitors from other congregations and collaborated with other synagogues for shared services. We have also been able to welcome families and friends of members from around the world.

Who are the members of this group?

  • Andrew Seager – who as head teacher has experience of managing communal buildings including Health & Safety and Compliance (joined for ending lockdown work)
  • Ben Glassman – also a member of the Rites & Practices committee
  • David Gold – our lead on security matters (joined for ending lockdown work)
  • Bob Kamall – also a member of the IT Group
  • Josh Newham – a member of ELELS Council who is also a head teacher with experience of managing communal buildings including Health & Safety and Compliance (joined for ending lockdown work)
  • Richard Stevens – our Hon. Secretary & member of the Property Action Group
  • Jonathan Young – our Cheder head teacher
  • Nick Young – our Community Development Manager
  • Rabbi Richard Jacobi – needs no additional comment
  • Merle Muswell – was a member of the group before lockdown

Where can I get more information?
If you require more information about about the group, any of these questions or if you have any additional questions – please contact Bob Kamall at: data.protection@elels.org.uk 

There are several ways you can get more or updated information about ELELS and our online activities:

Unfortunately, the closure of the synagogue office means that we are unable to take telephone calls although, in an emergency, you can call Stewart Spivack on: 07745 790 869

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