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BJ Campus Re-Entry Task Force Report

As the rabbis shared earlier this summer, our commitment to the health and safety of the staff and members lives in tension with the community’s deep desire to be together. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to defy precise predictions and some safety protocols, dictating a continued cautious approach to our return to the campus, focusing on only the most essential tasks and urgent needs.

As such, at its August convening, BJ’s Re-Entry Task Force recommended that we continue to operate primarily virtually, at least through December 2020. The building will be open on weekdays, primarily for administrative functions, ongoing construction work, and the return of our tenant, The Ideal School. We will continue to broadcast Shabbat services from the Sanctuary, utilizing the Rabbi Rachel Cowan Chapel for musicians as well as B’nai Mitzvah families to participate safely. Our other tenant, Riverside Language Program, will remain virtual during this time. A small group of Judith Bernstein Lunch Program volunteers will continue to prepare lunches to-go each week, and we are exploring the possible re-opening of the shelter program. Weather permitting, we will begin to offer outdoor programming for small in-person gatherings during the High Holy Days and into the fall.

Generally speaking, we are responding to specific requests for building use through the lens of safety, community, equity, and resources. In our recent members survey, only 16% of respondents indicated a desire to return to the building as soon as it’s open, whereas more than 60% indicated they will wait for a vaccine to return to large indoor gatherings. As such, we will continue to accommodate certain life cycle events for families (with a maximum of 15 people attending). Conversely, at this time, we believe the resources and risks associated with returning morning minyan or similar programs to the building are not balanced by the small benefit to a very few attendees, relative to the larger congregation who will remain remote. As accurate, accessible rapid testing and/or a clear vaccine timeline for NYC reveals itself, we will revisit these guidelines and develop a campus reopening plan accordingly.

Campus Operations

  • As noted above, all programming will remain virtual for the community, with the exception of Judith Bernstein Lunch Program cooking, and possibly the Shelter, at least through December 2020.
  • Program and Admin staff will remain primarily remote; a handful of staff work in the office in private offices and/or in open spaces with COVID precautions in place. Masks are worn throughout the building at all times.
  • The Operations team is working primarily on-site, though we have identified some at-home tasks for those with less flexibility to come to work.
  • The Family Life and Learning team is working on a plan for modest in-person outdoor and/or pop-up programming for new families and younger kids. Details are forthcoming.

COVID Safety Plans

  • Following NY State and CDC guidelines, we execute temperature checks and contact tracing for all who enter the building. 
  • We have procured PPE, cleaning and disinfecting supplies, and equipment necessary to maintain a safe environment.
  • We have upgraded, where feasible, air filtration and circulation per recommendations from HVAC engineers and hygienists.
  • We are coordinating with the IDEAL School to effect as separate a ‘bubble’ for them as is possible, including separate entrance, elevator, stairwell, and bathrooms. IDEAL has expanded their footprint in the building to provide more room for social distancing for their students and staff. 
  • Our COVID Safety Plans include testing and isolation for staff who intend to work in the building who are known to have been exposed, or been at a high-risk for exposure.

Technology and Halakha

Guiding framework: We support use of technology for those who so choose, when it enables and/or enhances the experience of Shabbat and Hag in this unprecedented time.

Our BJ community encompasses a variety of approaches to Jewish law and to Jewish practice.  While we have established standards for those times when we gather together in community, regarding kashrut and Shabbat practice for example, we make every effort to respect each other’s personal choices in a non-judgmental way. 

Since the start of the pandemic, many members of our community, as well as staff, have adjusted their personal practice with regard to the use of technology on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. We honor these personal choices in the face of the present unprecedented health crisis. BJ’s institutional practices have evolved, as well: While our spiritual leaders do not personally engage with technology on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, some of our staff do, thus enabling the functioning of VirtuShul. 

During the High Holy Days, livestream will remain the main conveyor of BJ’s prayer services. Some of our programming will be enabled by Zoom, Sidebar, YouTube, or Facebook in order to provide members who will use those technologies with the deep social connections that are part of the season. At the same time, our rabbis are available for guidance and support to those in our community who do not use technology at all on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.