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Our Response to COVID-19

By: Melinda Lejman | March 11, 2020

Our Response to COVID-19

March 11, 2020 ~ Adar 15, 5780

Dear Temple Family,

I am writing to you following another joyous Purim holiday here at Temple. One of you wrote and said, “Purimspiel was such fun last night. As I watched everyone performing, I was struck with what a family we all have at Temple Israel.” Our religious family is indeed strong. In this time of medical angst and financial uncertainty, it is comforting to know we all have each other. Such has been the case in every century and year of our congregational history.

COVID-19 will eventually pass and thank goodness we have the science and strategies to minimize community spread in the 21st century. Sadly, our city did not have a defense when the Yellow Fever epidemic caused the deaths of 5,150 Memphians in the 1870s. During a two month window between September and November 1873, Temple Israel President A.E. Frankland recorded 51 burials in Temple Israel’s cemetery. As Judy Ringel, author of “Children of Israel: The Story of Temple Israel 1854-2004” writes, “The toll on individuals and families from that single epidemic was devastating:  31 women in the Jewish community lost their husbands, 11 men lost their lives, 158 children lost one parent, 23 children lost both parents, and 17 families buried a child.” Five years later, when Yellow Fever struck again in 1878, it caused the death of 78 more members, including Temple’s first rabbi, Jacob Peres.

In the 19th century, there was no epidemiology or pro-action possible, even if the same Torah teachings continue to inform our Temple Israel family today, namely:

  • “V’ahavta l’raiacha kamocha – Love your neighbor as yourself.” This means protecting your neighbor AND your self. Until this virus is controlled and addressed medically, group gatherings decrease protection and individual safety.
  • “Matzil nefesh echad k’ilu maztil olam u’mlo’o – When you save a life, you save a world.”  Here at Temple, we always err on the side of life and health. For instance, on Yom Kippur, you have heard me say from the pulpit, “If you take medications or have any health risks whatsoever, you are not only exempt from fasting, you are commanded to eat!” Until the health risks for people over 60 are lifted by the CDC – including exposing anyone who is at risk to COVID-19 – we take this Jewish obligation to heart.
  • “Tishmor nafshecha” – the Torah commands us to guard our souls, but interestingly, when it comes to guarding our physical health, the word m’od (“very” “a lot”) is added. In other words, concerning physical care, Judaism commands us to be even MORE cautious and careful.

Because the health and well-being of our synagogue family is our utmost concern, we are putting into place proactive measures to protect the most vulnerable population as defined by the CDC. After deliberating thoughtfully and at length with the clergy, leadership, and medical advisors, we have decided to proactively take the following steps in the weeks ahead. We are of course monitoring all developments in real-time and any updates to these measures will be published via email, on our social media channels, and on our website.

Beginning this Shabbat, in-person, communal worship will shift to virtual religious services via our live-stream on our website and/or Facebook page. Anyone remembering a loved will hear (and watch on-screen) their relative’s name recited. We are blessed to have high-definition streaming that makes watching services from home on any phone, computer, or television possible. If a member wishes to postpone the reading of a loved one’s name until we resume in-person, communal worship, contact the rabbis’ office and we will gladly oblige. You may call Jan Klein at 901.937.2771 or email her at jank@timemphis.org.

Those that wish may purchase the Kindle version of our prayer book by clicking here. You can also access a free version here

All adult learning classes including Lunch & Learn, Coffee & Conversation, Exploring Judaism, Embracing Judaism, and Torah Study will be postponed in-person until further notice. We are working to provide both streaming and recording options for learning and will keep you informed about our progress.

At this time, all lifecycle events will continue including baby namings, and bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings, and funerals. 

At this time, private events will continue with increased measures to protect guests and Temple‚Äôs staff and clergy.

Leadership among Temple’s wonderful auxiliary programs, including Men and Women of Reform Judaism, Barbara K. Lipman Early Learning Center, Wendy & Avron Fogelman Religious School, ConnecTI, and others will be in touch with their constituents regarding protocol.

Clergy will continue hospital rotations via telephone and Facetime.

Faith in Judaism means believing that things WILL be alright, even if darkness makes tomorrow’s light hard to see. Please know that Temple’s hallmark – our clergy and staff – remain accessible to you at any time for any reason. Call 901.761.3130 for rabbinic or pastoral assistance and our clergy will reach back immediately.

Make no mistake about it – Temple Israel survived seven wars and multiple epidemics without the medical advances we presently enjoy. All will be fine, it will just take time before this pandemic is under control. Above all else, we will do everything within our power to support each of you spiritually, emotionally, and physically. How blessed we are to be in the same extended family of Temple Israel.

Shalom re’fuah u’vracha – wishing you peace, health, and blessing after blessing,

Rabbi Micah D. Greenstein
Temple Israel Senior Rabbi

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