Message from the Alyth Trustees (8 July 2020)
As you may know, at the end of June, the Government announced that places of worship were to be permitted to open from 4 July. Since then, every synagogue, church, mosque and temple has faced difficult decisions about whether this is appropriate and how it might work for them.
We are no different. The Trustees have spent the last few weeks grappling with how to proceed, and how to ensure the safety, health and wellbeing of our Clergy, staff team and members.
After much reflection, we have decided that the first phase of the reopening of the Alyth building will take place after the High Holy Days. Until that time, our provision will remain online only.
This will allow us to prioritise risk assessment and comprehensive planning, preparation for our online High Holy Days, and staff wellbeing. We also need to work to ensure that the online experience, which will remain the reality for the vast majority of our community even after opening, is always of the highest quality.
We know that this news will be disappointing to some members who feel that we should be opening the building sooner. We are especially aware that it will impact on those who have lifecycle events coming up over the next two months. The Trustees believe that this is the right decision for Alyth and that it will enable us to navigate each stage of reopening our building with confidence.
A great deal of preparation and planning is needed in order for us to reopen well. We will take the time over the coming months to prepare how we are going to use the building whilst adhering to the restrictions of social distancing, limited gatherings, the use of protective screens and equipment and other guidelines including shorter services and the prohibition on congregational singing. When we open up the building, it will be to a limited number of people and the experience will be very different to the Alyth we know and love.
As Trustees we make decisions for the whole community. However complex, every decision is made with love and care for our members and our staff. We recognise that our decisions will be different to other synagogues who have different values to ours, or which serve the needs of smaller, less diverse communities. Other communities may also have been completely closed throughout this period. By contrast, our incredible staff team have worked solidly for the last three months ensuring that Alyth has remained open during the lockdown. Over the Summer, we hope that the Alyth Team will have the opportunity to rest and recuperate.
We are enormously grateful to Rabbi Josh and our exceptional Clergy, Professional and Staff Teams who have made being a virtual community not only possible, but joyful.
Thank you to all those who have generously donated to our community support funds and to everyone who has continued to pay their annual contribution. The effects of this crisis are far reaching and will be with us for a long time. With your support and understanding and the commitment of the leadership and our outstanding Clergy and Team, Alyth can continue to be the compassionate, caring and thriving community that we are.
Wishing everyone a good, safe and restorative summer.
Message from the synagogue leadership (25 June 2020)
The announcement that places of worship can begin to reopen is a welcome one.
However, there is a great deal that is still unknown.
We are awaiting government guidance on many aspects of the plans, which were announced before detailed advice had been prepared. We are also yet to receive guidance for risk assessments, which are necessary for every activity that we restart.
The relaxation of lockdown does not mean that the risk has now disappeared. While we are confident in our ability to mitigate surface-based transmission through regular cleaning and handwashing / sanitising, we need further guidance on aerosol-based transmission and the particular risks it carries for our setting and for our services, life-cycle celebrations and other activities.
There are many variables that will mean that places of worship move at different paces. As a community we have a number of specific challenges that we need to address.
As any of us who have sat in the Beit Tefillah on a summer’s day know, the space has very limited ventilation and airflow. This may require us to use other spaces in the building for communal prayer, while continuing to use the Beit Tefillah for services that are broadcast online to those participating at home.
Alyth services are mainly about singing, which has been identified as a super-spreading activity. We have now heard that congregational singing and choirs are definitely not going to be allowed. We don’t know whether members will still wish to attend services at which they cannot sing, and recognise the extraordinary possibility of the service having to be paused to ask people to stop joining in!
We are also still awaiting guidance on how the service leader can sing safely in the presence of a congregation, which may require extra distancing, masks or screens.
The size of our praying community presents an additional challenge. It is unclear at this stage whether there will be a maximum number for services, or what level of physical distancing will be required. Whatever the outcome, we know that we will have to ask a large part of our community to stay away each week. We have hard decisions to make about how this might be arranged and enforced. It will be a significant cultural challenge for a community that seeks to be a welcoming space for prayer to have to turn people who have not pre-registered away from our doors.
As we have stated clearly over the last few weeks, we are committed to not leaving behind those who cannot join in person. Whatever we do must not adversely affect the online experience for those unable to come into the building because of age, vulnerability or simple over-demand. We therefore have a great deal of work to do on the development of ‘dual delivery’ methods. This is not straightforward, as even small changes will have an impact on the quality of online delivery we have developed over the last three months.
In common with other communities, we also have other priorities in need of our attention at this time. The Trustees are clear that we need to prioritise planning for the High Holy Days. Those who attended the AGM will have heard that they will look very different this year as we will be unable to gather in our normal way. A great deal of preparation and innovation will be required. We will write to you with more details about these over the coming weeks.
We also need to ensure that our clergy and staff get some time off over the coming weeks to reflect and recuperate after three months of extraordinary efforts.
We want to find our ‘new normal’ as soon as possible. We will approach this, as we do all of our challenges, with positivity and creativity. We also recognise that what we do may be with us until the development of an effective vaccine. We therefore ask that you please bear with us over the coming weeks as we work to ensure that, as we make these first moves to open, we can do so thoughtfully, safely, and for the benefit of all of our members.
In the meantime, please remember that our dedicated Careline is still in operation if you need any support at this time.
Noeleen Cohen and Russell Baum, Chairs
Rabbi Josh Levy
Message from the synagogue leadership (17 March 2020)
In these extraordinary times, our paramount responsibility as Jews is that of Pikuach Nefesh, “saving a life”, and the broader responsibility that we have for the wellbeing of ourselves and of others. As a community we take that responsibility very seriously.
In light of the Prime Minister’s statements, we have therefore taken the hard decision to suspend the majority of Alyth activities.
Even as we are asked to distance from one another, the core ideal of community – supporting one another, praying and learning together – remains our purpose. We are committed to working as a community over the next few months, but know that we need to do so in new and different ways.
The most important thing at this time is to look after and protect each other. We are grateful to all of our members who have already volunteered to help care for those who need our love and support. Today we are launching our new care programme, “From darkness to light”. Below you can find ways to volunteer as well as details about how to be in touch with us if you need help.
Between 9:00 and 16:30 we will be answering the following new phone number as our main synagogue number: 020 8457 8794.
There are also two extra phone numbers for you to use this period:
New Alyth Careline – 020 8457 8798
This will be answered between 08:00 and 21:00 by a member of the community for anyone who needs practical support or just someone to speak to.
Emergency Careline – 07726 631 808
We ask that you please use this number if you need urgent pastoral support, for example in cases of illness or bereavement. This will be answered by a member of the Alyth professional team.
We are a community of care. We are walking an unprecedented journey, and will be there to accompany one another as we do so. Please reach out to us if you are feeling anxious or need support. We are here to overcome some of the practical challenges we will be facing together, and to be there for one another.
Below you will find some key information about Alyth over the next few days.
Our services at the regular times of 18.30 on Friday night and 10.30 on Shabbat morning will be live-streamed only.
You can join our virtual congregation by clicking here.
Click here to view the special Shabbat supplement, including extra songs, a specially prepared Torah portion and the Haftarah so you can follow these at home – these will be put online at 5pm on Fridays.
We will continue to read out bereavements and the list of requested yahrzeits before the Mourners’ Kaddish, and invite you to read along with us if you are in mourning.
If you need help to access the live stream, please be in touch by calling 020 8457 8794.
All of our activities for young people and families are suspended with immediate effect and will be moving online. Please click here to see what is on offer throughout the coming week. In addition to our “regular” programming, we will also be offering a variety of new online gatherings for families as we confront our new reality together.
We are developing our programme to ensure that as much as possible will be live online. Details of how to join will be in the Weekly Email. Please click here to see what is on offer throughout the coming week.
Supporting one another in our community: From Darkness to Light
Thank you to all of our members who have already volunteered to help care for those who need our love and support. We have launched our new care programme for this extraordinary situation, “From darkness to light”*, and are already responding wherever possible to the practical and emotional needs that these unprecedented times present.
As a community the potential number of members needing support are substantial. We have a large number of elderly members and many others who are in ‘at-risk’ groups or whose wellbeing will suffer from isolation.
We would like to invite anyone who can volunteer to offer support to do so through Alyth. In the light of recent guidelines this is most likely to be those looking to ‘buddy’ those of our members without their own support network with another member who can be their ‘person’ for this period.
To volunteer click here
You will be directed to a page where you can let us know what you are able to offer.
If you need any help, click here or phone 020 8457 8794
* Why “From darkness to light”?
As a community we have 368 members over the age of 80. A Hebrew word with the gematria (number value) 368 is ‘machshach’ which means darkness, which is found in the verse from Isaiah ‘asim machshach lifneihem la’or’ – I will turn darkness before them to light.
Our task as a community is to make this verse a reality over the weeks ahead – not only for those over 80, but for anyone in our community who needs the love, support and care that we can offer.