A third of United Synagogue communities have announced temporary closures amid Tier 4 restrictions, despite updated guidance allowing those within the movement to stay open.
This comes after Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday that large parts of the south east, including all of London, have been put under stricter measures to contain the spread of the virus – including a new variant of the disease which has spread rapidly.
The United Synagogue confirmed that around a third of its communities have written to members with news of temporary closures.
Jo Grose, its Director of Communities, said: “In line with government guidelines, places of worship can remain open, although the situation is very fluid and we are constantly reviewing our guidance in line with scientific advice.
“Given the local situation varies from place to place, we know our communities will be taking careful decisions that are right for their members as they have done all year.
“We know some will prefer to close while other will remain open and Covid-secure. We will continue to support our communities whatever decision they take, adding a range of online programmes for those which close.”
In wake of the dramatic policy shift from the government, the United Synagogue wrote to all its communities with guidance for safe worship.
It said shul Honorary Officers must “discourage anyone aged over 70 or with a vulnerability from attending”, and ask “all those who do attend to be exceptionally careful on site.”, ensuring strict compliance with Covid rules.
The US said anyone in the same household as someone self-isolating “must not attend services” and that “no-one should feel under any pressure “ to go to shul in order to make up a minyan [quorum of 10 men required for certain prayers].
While urging caution to congregants, it stressed that strict measures are in place to ensure compliance.
Barmitzvah, batmitzvah and brit milah ceremonies can continue if “incorporated” into regular services, while weddings can only go ahead in “exceptional circumstances”.
Funerals can have a maximum of 30 people, and Shivas can be held if included in an evening service. The US implemented a ‘Kaddish Buddy Project’ allowing mourners who are unable to physically attend a service, to have the prayer recited on their behalf.
Children services in shuls are not allowed, but nurseries run from synagogue sites can continue to operate. “Essential volunteering”, such as preparing meals for the vulnerable, will go ahead, while all shul offices have been closed.
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