Community warned against Covid complacency despite three deaths in two months
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Community warned against Covid complacency despite three deaths in two months

Reform Judaism says all of its congregations will be holding virtual services on Rosh Hashanah while the United Synagogue focuses on 'urgent public health need' to stop spread

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

Community leaders have warned against Covid complacency, despite the latest statistics showing there have only been three virus-related Jewish funerals in the last two months.

The latest figures released by the Board of Deputies this week indicate 510 burials have taken place where the deceased has contracted coronavirus, since the beginning of the pandemic.

The peak of the crisis occurred at the end of Pesach in April, with 104 deaths registered in the week ending on the 17th of the month, and more than 300 funerals in April overall.

Working with seven of the largest denominational burial boards as well as regional communities, the Board added that “the trend is clearly down from peak”, with three fatalities reported since the week ending 17 July.

On Monday, Boris Johnson imposed new restrictions making it illegal to assemble in groups of seven or more, but synagogues are permitted to hold greater numbers, provided congregants don’t gather in large groups within venues.

In a D’Var Torah online, Chief Rabbi Mirvis issues caution, saying god is asking, “literally, physically, are you too close to other people at a time when you should be socially distancing? Are you standing at events and in places where the law is being flouted? How responsible are you being to yourself?”

He adds, “as we enter into the forthcoming High Holy Days, sadly here in the UK, as is the case in many other places around the globe, cases of Covid-19 are on the rise and this is primarily due to irresponsibility – the responsibility that people have towards themselves and towards others”.

Jo Grose, the United Synagogue’s Director of Communities, said: “Following the government’s new “rule of 6”, it is clear that many Jewish families won’t be able to enjoy a large festival meal together as they would do in usual years.

“We know this is very disappointing but also know our community recognises the urgent public health need to do what we can to bring the disease under control.”

Reform Judaism, said it “believes we still need to be very cautious of spreading Coronavirus within our communities, and all of our communities will be holding virtual services.”

Rabbi Celia Surget, chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors, said: “Reform Judaism and its communities place pikuach nefesh [preservation of human life] above all else. Our communities have therefore responded over the past six months with creative and engaging ways to enable meaningful community online.”

In wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement, the US wrote to its communities saying it “cannot eliminate risk”, while issuing safety guidance. One of its largest communities, Elstree and Borehamwood, was forced to cancel a series of events amid a spike in local cases, telling members: “If you are considered vulnerable then we urge you to think twice about attending for your own safety”.

On Monday, communities in the north-west were warned about rising cases, with the infection rate in Bury having more than doubled in the past week. The borough, which has a large community, is now one of seven Greater Manchester districts in the ‘red zone’ where further restrictions may be imposed.

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