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Frequently Asked Questions

Why will we have Virtual Services?
First and foremost, we want to acknowledge that neither a virtual service nor a socially distanced in-person service are ideal options. Our first priority is, and always must be, the safety of our members. As much as we want to be together for the High Holy Days, the health threat posed by in-person services is too great to ignore, leaving virtual services as the only responsible option.

What are some of the specific reasons you decided that in-person services weren’t possible?
Among the many considerations were the compromises required by the safety measures necessary to protect congregants, including social distancing, which sharply limits capacity and restricts seating choicesthe requirement to wear masks at all times, and the confinement of singing and chanting to the bimah only. Other limiting factors include monitoring congregants' entering and exiting the Sanctuary, coordinating transportation to and from services, restroom usage, and the challenge of providing options for younger children.

Who made this decision?
The decision to plan for virtual services was made by the Board of Trustees, in consultation and agreement with the High Holy Day Task Force, clergy, and staff. Our thinking was very much guided by the input received from members of the congregation through the High Holy Days survey.

Will Virtual Services just be live-streamed versions of the usual services?
Absolutely not. Like you, we are disappointed that we will not be able to gather together to welcome the new year. We are channeling that disappointment into a commitment to make sure that our virtual High Holy Day services are evocative of past High Holy Day services, even if we are experiencing them in different ways. With an eye on our sacred traditions, we will come together as a congregational community to re-imagine the High Holy Days in different and exciting ways. We will create new traditions that we can carry with us when this crisis passes and make part of the fabric of CBY.

Why not wait on making a decision?
We have actually waited as long as possible, but we have come to the time of year when we would typically start planning for the High Holy Days under normal circumstances. There is a lot of background and logistical work that must to take place to make the High Holy Day services both meaningful and seamless for our members. We would need to start securing rental agreements, security contracts, and other items in the next couple of weeks.

As we are going to have virtual services, this time will be used to work with our sound technician and video engineer to create the most high-quality service possible. We will need every day possible to schedule members to come in and record service portions, and put together the smaller, in-person items we intend to use to enhance this year's worship experience.

Don’t state guidelines make it okay for us to hold religious services?
State guidelines establish a floor, not a ceiling, for how to keep our community safe. After carefully thinking through the many compromises necessary to have any sort of in-person High Holiday Services, we ultimately concluded that holding the best virtual services possible is a far better alternative than a severely limited in-person experience.

Can't you plan for both?
We considered this option. Ultimately we concluded that investing our time and resources into planning for both options would result in neither being done well. With COVID cases still rising across the country, and a second wave possible, our ability to host in-person High Holy Day services is not guaranteed.  Therefore, we decided that it makes more sense to put our resources into preparing for services we are certain cannot be canceled.

How can we reopen for Friday night services but not for High Holy Days?
Quite simply, there’s no parallel between the logistical complexities of our Shabbat evening services, which are typically attended by only a few people during the summer, and High Holy Day Services that regularly draw hundreds of people. 

What are the other congregations in our area doing?
As of this writing, Temple Beth El of Chappaqua has announced that they will hold virtual services. We have been in contact with other local congregations and they are also leaning in the direction of virtual services. Our decision was not shaped by this, but we take comfort that others in the Westchester Jewish community are also focused on placing health and safety first. 

I don’t understand why we can’t have in-person services when it sounds like school, offices and other events are starting to open?
High Holy Day Services are a mass gathering of many people, from young children to seniors, coming into a single space through a small number of entrances, sitting closely together, remaining there for hours at a time, speaking, chanting and singing. Reopening an office or a school – under strict capacity limitations – is simply different. A better comparison is theater or sporting events: we note that Broadway is closed until January, and what sporting events there are, are playing to empty stadiums. 

If schools announce they will reopen in the fall, will we reconsider this decision?
The time for us to begin making our plans and preparations is now; we believe this is the right path now, and will remain so in September, regardless of what the local schools decide is right for them.

What sort of enhancements to this year's experience do you have in mind?
Not only do we have many ideas, but we received a lot of great feedback from our survey. We will be hosting town hall style meetings on Tuesday, July 21 at 12:30pm and Thursday, July 23 at 7:00pm that are designed to discuss and elaborate on these ideas. Our hope is to create ways in which we can connect throughout the days and weeks surrounding the High Holy Days and make the entire month a celebration of our rich traditions. Please CLICK HERE to RSVP.

How will you handle the key elements of High Holy Day services, like Kol Nidre or Tasclich?
Rest assured that every element of our traditional service will be reflected in our virtual service, perhaps in an unexpected or innovative way.

Will we have any opportunity to see other members of the congregation during services?
One of the aspects we want to consider in our town hall meetings will be ways to bring congregants safely together, perhaps virtually, perhaps in small in-person gatherings that comply will all social distancing guidelines.

With services not being in-person, will CBY be offering discounts on membership?
Congregation B'nai Yisrael offers a host of worship, engagement, and educational opportunities throughout the year as part of membership, all supported by your dues, coupled with tuition and voluntary giving. CBY is proud of our tradition of never turning anyone away based on financial status, and that will not change. If you are in a situation that leaves you unable to meet your financial obligations, we encourage you to contact our Executive Director Ava Saperstein to discuss a dues arrangement. These conversations are kept in the strictest confidence.

Will our services be open to non-members or members who haven’t yet paid their 2020 dues?
Details of how the services will be shared are still under discussion. We would ask that members continue to fulfill at least 50% of your dues and tuition obligation prior to the High Holy Day services. These funds are critical to maintaining the normal operations of CBY including payments on utilities, the mortgage, and our ability to meet payroll for the staff.

What does this mean for JID and other services?
At the moment, nothing. Our plans for JID are still tied to the decision of the Byram Hills School District. For Shabbat and other engagement and worship activities, we are adhering to the guidelines put forth by New York State, the CDC, and local, state, and federal health organizations.

Do you still plan to have a High Holy Day Appeal?
This year, everything is different, including our approach to fundraising. Rather than a traditional High Holy Day Appeal, we will be asking families to contribute to a COVID-19 Relief Fund specifically aimed at providing scholarships for those families who have suffered economically in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and are unable to meet their financial obligations to the community.

Even with our best efforts, there is still a gap that exists between what these fees cover and what it costs to run CBY. Eliminating that gap would mean raising our dues and tuition to levels that are, quite frankly, unreasonable. That is why each year we, and every other congregation, ask our members to contribute throughout the year to various fundraising initiatives. Your support of our fundraising efforts, including the COVID-19 Relief Fund, will be critical in helping our clergy and staff maintain the high level of worship, engagement, and educational opportunities we have all come to expect.

When will we learn more about how this will all work?
We’re excited about telling you more, so keep an eye on your email inbox [in August].

If you have any additional questions, or would like to set up a time to speak more in-depth about this decision, please contact Rabbi Joshua Strom, Executive Director Ava Saperstein, High Holy Day Task Force Chair Michelle Honig, or CBY President Aaron Kwittken.



Fri, May 7 2021 25 Iyar 5781