Lifecycle planning is disrupted

The coronavirus pandemic has shifted human behavior both monumentally and at a breakneck pace in recent weeks. Local lifecycle planning has been no exception.

Even before Gov. Tony Evers issued a “Safer at Home” order in late March, local synagogues largely shut down buildings and in-person activities. Meanwhile, lifecycle events including shivas and b’nei mitzvahs were postponed or diminished.

Area Jewish leaders are working to rise to the occasion. They are striking a balance between safety and the emotional or religious needs tied to key Jewish experiences.

The state’s largest synagogue, the 900-family Congregation Shalom in Fox Point, issued a series of guidelines for families in late March. Given the speed with which the coronavirus changes things, along with the governor’s order, some or all may already have been updated: Brit milah should be performed with only the mohel or doctor and immediate family in attendance. Baby namings are postponed for later. B’nai mitzvah services must be rescheduled, though students at Congregation Shalom, a Reform movement shul, will not be asked to learn new Torah portions.

“Everybody understands,” said Rabbi Noah Chertkoff. “There has not been one note of challenge or upset.”

Rabbi Wes Kalmar leads Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah, an Orthodox congregation in Glendale. While Congregation Shalom, the Reconstructionist Shir Hadash, and some other shuls will hold virtual experiences on Shabbat, that’s not going to be the practice at an Orthodox synagogue like ASKT.

But Kalmar did hold a virtual pre-Shabbat event; he suggested that congregants should dress for Shabbat at home. He advised: “Do everything to try to sanctify the day even though you’re not going to synagogue.”

At Congregation Shalom, funerals were to be held graveside, with attendees are limited to immediate family. The synagogue
committed to provide virtual alternatives to physical presence through technology. And for shivas, Congregation Shalom advised that gathering in the home of the mourner must be done virtually, by phone or by a web-based communications tool.

“For funerals, we’re going to be very limited in terms of what the state has indicated,” said Rabbi Marc Berkson of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun. His synagogue has a lot of b’nei mitzvahs planned for May and June, he said, and the synagogue has been making tentative plans for how to handle them.

But all these plans and policies were as of Chronicle press time. Check for any updated practices with local synagogues; if there’s any truism about life during this pandemic so far, it’s that things keep changing.