A message from Rabbi Dennis Sasso during Havdalah Services on Saturday evening, May 2, 2020
A Pastoral Response to Governor Holcomb’s Recommendations
for the Reopening of the State of Indiana, issued May 1, 2020
Dear Beth-El Zedeck Families and Friends:
Governor Holcomb outlined on May 1st, 2020, a five stage process for reopening the State of Indiana during the next couple of months. We can appreciate the good intentions of the Governor in restoring, with restrictions, the economic interests of the State. The recommendations concerning congregational religious gatherings are worrisome, arbitrary and, even, risky.
Over the past weeks and months, there has been, nationally and locally, a significant amount of pressure from extreme religious groups to allow for large gatherings. Misleadingly, it has been presented as a matter of religious freedom and the right to worship.
As Jews, we regard the principles of health and the preservation of life as preeminent religious values. Uvaharta bahayyim, “You shall choose life” and V’ahavta L’reiakha kamokha, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (which is at the core of this Shabbat’s Torah portion), are foundational values of Jewish belief and practice, and override any ritual obligations.
Beth-El Zedeck, along with other synagogues and congregations in our city and across the country, has been able to adapt and adjust to the demands of social distancing. I am confident that Judaism will thrive during this time, and outlive the challenges of this crisis. We will keep faith with one another and make sure that we will return to face to face gatherings, services and programs when it is safe to do so, and not in keeping with an artificial time line and numerical progression. We will continue to look after one another and the interests of our synagogue lovingly, patiently and faithfully. We will heed to the best advice of science and medicine.
There is a text and a subtext to the Governor’s statement. While he tried to be respectful of “religious freedom,” he also made it clear that “My preference is that you continue to hold virtual ... services,” on line, rather than in buildings. And he added: “We need you to keep your congregations safe.”
Already the Episcopal Diocese, the Presbyterian Council, and the Carmel Interfaith Alliance (over which I have the honor of presiding), among other religious communities have indicated that they will not be reopening their congregations for in person worship yet. As Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck, I will continue to work with my clergy colleagues, our committed professional staff and our dedicated lay leaders to keep Beth-El Zedeck safe for our young and our elders. We have no plans to open the synagogue building for worship or programs in the immediate future. We continue consultations with the larger organized Jewish community in developing protocols that meet the needs of our congregations and agencies, individually and together.
The Governor’s program is aspirational. He himself has noted that absent a vaccine or reliable testing and therapy, it is questionable that we have conquered the pandemic. The State of Indiana has, admittedly, not yet met its testing goals. For the sake of the welfare of our congregation, the Jewish community, and all of our neighbors, our congregation will exercise caution, patience, and moderation in planning and moving forward.
As always, special thanks go to our physicians, nurses, healers, caregivers, police officers, firefighters, and first responders, as well as to the elected leaders and officials who look after our welfare with skill and altruism. Thanks also to our teachers, parents, grandparents, children and families as we experience and discover new ways of being a faithful community.
Shavua Tov. I wish you a week of health, joys and peace.
Rabbi Dennis C. Sasso
May 2, 2020