(links to health department websites below)
Early on in the Covid-19 experience, my heart was warmed by many things: People reaching out to help
others, businesses shifting gears on a dime, efforts to consolidate PPE for first responders. Many more
examples of the world, it seemed, pulling together for the common good.
Now, sadly, it is a less harmonious response. People are trying to scam others out of money by preying
on Covid fears. The latest caution is be very careful about an email that says it is doing contact tracing –
hint: they will not ask for your social security number, nor for money. Masking has been turned into a
political statement when it is not – it is what we can do to protect each other as well as ourselves. This
country’s leaders are using the crisis as a political tool. The world’s leaders are not playing as nicely with
each other as they were. People everywhere are tired – tired of masks, lines, take-out, and perhaps
most of all, the uncertainty. When will it end? What lasting changes will we be left with? Will we be
better prepared the next time this happens? How will our kids go to school? When can we go back to a
theater for a liver performance? When can we sing together?
There are, however, still a lot of good things, things to be grateful for. More people are gardening. (It
has long been my belief that gardening can save the world.) Many have more time – for family, for
themselves, for causes that speak to them. Many are learning new skills (Zoom!) and finding that they
are more adaptable than they thought. How many people do you know who have taken up the ukulele?
Think about the things that are not as bad as they could be, maybe even write them down. Name them,
call them your gratitude list. There are medical studies that show that connecting to your gratitudes
(blessings?) is good for your health.
The sacred work of CBI proceeds. Rabbi, the Ritual Committee, and the AV committee are figuring out
the best way to have our High Holy Days services, more on that to come soon. We are in good company
– congregations all over the country are thinking this through, and at the URJ, the leadership groups in
The Tent are sharing and collaborating on ideas. Our Kesher co-directors are committed to a safe return
to Kesher, on-line, and with so much more lead-time, they are developing great activities and curriculum
that will make this fall even better than the spring. Our younger students will be getting a big craft bag
at the beginning of the year, so they have all that they need for the weekly classes. Our Programming
Committee is working on getting plenty of on-line offerings for the months coming up, so we can let our
minds explore even if our bodies are staying home. Landscaping continues to proceed, more on this
next time. I am proud of our CBI leaders for not slacking off during this summer of our discontent.
Meetings are happening, people are thinking outside the box for ways we can connect, stay in touch,
worship together, share simchas. These are some of my gratitudes.
In child-rearing, there is a catch-phrase – “Catch them being good.” It is generally applied to toddlers
who get a lot of ‘no’ in their day (if they are being normal toddlers) – give them some attention when
they are being good to balance out all the trouble they get into. Humans are programmed to notice the
dangerous, the negative, wrong – it is important for escaping from sabertooth tigers.
But it can be hard on our spirits. I urge you to catch the world being good. Feel free to share some of
those moments and I will be happy to share them back in the next update.
Stay well, stay healthy – and stay connected!! Shabbat Shalom! – -Miriam Schwartz
Dear CBI Family,
I hope this update finds you healthy, and that you are getting outside in the nicer weather to breath
some fresh air and walk around and see something besides the inside of your house! We are finishing
the fourth month since we closed the synagogue and went on-line for services. I’m glad that now that
we are in Phase 2, it is possible to meet in small groups outside, for those who feel comfortable doing
The number of coronavirus cases had a spike a couple of weeks after Memorial Day but did not appear
to spike after the Black Lives Matter Peaceful Rally in early June. The deaths have been minimal,
however, compared to the early part of the illness, and I think this reflects several things, in part that the
most vulnerable people have stepped up their game and are doing a good job of avoiding contacts that
are higher risk. Younger people seem to be a larger part of the newer cases, and it is hard to be a
younger person in the loveliest part of the year and be expected to refrain from social connections. Still,
I hope you are all careful!! You are not invincible (I’m not sure they are listening…).
At CBI, we continue to make good use of our down time. We now have lovely, smooth asphalt at the
entrance to the property – no more potholes! The gate hit a pothole of its own with some cable issues,
but this has been fixed as of this morning!! The weed mitigation of the rain garden beds is moving
successfully along – the tall weeds are gone.
The decision about High Holy Days services is not finalized – it depends on several factors – but we will
certainly have a virtual version, either with or without an in-person aspect. Likewise, the decision about
Kesher is pending an evaluation of the situation closer to the start date. The Covid Task Force will be
meeting soon, and we have two Covid Kits which are almost complete and at the shul. Our other
committees are staying active as well.
Two thoughts have been on my mind regarding Covid. One is that at the beginning of this pandemic, I
was encouraged to see people working together and thinking so creatively to find ways to work around
the realities of the pandemic. Currently, though, what I mostly hear has to do with the politicizing of
wearing masks. People are dividing along ideological lines on an issue that should be something we do
more for others than for ourselves. The rights of individuals to not be made uncomfortable must be met
just as fiercely with the responsibility we each have to protect those we encounter. The acrimony I see
and read about makes me so sad. Maybe if everyone had to wear a corset for a day, then no one would
complain about masks making it hard to breathe. Till that strange day, believe me (I am a doctor!) that
if everyone wears a mask when within 6 feet or indoors, everyone is safer. Asymptomatic spread
The other thought is that this time when many are prickly, or scared, or angry, or frustrated, is the time
we need to double down on practicing compassion for each other. Assume that the other person has a
reason to be responding to this challenge in the way they choose.
Enough of masks already. I leave you with some options for entertainment and enlightenment. Besides
our own sweet Shabbat, Binnie Perper adds an art history lesson about the Jews in Italian History
(TONIGHT! This looks very cool!) and Laura Berman is giving a free online concert as well (though it
conflicts with Shabbat).
Shabbat Shalom to you all! Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay connected!! — Miriam Schwartz
The Covid-19 Task Force met this past Monday and reviewed the Phase 2 guidelines for houses of worship. While it is possible to meet, it is also very complicated. The requirements include a log of congregant visitors, 6-foot distancing and wearing masks, thorough disinfection, monitoring how many people are in the bathrooms, and the list goes on. At this point, we want to keep things as safe as we possibly can, and while we are looking into a plan to fulfill the requirements for Phase 3, we anticipate it will not be realistic or most safe to have gatherings for the time being Even then, there are a lot of people who will not feel comfortable attending in person. We continue to explore ways to bring services to as many people as we can in the long run. And we are feeling ready to expand our repertoire of offerings.
Since many things in our lives are slower, it allows time to focus on other things, things that we may previously have said “I just don’t have the time or energy.” This is certainly true about your friends here at CBI, and we are starting to look at things we may not have had the ‘bandwidth’ to tackle before.
One thing that is certainly moving ahead is the finishing of the front of the driveway and the gate!
We want to know what you’d like to see more of in the weeks and months ahead – so when you see a survey come across your electronic desktop from CBI, please take a few minutes to think about the questions and your answers, and get those questionnaires back to us! Pretty please!
Reminder – e-mails from the Rabbi will come with the ending @bethisraelbellingham.org, and usually as a Constant Contact message. If it is some other email address, it is likely spam. Especially if it is asking for money! If there is any question, please ask at the office. Don’t send money.
Something to lighten a grim mood – John Krasinski’s SGN on YouTube – check it out!
Tonight is a special Zoom service – the graduating Confirmation class will be honored, and Lenny Halpern will help lead the service – and tomorrow he has the distinction of being our first Zoom Bar Mitzvah! Hope to see you there – Shabbat Shalom!!
— Miriam Schwartz
Covid-19 Update 5.8.2020
Greetings, CBI family! We have had some rather lovely weather, and I hope you have a safe way to get outside and enjoy it.
Today I want to talk a bit about what things at CBI may look like going forward, and how we are preparing for it. There are so many unknowns, it is hard to prepare when we are not entirely clear what we are preparing for! But there are two main areas the Covid-19 Task Force and your synagogue leadership are addressing.
One of those is the health and safety of our congregants. We are following Governor Inslee’s lead on how and when to re-open, and the Secure Communities Network is developing some guidelines as well. We will need to develop a different kind of first aid kit, and Dr. Angie Lee has kindly donated two touch-free thermometers to start us off – many thanks, Angie!! I think a couple of pulse oximeters, some masks and gloves, and disinfecting wipes will be part of it too. These will be in place before we re-open, as will procedures to disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
Another is maintaining access to services for as many people as we can. Our Zoom Shabbat services, Torah study, and Kesher are certainly not what we are used to, but they are charming in their own way, and the necessity of Covid-19 has opened a window for making services more accessible for more of our congregants. The Ritual Committee is leading the way to consider how we might do either an entirely virtual High Holy Days season, or a hybrid model. The Acoustics Committee, which has already worked hard to make services more accessible to those with hearing challenges, has agreed to help also with making services easier for those with vision and mobility challenges. Thanks to both these committees and their chairs, Rabbi Samuels and Marta Brand, for their work in making services more inclusive!
Now I come to an ‘ask’ from you, our CBI Community. The plans for virtual services or hybrid services will completely depend on getting a much more robust internet connection and Wi-Fi, and this is in process already, with leadership from Josh Greenberg – thank you Josh! What I am asking for are some tech-savvy folks to volunteer to pitch in and help. Isaac Konikoff has been our valiant solo IT person, and this is a job that needs a lot more than one person!
We need people who can problem solve, and who are willing to take on the care and maintenance of the CBI building network including the existing Wi-Fi and internet access equipment, VoIP phones and security camera system, help the Ritual Committee and the Acoustic committee decide on equipment, run a Zoom service as a host and monitor, and assist congregants who may need help getting a Zoom meeting set up at home.
This is an awesome opportunity for some of our younger congregants (though anyone with skills would be most welcome!!) to share your skills and a little time to contribute to our CBI community. If you are interested and would like to know more, please contact me or Isaac Konikoff [ firstname.lastname@example.org ]– he is a very sweet person so don’t be shy!
Please join us for Zoom Shabbat this evening, even for a few minutes! No Kesher this week for Mother’s Day– call your mother, already! Or remember her with sweetness.
Shabbat Shalom! – Miriam Schwartz
Covid update 5.1.2020
Hello, CBI Family! Happy May Day! Who knows the song about ‘the lusty month of May’ from the musical Camelot?
The Covid Task Force is starting to consider how we will come out of lock-down. There is no big news, but we are starting to consider the needs of some people to have access to the facility in order to do their work. If you have a need to come to the building, please contact me and Mary Somerville.
We are also beginning the planning for High Holy Days and how best to do that. And other functions of the synagogue are proceeding too. When we do get back to being on site, I think you will see some real progress!
In the meantime, I highly recommend that you attend a Zoom Shabbat service or Torah study. Tonight is the Teacher Appreciation Service, so it’s a great night for families with kids, or anyone who values Jewish Education, to attend. The Zoom services are a bit shorter than the sanctuary services, but it is sweet to see everyone at home participating. We do have them secured, so please consider doing this, even just once. It would be great to see your face!! I’ll be there again tonight!!
- Increase awareness. Ask a partner to tell you when you touch your face, wear perfume or bracelets to remind you not to touch your face, and/or carry a pen and paper to record how many times you touch your face each day.
- Help others. Think of the people you are trying to protect by not touching your face, and gently remind others when you notice them touching their face.
- Do other things with your hands. Put your hands in your pockets, hold a ball or a deck of cards in your hands, or make fists with your hands for one minute if you bring them near your face.
- Change postures. Keep your elbows off the table, sit in chairs without armrests or in the middle of the couch, and sit on your hands if you find it is hard to avoid touching your face.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths and on relaxing muscles that feel tense, sit in a quiet place and focus on the present moment rather than the past or future, or spend time in nature at a safe distance from others.
CBI Coronavirus Update 4-3-2020
Shabbat Shalom, CBI Family! It is 3 weeks now since we went into heavy-duty hunker-down mode at CBI. Sometimes it feels like yesterday, other times it seems like 3 months to me. This is a time when so much is changing for all of us! I wanted to update you all on Covid-19 issues in the area in general, and for CBI in particular.
In Whatcom County, we have seen 9 deaths from Covid-19. This is, on a population basis, tiny – 0.004%. Positive tests as of yesterday were 175 in Whatcom, for 0.08%. For Skagit, there have been 4 deaths, for 0.003%, and 153 positive tests, for 0.12%. Clearly there are many more people who are positive but don’t have symptoms, or whose symptoms are so mild they are not concerned enough to get tested. The peak of cases is expected in another two weeks or so. This is not to minimize the seriousness of the situation at all, but rather to give some perspective and to show that it looks to me like we are really flattening the curve. All this upheaval seems to be working!! So I hope you can take heart! This will not be forever (though if you are at home with small kids it may feel like it!).
Here is what is going on at CBI:
- We continue to have our Friday evening Shabbat and Saturday Torah Study on-line by Zoom – these are well-attended and quite lovely to see families gathered around their candles.
- We also have our Kesher classes meeting by Zoom, and Nicky and Andrea and our Kesher teachers are, well, zooming ahead with engaging on-line content for the kids. B’nei Mitzvah training continues as well. The New Synagogue Task Force and Security Committees are working together to get expanded internet and Wi-Fi capacity in conjunction with getting our front gate operational and the driveway completed.
- We are looking into some federal financial relief to help us get through these challenging times. Many thanks to Terri Weiner for her work on this.
- COMING VERY SOON: – The Care Committee, the Mitzvah Corps, and the Board of Directors will be reaching out in the next few days to every household in our congregation to touch base, offer support, and wish you a Happy Passover! Remember, not everyone has a 360 area code, so feel free to screen if you want. Your caller will leave their phone number and call back the next day. You may opt out of getting a call by contacting Harriet Markell at email@example.com.
- Rabbi Samuels and Andrea Shupack will lead an abbreviated Second Seder on Thursday evening – the link will be shared next week.
Let me address concerns about Zoom – there have been reports of Zoom-bombing – uninvited people coming and disrupting meetings. This is happening a minuscule number of times compared to the (probably) millions of daily meetings happening this way all over the world, but the concern is real and we are taking it seriously. At this time, all service links have been taken off the website and are only available to members who get our weekly emails. If this doesn’t give you the access you need, please call the synagogue office number. Feel free, however, in sending the links to your family and friends so they can join us as well. Committee meetings are now automatically happening with a waiting room that requires the host to allow you in. We are being as safe as we know how to be, but we need to stay connected as a community as well.
I saw this on a local sign: “Viruses are contagious. Anxiety and panic are contagious. So are patience and hope. Choose wisely.” I am proud of CBI, and our local communities, for choosing patience and hope, for all the times we choose to be part of the solution, to care for one another, to see the silver lining in our situation. We are making the best of a bad situation. We are not at war. As the Jews on that Watch-night in Egypt stayed hopeful, let us approach our Seders with hope, resilience, and a stalwart heart.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover! May your matzah balls be light! And – wash your hands!
3/20/20 CBI Covid update
Dear CBI Family,
Well, what a week it has been. My heart has been saddened by a lot of the news. Most of it you know. I read that malware – computer ‘viruses’ as it were – are being imbedded in some apps that claim to help people follow the progress of the Covid-19 infection – so please, be cautious about what you download in the search for information. Other scams will no doubt be on their way.
But I see also great cause for hope and happiness. I am in awe of the generosity of individuals and businesses and even corporations in helping people to stay connected, providing a means for vulnerable people to shop with less risk, take our bus service without pay, support workers who may have to reduce their hours of work. I see creative problem solving every day, and people stepping up to make changes in how we live our lives on an unprecedented timeline. In my own corner of life, in the medical practice I am a part of, many people are working long hours coming up with innovative ways to keep patients and healthcare staff safer while continuing to do what we need to do.
Similarly, I have seen the same innovation, quick changes, and thinking outside the box at CBI. We have had two committee meetings by Zoom, a platform for online meetings, and our Kesher Directors, Andrea Shupack and Nicky Naiman, as well as Rabbi Samuels, will be using Zoom to re-open Kesher this Sunday morning. In short order, they have come up with online content for our kids to continue their Jewish education.
Similarly, Andrea and Rabbi Samuels have already used innovation to offer a Shabbat experience, and this evening, it will be interactive! Torah study was online and interactive as well last weekend – give it a try! You, your pajamas, and a cup of coffee or tea, discussing Torah from the comfort of home.
We have had to cancel our Community Seder, and there are other activities and services that will have to be postponed – but I want to focus on the things we are still able to do. Beyond the connections noted above, we are still proceeding with our required landscaping work, and the work on getting the front gate functional. We are also working on getting improved internet and Wifi at the synagogue, which will help our connectivity in this challenging time of staying home, and when we get back together, with our security and user-friendliness of the synagogue. The Programming Committee is still working on future offerings. Vicki and Jeff Jaffe and the Ark Design Group are moving forward with their innovative fund-raiser, so that work can continue toward the completion of the Ark, and this will help support artisans who might otherwise be losing income. When we can meet again as a congregation, wouldn’t it be awesome to have the Ark completed!
I want to give a special shout-out to the Care Committee, led by Else Sokol and Harriet Markell, who have reached out to support those people who are most isolated and vulnerable at this time – and to the generous souls who have volunteered to pitch in and help them. Bravo, and Yasher Koach!
Yesterday was the first day of Spring! If ever we should feel joyous about the hopefulness and renewal that comes with the renewal we see in our gardens and the warming weather, it is now!! Life goes on, and CBI goes on. Someday we will be back to business as usual – but perhaps with some new tools in our toolbox! Until then, stay hopeful, stay healthy, and stay connected! And wash your hands!
Miriam Schwartz, president
Shabbat Shalom, CBI Family!
What a week it has been! I hope this message finds you well in body and spirit. I have just heard that the public schools are all closed until April 24th – so my thoughts are with the parents in this new challenge.
For everyone, I imagine, the way we live our lives is suddenly changed. Our usual haunts and activities are no longer accessible or safe. People are being ‘socially distant’. The news and recommendations change daily. The financial future is destabilized. We can’t go to school, to shul, to classes. For some of us, we can’t go to work in the same way, for others, we must go to work and deal with this crisis up close. We worry about our older relatives, ourselves, our spouses. We worry about our business neighbors whose livelihoods are threatened. We fear for those who are already vulnerable.
But there are a few things that make me a bit hopeful and I’d like to share them with you. First of all, we are not at war. People will die as a result of coronavirus, just as they have been dying of influenza, but it is not bloodshed and weapons. This crisis is one that can bring people together in some way, and we will learn new creative skills to do it. That creativity is another thing I see as a potential positive. In finding new ways to teach and learn, stay connected, and get things done, we may discover better ways to do things that we can add to our toolbox for ‘after’. I also think that the pace of life may slow down for some folks. Maybe we will rediscover simpler pleasures, like hiking, gardening, reading books, writing, cooking. On Yom Kippur we step out of our normal lives and examine them – this may be a similar opportunity to reconsider some of our life choices. Lastly – we may appreciate those things that we have taken for granted but are now difficult, unwise, or not available.
For Congregation Beth Israel, we are on the steep part of a learning curve that we embark on to provide religious services, Kesher teaching, connection, and community outreach. This weekend, we have some simple offerings (see below), but our plan is to spend time in the next week to learn how to offer more. We will update everyone each Wednesday in the E-News about on-line offerings, and we plan to send a reminder on Fridays about services available for streaming or viewing. The Congregation Beth Israel website is a source for up-to-date news and we encourage you to bookmark it on your browser.
As we move forward, I encourage you to stay healthy – cover your cough, wash your hands, eat healthfully, exercise moderately, and get enough sleep.
I’ll close with this poem, Prayer for a Pandemic by Cameron Wiggins Belin:
May we who are merely inconvenienced
Remember those whose lives are at stake.
May we who have no risk factors
Remember those most vulnerable.
May we who have the luxury of working from home
remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
May we who have the flexibility to care for our children
when their schools close
remember those that have no options.
May we who have to cancel our trips
remember those who have no safe place to go.
May we who are losing our margin money
in the tumult of the economic market
remember those who have no margin at all.
May we who settle in for a quarantine at home
remember those who have no home.
As fear grips our country,
Let us choose love during this time when we
cannot physically wrap our arms around each other,
let us yet find a way to be the loving embrace
of God to our neighbor. Amen.
Stay safe, stay hopeful, and stay connected. Shabbat Shalom!
– Miriam Schwartz
To watch a live-streamed Shabbat service tonight follow this link:
To watch Rabbi Samuels and Andrea Shupack lead a brief Kabbalat Shabbat service with drash, check the website this evening for the video.
March 13, 2020
Our community is founded upon Jewish values and in this uncertain time we want to emphasize the importance of Pikuach Nefesh: preserving and protecting life. Our highest priority right now is the safety and well-being of each member of our Beth Israel community.
The CBI Covid-19 Task Force just met Wednesday evening using a ZOOM on-line meeting, and after we all considered what is best for our congregation as well as the community at large, we have decided to stop having in-person services, Kesher classes, and meetings for the time being. This will begin this evening after the shiva minyan for Karen Weill. We don’t know how long this will last, but we will keep our ears and eyes on the recommendations of our Health Departments and the Centers for Disease Control and take things as they come. No doubt the situation will look a lot different two weeks from now.
Rabbi Samuels and Andrea Shupack have already been brainstorming about how they can continue to have services and Torah study in an on-line fashion, and you can expect to hear more in the next day or two. This weekend is a bit up in the air, but we are looking at various options, and we will communicate, by Constant Contact and via the Website, when there is a definite plan. Please check here for updates.
Kesher is not going to meet in person this Sunday (3/15/2020). There will, however, be virtual Kesher. Again, we don’t know how long this will go on, but Nicky Naiman, Andrea Shupack, and Rabbi Samuels are thinking creatively about ways to keep students going with their Hebrew and Jewish studies. Kesher families, expect a letter from our co-directors in the near future.
We are in the process of sorting out what will happen to the Adult Education classes. The End of Life series will be postponed for now. We will reach out to the teachers of the other classes and let you know what the plan is, once we know for sure.
Committee meetings are on hold or will be in some virtual format. The ZOOM meeting went well, and while it lacks the warm fuzzy quality of an in-person meeting, it was kind of fun! We feel this is important to keep people home and not, well, congregating. It also makes it easier for those who live remotely. Ask the chair of your committee about how your group will move forward.
We will try to get our internet services at the synagogue improved in as short a time frame as we can – this will help our connectivity and ability to stream services from our own synagogue. We are also looking at ways we can use this time to improve some safety features around the synagogue, such as installing hand sanitizer dispensers, procedures for disinfecting after events, and first aid kits installed near the elevators or in a more prominent place.
Our older adults and those with chronic medical conditions are the most vulnerable members of our CBI family – not just to the infection, but to the social isolation that is being recommended. Our Care Committee is already reaching out, both for volunteers, and for anyone who may need some additional help. Please, check in on your friends, old and young. This is a stressful time for everyone – there is much uncertainty about jobs, school, safety, and all activities.
While this is a challenging time, it is also a time of opportunity – to try some new things, to see our daily lives with fresh eyes, to appreciate how well things generally work, and to problem-solve creatively. We may stumble on some new ways of doing things that may serve us well even after this crisis is over. Thank you in advance for your patience.
Stay tuned – we will send more information when we have it. The CBI website will be kept updated as we learn more. Keep yourself healthy, wash those hands, cough in that elbow, and get plenty of sleep. Stay calm, stay positive, and stay connected!
The CBI Covid-19 Task Force is:
R. Joshua Samuels – Clergy and CBI events
Harriet Markell – Care Committee
Nicky Naiman – Kesher
Josh Greenberg – Facilities and Skagit interface
Melissa Schapiro – Communications
Marta Brand – Facilities
Dan Ohms – Safety and Security
Mary Somerville – Coordination
Miriam Schwartz – CBI Board