(links to health department websites below)


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 [ isaac.konikoff@bethisraelbellingham.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!!

Shabbat Shalom!

Miriam Schwartz

Covid update for 4.24.2020
Happy Friday, CBI Family!
Just a brief update today. I found the following ideas for learning to touch your face less often. This is important, because the most frequent way people catch COVID-19 is by touching something with virus and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth. It is also a great way to catch influenza, or any of the multitude of viruses that cause the common cold. With thanks from a wellness newsletter:
  • 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.
A few other items:
The Garage Sale is postponed for this June, but we hope to do something in the fall or next spring, so please continue to save your great resaleable items for CBI.
In the spirit of Tikkun Olam – Air and water quality has improved in many places all over the world since the Covid-19 outbreak. We certainly don’t want to live this way – but how can we move forward with more mindfulness about the environment?
A bit of irony: The books by my bed are 1) The Great Influenza by John Barry, and 2) A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
May you find, in this time of pause, new small pleasures that may have gone unnoticed in more hectic times.
Shabbat Shalom.
Miriam Schwartz

Shabbat Shalom, CBI Family!
We are now five weeks into the Covid-19 Lock-down. Every one of us has been affected by the huge changes in how we work, go to school, shop, worship, and connect. Almost everything in our lives requires more thought or effort, or a learning curve of some sort. This causes stress, and in order to cope well, I wanted to share a few ideas with you.
Most of us feel frustrated about the lack of control we feel, but there are always things we don’t have control over, like the weather, or traffic. We can feel more in control if we make active decisions about the things we can control, and not just let ourselves be paralyzed by uncertainty. It can be especially helpful to keep a daily routine for sleep, meals, exercise, and contact with others.
It can also be helpful to limit the amount of news we look at or listen to. Not all of what you hear or see may be accurate. And it may overwhelm your ability to feel balanced. Stick with trustworthy news sources and stop if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Remember the child-rearing concept of ‘catch them being good.’ Acknowledge the things that go right, the kind word or wave from someone on the street, the beauty of the season changing, the small steps of progress. Gratitude for these small things goes a long way toward raising our spirits and decreasing stress.
Take extra-good care of yourself. Make sure to get enough sleep if you can, though don’t stay all day in bed. Eat the healthiest foods you can, and don’t overdo alcohol or other mood-altering substances. (Except chocolate, that’s always ok ) Take time to relax and do those things that restore your spirit. If you are having trouble with any of these, consider asking your doctor for help.
All change is stressful. It can make us tired, irritable, sad, anxious, or angry. It can also be invigorating, challenging, and informative, as we see our lives with a new lens. It is likely that life after Covid will be different, and we can have some control over what the differences are that we bring with us from this time. What are you enjoying from this time of pause?
Some good news – In Whatcom and Skagit counties, we are seeing signs of flattening of the curve!  There are still some positive tests coming in, but the number of deaths has stabilized. This is all subject to change, but it is so great to see that our efforts are helping this to come about.
At CBI, we continue to rely on information from the state and local health departments in our decisions about activities.   At this time, we continue to rely on meeting by Zoom. NEWS FLASH – the date for the Annual Meeting has been changed to May 31st and will most likely be virtual. But even if we are not together in body, we are there in spirit! Your Board, your clergy, Mary in the office, Kesher staff, the Care Committee and the Mitzvah Corps – we are here for you! If there is some way we can help, please ask any of us! We are here to help – that’s what the CBI Family does!
Shabbat Shalom!
Miriam Schwartz

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 markell@gmail.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!

Miriam Schwartz

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

Dear Congregants,

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

Government links

Where can I find additional information about Coronavirus?

Whatcom County Health Department: www.whatcomcounty.us/ncov

Washington State Department of Health: www.doh.wa.gov/Coronavirus

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus