Being Together in Community Again: What Every Congregation Needs to Know

July 13, 2021Amy Asin

Last year, we talked about it being a High Holidays like no other. And this year we are faced with the same opportunity – to create something that has never before existed.  While many of us are eager to experience being together in community, we also know that many will be comfortable logging in again from home. Some congregations will even need congregants to stay home in order to make sanctuaries safe. Thus, we will have our first multi-access High Holiday experience.   

In order to support our congregations in preparing, the URJ has compiled the following resources: 

Multi-access 

Research from last year’s High Holidays shows that a significant group of people who typically don’t attend these services did participate in 5781 because it was so accessible to them. The barriers usually in place – commuting, dressing up, staying in one’s seat, managing children or people not comfortable sitting for long stretches, engaging with members of the household who aren’t Jewish or who aren’t comfortable in Jewish settings – were gone.  As many of us celebrate returning to our beloved sanctuaries this year, let’s remember that many will not, but they will still participate. We will face a new challenge of managing both an in person and an online audience at the same time.   

Resources from the URJ and movement partners on multi access include: 

Beyond the Sanctuary

  • While worship is a core part of the High Holiday experience, it is far from the only way to observe, and many often want other ways to connect. If you are looking to provide an online non-worship opportunity for your congregants to begin preparing for the High Holidays, share the URJ’s Reflect project with them. This project offers several ideas for engaging with themes for people of all ages in a lower barrier, high quality mode from home. Thanks to the Righteous Person’s Foundation for funding the creation of this site.

Safety/Re-Opening

The movement has offered multiple opportunities to discuss health protocols over the past 15 months.

Our understanding of the virus and consequent recommendations on rules and protocols continue to shift as do local conditions. Stay up to date on the discussion in the Safety and Security group in the URJ Tent. You should always be asking yourself the following questions about anything you are thinking of doing: 

  1. Is it legal and safe based on national and local guidelines? 
  2. Can I create a policy that makes it work in our building for our community? 
  3. Am I prepared to enforce that policy? 
  4. Am I ready to go backwards if conditions worsen? 

Security 

Unfortunately, the security situation has shifted dramatically since we last gathered in person for High Holidays in 2019. Our partners at the Secure Community Network (SCN) are urging us to update procedures, be in touch with local law enforcement, and do the training necessary to keep everyone safe. We also know that members of our community feel and are safe under different conditions, particularly people of color and disabled people. See this blog for more on keeping our most vulnerable populations safe.

SCN will be hosting a series of High Holiday prep webinars in August. These will be publicized via the Safety and Security group in the Tent and in Inside Leadership. You can access the Countering an Active Threat webinar training that they did for the URJ this springTheir website also contains resources on cyber-security, firearms, and other safety related issues. 

For a round-up of URJ resources on security, see this blog

Technology and other supplies 

The Reform Movement Marketplace offers congregations the opportunity to take advantage of the buying power of the entire network of congregations. Access discounts on office supplies, hand sanitizer, and technology tools for use during the High Holidays. In particular, you may be interested in the Neat bar which allows smaller congregations and clergy leading by themselves the ability to have a turn-key video production solution when using Zoom. Also take a look at Subsplash, which offers a branded app featuring their worship stream, opportunities for participants to chat, and for making financial contributions. 

Collaboration 

Preparing a full set of experiences for the High Holidays may be more than your congregation is ready to take on at this point. It’s not too late to consider sharing the load with another URJ congregation. This might mean connecting with another congregation’s online family service or Yom Kippur afternoon study sessions. It does not have to be an all or nothing thing. Many discussions about collaboration happen in the URJ Tent, particularly in the Small Congregations group and in the Programming group. Consider posting what you can offer and what you need and begin a conversation with another congregation. 


As we enter into the intense season of planning for High Holidays a few final thoughts:

  • Work in partnership and stay in your lane – there will be so many new decisions that need to be made this year and made quickly. Make sure that you have explicit discussions about who should decide. Consider using tools like MOCHA or RACI to help further the conversation 
  • Be kind – Pirke Avot teaches us to find ourselves a teacher, make ourselves a friend, and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Expect the best from each other, but know that we are all still in recovery and may not be able to deliver our best on a day in day out basis.
  • Understand that different people have different levels of anxiety and some have none at all. I write this as a sit on my first airplane flight since February 2020. There are hundreds of people around me. We are all experiencing this in different ways. The same will be true in your sanctuary and on your bimah. Recognize it and prepare for it. 
  • Take some time off when it’s over. Clergy and staff may need a few extra days to recover this year. Consider taking/offering that time. Lay leaders may also need an extra day off before returning to work. 
  • Welcome the newcomers – whether they are congregants who joined in March 2020 who no one has ever met, a cantor who has never led worship in front of your sanctuary when it was full, or the board that has only convened once in person since the pandemic allowed.

While it still feels a little early to say it, we at the URJ wish you a shanah yoteir tovah – a better year ahead

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