Sof Experiments with Hybrid Services

by Sandra Z. Armstrong & Margie Walkover

A phone showing an image of trees and nature behind it.The June 5 service was opened to Board and Committee members and the lay leadership for that particular Shabbat. The board established guidelines for a trial run to be shared on Zoom and at the Unitarian Church:

  • RSVPs to President Sandra Armstrong will be an essential component.
  • Only vaccinated individuals may attend.
  • 6 feet of separation will apply (unless a family member).
  • Everyone will remain masked – including service leaders.
  • Services start at 9:50am and we will try our best to be finished by noon.
  • There will be no physical oneg.
  • Hebrew classes will remain online and begin 40 minutes after services actually end.

The trial period runs from June 5 through June 26, four Shabbats. On June 27, the Sof Board will reconvene to discuss our progress and assess the situation.

During the recent Sof Ma’arav Annual Meeting we discussed our public health community’s success in learning how to manage the pandemic: vaccinations are available; contact tracing systems have stabilized; and infection rates in Hawai’i are under control. Because our nation’s epidemiologists better understand the behavior of this coronavirus, we know better how to contain the virus during outbreaks. We have also learned how to safely open the economy and our social networks as outbreaks subside. Now we feel comfortable moving forward in our efforts to reintegrate face-to-face meetings as part of life at Sof Ma’arav.

This is important because Rabbi Rosalind Glazer will be joining us in Hawaiʻi for High Holy Days 2021! We have  plenty of time to learn how to hold the face-to face portion of the service. We plan to offer a hybrid set of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services to Sof Ma’arav congregants.

The majority of our congregation will be invited to participate via Zoom. During the test period we will have a small gathering at the Unitarian Church. The plan is to invite approximately 15 board members, committee chairs and lay leaders who have been fully vaccinated. Everyone will be masked during the entire service. Social distancing will be practiced.

We will try this pattern for four weeks. As we learn how to manage the technology and our safety procedures, we will create more space for people to attend in person. Eventually, we hope to invite all vaccinated congregants to “in house” Shabbat services.

A phone showing an image of nature behind itHow did we create this plan? The Sof Ma’arav Executive Committee gathered information about practices that would ensure safety during this ‘reopening’ phase of the pandemic. First, Sandy and Mat attended meetings of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s Pacific Southwest Region. These meetings included discussions about how congregations around the country were managing Shabbat gatherings, over Zoom, and more recently, in person, during COVID-19. Second, conversations were held with shul members who are part of the medical profession and who are associated with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health. Third, we met with the Unitarian Church to find out how they have adapted their space to support hybrid services on Zoom. Finally, we discussed the plan at our 2021 Annual Meeting on May 23rd.

During this research process, we gathered the practical knowledge required to develop our plan. We discovered that many shuls in the West have already established successful track records in using a hybrid form of gathering. Our medical advisors confirmed criteria for face-to-face gatherings that are easy to follow. The Unitarian Church shared that they have the technology required to offer Zoom for in-person services and will make their tech assistant available to us. We received feedback at the Annual Meeting that will be helpful to ensure that this process meets the needs of our diverse congregation.

We are grateful for this opportunity to develop hybrid Shabbat services. Please be on the look-out for an email with a Zoom link and an invitation. We look forward to seeing you at Shabbat services via Zoom and as time goes by, in person.

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