Park Row is open for services but with important restrictions

Dear Fellow Congregants and Friends,

I hope this finds you and your families all keeping as well as possible.

As you all know, we reopened the shul for shabbes services (following an appropriate risk assessment), with as many adaptations as possible to be Covid-safe to the greatest extent feasible, at the end of last month. I am extremely grateful to Tony & Eve Gordon and Garry Temple (as well as, of course, Rabbi Mendy Singer) for everything that they did to help make the reopening happen. The first shabbes service was attended by some 20 men and at least half a dozen women plus assorted children, and was much enjoyed and appreciated by all present, in spite of the substantial modifications to our usual way of doing things.

The first thing I need to inform you about is that, whatever you may have heard or read in connection with the Government’s latest rules – which, incidentally, are not mere guidelines but will have the force of law – places of worship are exempt from the incoming restrictions. I have now had confirmation of this from the Office of the Chief Rabbi. In other words: synagogues (churches, mosques etc.) can continue to hold public prayer services, as long as they respect social distancing, hygienic and other requirements to limit the risk of transmitting the virus.

As I mentioned, we conducted a thorough risk assessment before reopening the shul last month and I am confident that we can continue to hold services, including Festival services… provided we adhere rigorously to the protocols already advertised (which I reiterate below for clarity) and subject to extra considerations regarding capacity, particularly in light of students’ likely attendance at Yom Kippur services.

The general protocols, just to recall, are as follows:

  • everyone wishing to attend a service at Park Row must pre-register by completing the online form available at www.jewishbristol.com/parkrow;
  • hand sanitiser must be used at least on entering the building – there is a bottle on a table just inside the gate and other bottles in various locations around the building;
  • all congregants must wear masks whilst inside the building, unless exempted on medical grounds – also, children under the age of 12 are not strictly required to wear masks;
  • there is a one-way system for movement around the building, and also around the bimah, indicated by tape strips on the floor: congregants are asked to enter the main prayer hall downstairs only by the door further from the street (i.e. adjacent to the mechitzah) and to leave the prayer hall only by the door closer to the street, and to move around the bimah in an anti-clockwise direction;
  • congregants are requested not to shake hands or exchange kisses or hugs, and to remain whenever possible 2 metres apart from each other;
  • congregants are requested to sit only in locations not marked out by tape across the seats – to preserve social distancing while seated;
  • congregants are requested not to sing out loud along with the davening as is our usual custom (because of the risk of airborne droplets spreading the virus), but can hum along or sing very quietly (“in an undertone”, as the old-fashioned siddurs put it);
  • anyone called up to read from the Torah must stand behind the transparent screen to the right of the reading desk, and must not touch or kiss the scroll.

A few additional remarks about some of the above, just to clarify the specific context for yontef services:

  1. Pre-registration. Although some may consider this an unnecessary piece of bureaucracy, I am afraid that it is quite simply not optional. It is an absolute requirement in order to enable “track and tracing” in the event of an outbreak of Covid connected with the shul, and is now actually to be enshrined in law. People must register in advance if they wish to come to shul for any of the yontef services – it is as simple as that. It only takes a minute or two when you go to the online form mentioned above, and is really clear and straightforward. I regret to say that anyone who rolls up “on spec” without having registered will have to be turned away – we cannot afford to be “lenient” (some people might say “cavalier”) about this. I accept that some people may still find this ridiculous or unnecessary, while some others might nevertheless roll up on the day and be disappointed; but that’s life – and more than ever in a time of pandemic. So I make no apologies for erring on the side of caution: this is about protecting all attendees at Festival services to the greatest extent feasible.
  2. Social distancing. The requirements to maintain 2 metres distance and not to sit together in shul, obviously, do not apply to family/household units. When talking to anyone else: please remember not to stand very close to them (as we habitually, absent-mindedly do). Try to maintain 2 metres distance at all times whilst in the building.
  3. Face masks. These must be worn at all times whilst indoors. Recognising however that they can feel uncomfortable after a while, congregants may always step out into the enclosed courtyard behind the main downstairs prayer hall (not, please, the front steps inside or outside the front gate – this for security as opposed to health reasons) at a suitable moment during the service, in order to remove them briefly: masks are not required to be worn outdoors.
  4. One-way system. This will apply upstairs for access to the Ladies’ Gallery as well as downstairs in the main prayer hall, so floor tape strips will be laid down to indicate entry and exit points upstairs also.

Looking forward to seeing as many of you in shul over the Festivals as possible,

With my best wishes to you all for a good yontef, Shanah Tovah, and a Happy, Sweet and – above all – Healthy New Year 5781.

David Turns
President, Bristol Hebrew Congregation