Park Row Synagogue is re-opening

Dear Fellow Congregants and Friends,

I hope that you have all been keeping as well as possible, and that you have had a Happy Chanukah as we are in the last day of the festival.

As you all know, our shul had to close its gates at the beginning of November in compliance with the national lockdown which then entered into force. On exiting national lockdown at the beginning of this month, unfortunately the situation in Bristol regarding local Covid transmission and infection rates, as well as NHS hospital capacity, was extremely serious. With that and the very clear advice of the Director of Public Health for the West of England in mind, and notwithstanding the opinion of the Office of the Chief Rabbi that synagogues could reopen for prayer services, the BHC Council took the decision to remain closed for a while longer, in order to protect as far as possible our congregants and not expose people to unnecessary risk.

With Thursday’s revision of local Covid restrictions, most if not all of you will be aware that the City of Bristol, along with North Somerset, has been “promoted” from Tier 3 (“very high risk”) to Tier 2 (merely “high risk”), with effect from this Saturday. In light of that and the dramatic improvement in Bristol’s Covid rates, Council has now decided to authorise the reopening of the Park Row Synagogue for public prayer services: shabbes morning service will therefore resume in the shul this Saturday from 10.30am.

I hope you will forgive me if I restate the conditions attached, just as a reminder and for absolute clarity:

  • all Covid-safe protocols in force during our last reopening in September and October will continue to be applied as before
  • we ask all attendees at services to register in advance using the online form at
  • the wearing of face masks inside the synagogue building is obligatory (unless exempt)
  • please use the hand sanitisers located in various places around the building, especially on entry and exit
  • please respect the one-way system for access to the prayer hall, indicated by tape strips on the floor
  • please respect physical distancing of 2 metres between people from different households, and in particular do not shake hands and/or exchange kisses as is the custom
  • in the prayer hall, please sit only in places not marked off by tape

In addition to the above, at the present time the Office of the Chief Rabbi strongly recommends and requests congregants above the age of 70 and/or with underlying health conditions NOT to attend synagogue services, for their own safety and that of other congregants.

With deep regret, I have to admit that I myself will not be attending services in our shul for the time being. This is not because I am over 70 (possibly contrary to appearances, I am not!), or because I would personally feel unsafe or uncomfortable doing so, but because I live in an area which remains in Tier 3 – South Gloucestershire – and the Government requires people living in a Tier 3 area not to travel into a Tier 2 area unless absolutely essential for work or education, or to obtain medical treatment. Although some people might be rather cavalier about ignoring such restrictions if inconvenient for them, I feel it would be irresponsible of me to behave in that way while the pandemic is still raging unabated. I am deeply sorry that this means I will be unable to assist with making up a minyan, especially for those wishing to say Kaddish for loved ones.

I know that many of you have been frustrated at the continued closure of the shul even after we were allowed by Government regulations to reopen earlier this month. However, just because we are allowed to do something, does not mean that we have to do it or that it is necessarily even a good idea! Council has quite properly taken very seriously its obligation to consider the health and safety of all those who might attend our services, and the decision to remain closed earlier this month was taken in what were genuinely believed to be the best interests of the Congregation and the wider community, in light of the public health advice available at the relevant time.

I would like to thank you all for your patience, and wish you and your families a peaceful end to what has been for most of us a very dark and difficult year. May you all have a Happy New Year, with (above all) good health; and may this pandemic soon be behind us.

With best wishes,

David Turns

President, Bristol Hebrew Congregation