Many congregations cancel activities due to COVID-19 concerns

Most recent update: March 20, 4:18 p.m.

With COVID-19 cases spreading, Jewish communities in the region are reacting with an abundance of caution, and numerous events have been cancelled or postponed, including Shabbat services.

This is a list of events that have been cancelled, or congregational notices about what their plans are in the wake of the pandemic. Every community is monitoring the situation, and guidelines may change at a moment’s notice. One should check with the congregation or institution to make sure a previously-scheduled event is still being held.

Most institutions warn those who are over age 65, have a compromised immune system or other underlying serious health condition, or just aren’t comfortable going into public places against attending events.

For those attending services, some congregations recommend leaving an empty seat between individuals, and an empty row in front and behind. Routine hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers are recommended, and anyone feeling questionable should stay home.

According to the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, one may say Kaddish alone at home via a non-delayed livestream of a service where there are at least 10 physically present.

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Mississippi and Louisiana, including in Lambeth House in New Orleans, a retirement facility with several members of the Jewish community. No cases have been confirmed in Alabama, but there has been a death reported in the Pensacola area.

Several events advertised in the new issue of Southern Jewish Life, including the Martin Lawrence auction in New Orleans on March 22, the Bourbon Festival this weekend, the Brian Regan show in Birmingham and the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience have been postponed or cancelled.

LimmudFest New Orleans, scheduled for the weekend of March 20, was the first event to be postponed.

Temple Beth-El in Anniston has cancelled its Neighbors Night on March 20 and its congregational Seder, the next regular service will be on May 22.

Birmingham’s Levite Jewish Community Center is closing the fitness floor as of 4 p.m. on March 16, through at least March 23. The building will be open from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, and the indoor pool will remain open for now. Until further notice, all senior adult fitness classes and group fitness classes are cancelled. The Early Childhood center is also closed. Group virtual fitness through Les Mills will be available on the LJCC website. The tennis courts and outdoor track remain available.

The LJCC is opening as a certified disaster relief facility, and is working with the city of Birmingham to provide care for children of first responders, healthcare professionals and essential workers. The LJCC will also become a pickup location for families that rely on schools for meals. Volunteers who are not in vulnerable populations are needed, and donations of packaged food are requested. There will be a drop box outside the LJCC for such donations.

Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El is cancelling all elective large group gatherings for four weeks. That includes the Diamonds and Denim Gala on March 14, the March 18 Mah Jongg Dinner and the Second Seder on April 9. Religious school will be cancelled. Congregants are asked to not attend Shabbat services, but to view them on the livestream Friday night. Because of a lack of a minyan, there will be no Saturday morning service with a Torah reading. Life-cycle events will remain on the calendar for now, with attendees using appropriate precautions. The congregation’s Discovery School will remain in session for now, following the lead of other schools in the area.

Temple Beth-El in Birmingham is not cancelling services, but strongly encourages people to livestream services instead of attending in person, especially those age 60 and over or those with underlying medical conditions, and they may start turning people away if too many show up for Shabbat services. The kissing of jointly used objects, such as a tallis, prayer book or mezuzah, is strongly discouraged, and the racks of tallits and boxes of kippot have been removed, congregants should bring their own. Shabbat services and the twice-daily minyan every day are livestreamed. Daily minyan is suspended until further notice, though. The Sisterhood movie night on March 21 and the Generation XYZ trip to Sylacauga on April 6 are cancelled, as are the Athena Collective’s Collision Dinners.

The N.E. Miles Jewish Day School announced on March 15 that it will not meet March 16 to 18 as previously planned, but will go ahead and shut down until after Passover break, April 20. The formerly-scheduled days of instruction between Spring Break and Passover will be used to establish a distance learning program should school not be able to resume in person after Passover.

The Birmingham Holocaust Education Center will technically remain open but is not receiving visitors, and all public programming is cancelled until further notice, including the March 29 Eva Schloss program and the community Yom HaShoah event on April 26 at Temple Emanu-El.

Collat Jewish Family Services is suspending transportation programs, the CARES program and ESL classes. Face-to-face counseling and case management services are suspended but counselors will be available by phone during normal hours, and they are developing a program to deliver medications and groceries to seniors. The CJFS Clinical Team will begin staffing a Support Line that will be available to the entire community, without charge. To access this free service, call (205) 879-3438 during CJFS business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Fridays. After hours or on weekends, call the Crisis Center, (205) 323-7777. The Hands Up Together event honoring Marjorie Perlman on April 2 is being postponed.

An event welcoming Danny Cohn, the new head of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, on March 11 was cancelled. All community-wide Federation programs have been cancelled through the end of the month. The Federation and Birmingham Jewish Foundation offices will close through at least April 1, with everyone working remotely.

Birmingham’s Knesseth Israel will continue holding services, keeping the doors open and having hand sanitizer stations. They recommend not kissing the Torah, prayerbooks, mezuzahs, etc. All activities with anticipated crowds of 50 or more will be put on hold. Currently there is no plan to cancel the congregational Seder.

Chabad of Alabama continues to hold services, while advising those who are ill to stay at home. The March 29 program at Samford University with Eva Schloss, step-sister of Anne Frank, has been cancelled. The JAHM Chai Tots preschool is closed until after Passover. The Jewish Learning Institute’s “Wrestling With Faith” six-part series will be offered starting March 16 by webcast. Also, for those who find themselves having a small Seder instead of larger gatherings with family and friends, Chabad is assembling “Seder to Go” kits, and will be offering catering.

Hadassah Birmingham cancelled its April 1 Charoset tasting and is postponing its Mah Jongg mixer scheduled for late April.

Dothan’s Temple Emanu-El announced that Deli Day, scheduled for May 7, is being postponed to the fall, and Neighbor Night on April 17 has been cancelled. All Shabbat services, starting with March 20, have been cancelled until further notice, “the first time in our history that we have not held a Friday evening service.”

B’nai Israel in Florence has cancelled services the weekends of March 13 and 20, and the congregational Seder. Services will be livestreamed at 7 p.m. on the congregation’s web page.

Temple B’nai Sholom in Huntsville has cancelled all public events through the end of April. Services will be live-streamed and not in person. There may be a livestream congregational Seder, and possibly the North Alabama Holocaust commemoration later in April.

The Huntsville Mega Challah Bake for April 30 has been postponed.

Ahavas Chesed in Mobile is conducting services, but in the sanctuary where there is room to spread out. The building is being sanitized frequently, and in the event food is served, including challah, it will be by gloved servers and congregants are not to serve themselves. The congregational Seder is cancelled.

Springhill Avenue Temple in Mobile has suspended all in-person activities and will hold services via Zoom.

Temple Beth Or in Montgomery has cancelled Shabbat services this weekend, Torah Tuesday next week and the March 18 Craig Darch author talk at the L’Chaim League lunch.

Agudath Israel-Etz Ahayem in Montgomery has cancelled its Shabbat evening and morning services, and Monday and Thursday morning minyan, at least through the end of March. Larger events, including the interfaith Holocaust memorial, state Holocaust commemoration, congregational Seder and Angels for the Elderly services are cancelled. They are looking into livestreaming services.

The Jewish Federation of Central Alabama announced that all activities through May, including the film series at the Capri, Holocaust commemoration and Israel festival have been cancelled.

Temple Emanu-El in Tuscaloosa has suspended all activities until further notice.

Chabad Emerald Coast in Destin is suspending all in-person services and activities, and will do weekly Torah study by Zoom. The community Seder is cancelled, but tey will be assembling Seder kits.

Chabad of Panama City Beach has cancelled services and their community Seder, but will be assembling Passover kits for community members.

The Pensacola Jewish Federation has cancelled the Café Israel gathering for March 16, along with the Chai discussion and show nights.

Chabad in Pensacola is continuing normal activities for now, including services March 13 at 6:30 p.m.

Temple Beth El in Pensacola will Facebook Live services on March 20 at 7 p.m.

Gemiluth Chassodim in Alexandria announced it will close as of March 18, hosting services online via Zoom.

The Baton Rouge community Purim event at B’nai Israel on March 15 has been cancelled.

Beth Shalom in Baton Rouge has cancelled the corned beef sandwich sale, scheduled for March 15 to 17, for the first time in its 36 years, but announced on March 14 that they will have an alternative DIY sale. Sandwich kits will be sold in their unopened, sealed packages, March 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., drive-through only. A five-sandwich package with 1.25 pounds of corned beef, loaf of rye bread, five pickle packs and five bags of chips will be $50, a 10-sandwich pack is $100, first come first served. Services will continue, but no pre-neg except for pre-sliced challah. The second night Seder has been cancelled, along with the Brotherhood glass blowing event on March 28. The Rayner Center preschool is also closed through April 13, following the schools announcement by Governor John Bel Edwards.

B’nai Israel in Monroe has cancelled its April 10 Seder, and services will be held via Zoom on March 20.

The Jewish Community Center in New Orleans announced that it is closing for two weeks, starting at 5 p.m. on March 13. A visitor earlier in the week tested positive for COVID-19, though the decision to close had already been made by the board before that was known.

Jewish Community Day School in Metairie is closed through April 13.

The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans convened a community task force and advises social distancing mechanisms, including postponing large-scale events whenever possible, and holding meetings by video or teleconference. A New Orleans Jewish community information board is here.

The Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana postponed its Annual Event that was to be on March 15 in New Orleans, and will be working from virtual offices starting March 16.

The New Orleans-based Jewish Children’s Regional Service has been in touch with all of its college aid recipients, and is in contact with summer camps to assess any delays in opening.

Jewish Family Service of Greater New Orleans will deliver Passover boxes but has cancelled the April 5 gathering where volunteers pack them. The office is closed as of March 20, and all face to face services are halted. Mental health resources are on the JFS website.

Gates of Prayer in Metairie, which has a Bar Mitzvah scheduled for this weekend, is planning to hold services “as of now,” but they are monitoring the situation. Regardless, they recommend anyone who is in a high risk category to view services through the livestream. On March 15 they announced that all programming is suspended, to at least March 27. They also are currently planning to hold their second night Seder on April 9.

Shir Chadash in Metairie has cancelled all religious services and religious school for at least the next two weeks. There will be a weekly Thursday morning minyan for Torah reading and the recitation of Kaddish, via Zoom, and Kaddish can be recited if there are at least 10 participants.

The Chabad center in Metairie is remaining open “so long as public health officials deem it safe.” Chabad of Louisiana is doing livestream learning at 9 p.m. daily, Chabad in Metairie is also doing a daily 2 p.m. livestream. They also have a COVID-19 learning page.

Beth Israel in Metairie announced it is suspending all in-person activities, updated on March 17 to extend to at least March 30, including all social gatherings and services. As an Orthodox congregation, they do not livestream on Shabbat, but Rabi Josh Pernick’s classes will move to online, and they are also providing pre-Kabbalat Shabbat and post-Havdalah streams.

The Passover series on March 18, 25 and 31 among Beth Israel, Gates of Prayer and Shir Chadash in Metairie will take place online.

Anshe Sfard in New Orleans has suspended services.

Touro Synagogue in New Orleans announced it will be suspending “all in-person congregational gatherings for the next few days,” through March 16, including Jewish History class, Shabbat services, Torah Study, Shabbat Rocks, and Religious School. Touro streams all clergy-led Shabbat evening and morning services.

Temple Sinai in New Orleans announced on March 16 that it is suspending all events, with minimal access to the building until it is deemed safe. Services will be livestreamed. The congregational Seder is cancelled.

Susan Hess, president of the New Orleans Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, announced that the March 28 NCJW gala has been postponed, no date has been set.

Tulane University announced all classes would go online the end of the week, and sstudents are being asked to move out of residence halls. Chabad at Tulane is offering assistance while cancelling all large in-person events.

Moishe House New Orleans is also cancelling events for the coming week or so.

JNEXT had its social action program at Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans on March 11, but the turnout was light “due to social distancing.”

Alon Shaya, the James Beard Award-winning chef at the helm of Pom Hospitality, which includes Saba restaurant in New Orleans, said they have implemented “several systematic measures” including increased cleanings, asking guests to box their own leftovers at the table, and said the company’s package includes paid time off so sick team members can stay home. “We’re doing all we can to keep everyone safe,” he said.

Beth Israel in Gulfport is suspending Shabbat services “for a few weeks.”

B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg will not hold services on March 27, nor will they hold their congregational Seder.

Services at Beth Israel in Jackson will not be held on March 13 and 14. Starting next week, they will move to a livestreaming platform. Adult education will also move online. Upcoming b’nai mitzvah will likely be held, but the congregation is discussing what to do regarding other large-scale events. The congregation’s annual Bazaar, scheduled for March 25, has been postponed.

With Mississippi State University extending Spring Break by another week, Hillel at Mississippi State is cancelling its on-campus Shabbat service on March 20, as well as participation in the International Student Advisory Board’s potluck.

The Jewish Federation of Oxford has cancelled Bagels in the Park on March 29 and the community Seder.

B’nai Israel in Tupelo cancelled its community Seder and services through at least April 17.

Nashville’s Gordon Jewish Community Center closed on March 15 for two weeks.

In Memphis, Temple Israel is shifting from in-person services to virtual services livestreamed on their website. All in-person classes are being postponed, life-cycle events and private events will continue with modifications.

Christians United for Israel announced it will not hold public events for the rest of the month.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem’s 40th anniversary weekend in Opelika, scheduled for April 17 to 18, has been postponed.

United Synagogue Youth and Kadima, Conservative movement youth groups, have cancelled events for the next month.

Ramah Darom in Clayton, Ga., announced that it is cancelling this year’s Passover Retreat.

The O/ART in the City fundraiser in Atlanta for ORT America on March 15 has been postponed. Hadassah has also cancelled the Plug In and Power Up tri-region conference in Atlanta, May 15 to 17. The conference includes Hadassah Southeastern, Southern and Southern Seaboard regions.

Also in Atlanta, the Anti-Defamation League Southeast Region’s Jurisprudence Luncheon on March 16 has been cancelled. Rep. John Lewis, currently undergoing cancer treatments, is one of the honorees. Tickets to the event can be exchanged for this fall’s Concert Against Hate.

The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU will be closed until further notice.

Perhaps the most stringent guidelines are in Bergen County, N.J., where the Rabbinical Council decreed that it is forbidden to pray with a minyan, all Orthodox shuls are closed and public celebrations are cancelled. Also, they stated that one should not eat in a restaurant, though take-out is okay. Funerals are limited to a small group of family members that can make a minyan.