Taking it slow: Jewish institution contemplate reopening, JCCs moving forward

Cleaning at the Uptown JCC in New Orleans

While states in the region are slowly starting to reopen, with restaurants able to serve with limited capacity, and other types of businesses allowed to open with appropriate distancing and sanitary procedures, Jewish institutions aren’t rushing to throw the doors open.

With ever-shifting guidelines as to what is permissible, agencies and congregations are closely monitoring the situation and adapting plans, exercising caution.

Though Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said houses of worship are among those who can open in a limited fashion starting May 15, Rabbi Sydni Rubinstein of Agudath Achim in Shreveport said “just because we may reopen our physical space does not necessarily mean that we should reopen,” and they will remain virtual through at least the end of May.

B’nai Israel in Florence decided to continue with online services until at least the end of June. They have been regularly attracting over 300 viewers on Facebook.

Anshe Sfard in New Orleans is looking to possibly reopen for Shavuot on May 29. The small congregation is planning a Zoom meeting on May 19 to discuss the restrictions that would need to be in place.

The largest institutions affected by the shutdowns have been the Jewish Community Centers, with both New Orleans locations and Birmingham shut down since mid-March.

LJCC Reopens June 1

“We’ve been working on a ‘responsible reopening’ plan since the day we closed,” said Levite Jewish Community Center Executive Director Samantha Dubrinsky. “Implementing a careful, considered approach to reopening is one important way that we’re serving our members.”

On May 11, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey updated the Safer At Home order to allow fitness facilities to reopen, but the LJCC “made the difficult decision to keep our building closed.”

Dubrinsky cited Mark Wilson of the Jefferson County Department of Public Health, who said “just because you’re allowed to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do,” and urged establishments to keep from having 10 or more people together in any setting for two more weeks.

Dubrinsky also said the LJCC needed time to train staff in the new guidelines, and said while the new orders allow facilities to open, they do not allow for normal operations as before. “A delay provided the time we needed to properly equip our team and adjust our structure and facilities.”

On May 15, the LJCC announced it will reopen on June 1, as long as state guidelines continue to allow it.

The LJCC has already opened Levite Field for members, with the restriction that no more than 15 may be on the field and social distancing must be used. Also, there are no organized sports allowed on the field.

The tennis courts are open for single private lessons, with participants bringing their own equipment. The walking trails are also open for members, with social distancing.

Child care will be available with approval from the Department of Health. The virtual fitness classes, approximately 60 per week, will continue to be offered.

As of June 1, the building will be open from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 5:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

“On June 1, our members will return to a familiar place with an adjusted experience, designed with expert guidance from infectious disease specialists,” Dubrinsky said.

Members will be screened upon entering the building at the main lobby, including a temperature check. Everyone above the age of 8 must wear a mask while in the building, except when exercising or swimming, and there will be six-foot social distancing. All staff will be masked.

Hallways will be one way, and the building’s exit will be at the fitness center door that had previously been closed for security reasons.

All members will need to sign up for a time slot 24 hours in advance for fitness equipment and the indoor and outdoor pools. To help with distancing and enable more members to use the fitness equipment, it has been moved into the wood-floor gym and group fitness studio. Group fitness classes will continue to be virtual, with about 60 offerings per week. The fitness center will close every two hours for cleaning with CDC-approved products.

Towel service, locker rooms, water fountains, vending machines and the Kids Club will not be available.

Also, even though there has been interest from non-members, to accommodate those who are already members at a time when capacity is limited, the LJCC is not going to be taking new memberships for the time being. Dubrinsky said this move is “unprecedented.”

The Birmingham Jewish Federation is convening calls three times a week with agencies and synagogues to evaluate community needs and reopening plans.

New Orleans Reopening May 26

In New Orleans, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans has been convening regular calls with agencies and synagogues, working with medical professionals, local and state authorities and national groups on reopening plans. Aaron Ahlquist of the Anti-Defamation League and the Federation’s Mithun Kamath are heading the group, which has produced recommended reopening guidelines covering a range of topics.

The New Orleans JCCs will open the cardio, weight room and personal training studios at both locations on May 26, using social distancing and sanitary guidelines. Adult lap swimming will be available at the Uptown location. In all cases, there is a restriction to 25 percent of original capacity.

Because of the capacity restriction, anyone looking to do cardio or strength workouts, or personal training or lap swimming, advance reservations are requested.

Under phase 1, contact sports and group exercise classes are not allowed, so the basketball courts and back fields will remain closed. Live fitness classes are being offered through the JCC Facebook fitness group.

The Jewish Community Campus in Metairie will undergo a deep cleaning before reopening to the public at 5:30 a.m. on May 26. Temperature checks will be required to enter the building, and masks will be required in all public areas. The building will have hourly maintenance and enhanced disinfecting of shared surfaces, and a weekly deep cleaning.

To help streamline things and minimize costs, the Federation has coordinated a bulk purchase of masks for local agencies and congregations to have available as they reopen.

State guidelines allow for the opening of fitness clubs at 25 percent, but it is up to the facility whether to reopen at all. Also, local guidelines are permitted to be more stringent than the statewide guidelines, so it is possible for the Metairie location, in Jefferson parish, to be under different guidelines for the Uptown JCC in Orleans parish.

The JCC day camps in New Orleans will be vastly different from normal. At the Uptown JCC, the plan is for a summer program only for nursery school students who were enrolled this past year, and their siblings who had already enrolled in camp. That will happen only when the city allows it, but Executive Director Leslie Fischman said “with the ever-changing landscape, we are not able to make any guarantees.”

Over 400 campers had already enrolled for the summer, but Fischman explained that the Center for Disease Control recommends classrooms of 10 children or less, until more testing is available or the virus is eradicated. “We do not have adequate classroom space to provide this and other forms of social distancing necessary to ensure the health of our campers and staff,” she said, and they were unable to find suitable additional space at nearby schools or universities.

At the Metairie JCC, the CDC guidelines are about 50 percent of the camp’s previous capacity. As of March 15, enrollment in Metairie was around 50 percent, so those who had enrolled by then will be able to attend, and there may be some spaces for those who enrolled afterward. The Taglit Teen Camps will not be offered.

“A summer at the J without a day camp is almost unimaginable,” Fischman said. “If health conditions positively change at some point during the summer, our remarkable camp staff stands by, ready to serve your families.” Camp staff is also working on ways to stay connected through the summer.

For those who the camp will not be able to serve, deposits and prepaid camp fees will be returned by May 31. Camp is scheduled to start on June 8.

When the Uptown JCC reopens, it will be “cleaner than it has ever been before” as the down time was used for cleaning and repairs.

A reopening date has not been set for the Green Preschool at the Jewish Community Day School.

Baton Rouge’s Rayner Center, the pre-school at Beth Shalom, is anticipating a phased reopening in mid-May, with limits on the number of children able to attend.
May is also a month for synagogue annual meetings. Many of them will be held on Zoom, while others have been postponed.

B’nai Zion in Shreveport is holding its annual meeting on May 17 at 10:30 a.m. on Zoom. Temple Beth El in Pensacola’s will be May 17 at 3 p.m. on GoToMeeting, while B’nai Israel in Monroe will have its at 2 p.m. on Zoom and limited in-person attendance.

Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El moved its meeting from May 15 to June 12, Beth-El moved its from May 31 to June 14, and Temple Beth Or in Montgomery postponed its meeting indefinitely from May 21.

While most everyone is still adhering to the idea of safer-at-home, there are still dreams about when some semblance of normal life can return.

Leon Minsky, president of Temple Emanu-El in Dothan, said he is ready for in-person services and Onegs, and “when we are able to open up on a Friday night, we will have a special oneg for that night… I would like to have the biggest possible turnout for this special Friday night.”