Westborough’s Jewish community adapts to life on lockdown

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By Matt LaBarre, Contributing Writer

Westborough’s Jewish community adapts to life on lockdown
Cantorial Soloist Sharon Brown Goldstein (l) and Rabbi Rachel Gurewitz meet via Zoom

Westborough – Congregation B’nai Shalom, like all houses of worship at this time, is not open for services.  However, according to Rabbi Rachel Gurewitz, the synagogue has managed to produce many ways for members to come together, very quickly.

“We were already live streaming services for those who were unable to join us, primarily seniors and those with physical challenges,” Gurewitz explained. “So it only took us about a week until we were able to use Zoom as well as live streaming… for services, programs and school.”

Services as well as school curriculum changed to be suitable for use online.

“We adapted our curriculum to include more of a focus on community,” Gurewitz said. “The online curriculum provides structured learning as well as a community connection.”

The congregation is also producing online meditations twice per week, Shabbat Services every Friday evening, and “check-in” sessions.

“We’ve had about 130 screens online for Shabbat services, and I’m more focused on messages that lift up, about strength.” Gurewitz noted.

“We’re also doing special online programs, such as one we’ve done for single parents to help them navigate having children at home all the time, as well as the challenges of having children at home while trying to work at home,” she explained. “All the videos are available anytime on YouTube.”

Gurewitz suggested that those with young children who are now trying to work at home are having very difficult times, as well as those who are either already experiencing or anticipate financial stress. Congregation B’nai Shalom already has a “Caring Fund” to assist members with emergencies, and the congregation is raising money to add to that fund.

“One of the ways we’re trying to assist is to ask volunteers to contact all our members who are seniors as well as single parents, which means to connect with about 160 of our 450 households,” she said. “We have between 40 and 50 volunteers who are make these calls, ask how everyone in the household is doing, and identify ways we might be able to help.”

The Jewish community is now preparing for Passover which runs from April 8 to 16. The coronavirus has a limited impact on Passover services, as it primarily involves home- based rituals. Once again, for families or people with friends, Passover Seders can be done online, or simply with your family at home.

“My wife and I are bringing people, family and friends from all over the world together online for our Seder on the first night,” Gurewitz remarked. “We’re then doing a more community-focused Seder online for the second night.”

In preparation for Passover, most people clean out their homes, and throw away any bread and other foods that are not to be used. Gurewitz suggested that this is very difficult to do this year, given the shortages of food or limited access, and the idea of wasting what we have at this moment makes no sense. She is suggesting that members adapt and simplify, and derive meaning from the experience we are in.

“In Passover we observe being freed from slavery in Egypt and becoming a free people,” Gurewitz explained. “Perhaps we can think about this time as being a journey from a narrow expanse to a free experience when we come out of this. My hope is that we don’t just return to what life was before, that we better appreciate our relationships with others.”

Westborough’s Jewish community adapts to life on lockdown
The Mourners Kaddish

For additional information and links to livestreamed services, visit https://cbnaishalom.org, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cbnaishalom, or on YouTube.