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Congregational Updates Regarding COVID-19

03/20/2020 01:45:36 PM


Do you need help? Do you want to help someone? Please check out our new page:
Beth Ahabah is Here for You

Check your e-news and website calendar for updates on events & programming.

For links to online learning, please visit the calendar and select the date of the session you wish to attend.
For a Zoom tutorial, please click here.

Click here for a collection from the URJ of resources for Jewish life at this challenging time, inlcuding:

Click here for a collection of relevant prayers and poems published on Ritual Well.

Making Mensch Masks

06/04/2020 02:46:54 PM



Beth Ahabah is joining forces with St. James’s to launch “Mensch Masks” -- an ambitious project to make 1,000 face masks, packaged with educational information, to be distributed to Richmond’s most vulnerable populations through a partnership with The Market at 25th in Church Hill.

COVID-19 is impacting everyone, but a disturbing trend in the U.S. is that people of color, particularly African Americans, disproportionately experience more serious symptoms and greater number of deaths. This disparity is the consequence of a continuing global inequity between races and cultures in our country. People of color more often: 
•    live in crowded housing
•    work in essential occupations, in close contact with others
•    have inconsistent access to health care
•    experience higher stress and lower immunity due to inequalities, discrimination and threats of violence
•    exhibit greater frequencies of chronic health conditions.

While instituting fair housing policies, improving employment opportunities and taking other steps to mitigate economic inequality will help in the future, there are ways to reduce risk of infection in vulnerable populations right now.

Underserved communities have less access to face masks and lack critical information such as mask-handling instructions. Increasing access and education can go a long way in helping folks protect themselves and others against unnecessary exposure to coronavirus.

Simply CLICK HERE to help with this important project. We need help:

Cutting Masks: We’ll provide a yard (or more) of fabric and a rectangle pattern with measurements to follow. 85 total yards need to be cut.  (Sure to provide “shear” joy!)

Sewing Masks: We’ll provide a simple pattern, instructions and pre-cut fabric and elastic. 1000 masks need to be sewn. (Guaranteed to keep you in stitches!)

Packaging Masks: We’ll provide finished masks, educational cards, and zip lock bags for you to assemble. 1000 masks need to be packaged (minimum of 50 packages/volunteer) (You may just feel like bagging the whole thing!)

Driving Masks: We’ll provide addresses to pick-up and deliver (doorstep to doorstep) materials between congregants’ homes, at various stages of the project. (We promise, this task won’t drive you crazy!)

Mensch Masks is a coordinated effort between Beth Ahabah’s Tikkun Olam (Social Action) and Brit Olam (Social Justice) committees and St. James’s Episcopal Church. For more information, please contact Katie Roeper at 804-539-5998 or

Message from the Beth Ahabah Clergy and Council for Social Justice

05/20/2020 06:00:53 AM


Clergy & Council for Social Justice

The month of May is recognized nationally as Jewish American Heritage Month (click here for more info), celebrating the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture. In addition to bagels, lox, and Broadway, Jews have impacted American culture in many ways over the years, not least of which our participation in the fight for equality, fairness, and justice in our land for all its people. In that spirit, Congregation Beth Ahabah’s clergy and Social Justice Committee remind us that May is also Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month (click here for more info), acknowledging the many contributions and accomplishments of Asian and Pacific Americans to our local, state, and national culture.

During this pandemic, we must reject bigotry and show our solidarity with communities of Asian descent which are being targeted by some for discrimination in our region. We stand together with all Virginians who treat each other with compassion, empathy, respect and trust. We are all in this together. We believe that there are some tangible ways to show our support for our friends and neighbors, including patronizing local Asian/Pacific-owned businesses by purchasing deliveries and takeout, shopping online and buying gift cards; helping to denounce racism, dispel false statements and offer teachable moments whenever possible; and spreading the word through social networks by posting content that highlights the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to American society, both historically and during this crisis.

The websites linked above have a range of content about Jewish American Heritage and Asian/Pacific American Heritage, as well as linking to additional content at the National Archives, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian, and more! Happy Jewish American and Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month!

Omer Message from the Clergy

04/19/2020 12:00:43 PM


Rabbi Scott Nagel

After you read the Message from the Clergy below, please go to the new Omer Resources page 
for Omer Counting Guides, videos, art ideas, and other information about the Omer period leading up to Shavuot!

Sun. April 19, 2020 • 12:00pm

Dear Congregation Beth Ahabah Family,

Passover is behind us, yet our responsibility of remembering and reliving the Israelites’ journey to freedom is not quite finished. 

Much like we are feeling today in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Israelites were in a period of confusion and uncertainty after leaving Egypt, having no clear knowledge of what will come next. They were very quickly thrown into a new normal, a new way of living, and did not really know how to proceed, where to go or what to do next. It was a time of transition and uncertainly. A time in between.

Judaism marks this time of anxiety for our nation, the time between their past lives and their new ones by counting. Specifically we count the 49 days from the second day of Passover (the day we left Egypt, as we spent the first night being passed over) to our receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, when we finally get clear instructions and expectations of how to live our new lives in freedom. This process is called counting the Omer, or in Hebrew S’firat haOmer.

We count from 1-49 to teach us that the freedom of Passover was given to us so that we could receive the Torah on Shavuot. The counting of the Omer has a very specific method to it. Usually, when we’re anticipating something great, we count down, as kids do at the end of the school year, in the last few moments of the secular New Year, or the launching of a spacecraft: 10…9…8...7…etc. But Jewish counting is different. Each evening, we announce the number of days that have already passed, instead of those yet to come. For example, we say: Tonight, Sunday April 19, 2020 is the 11th Day, making 1 week and 4 days of the Omer. Why is it done this way? To see each day as an opportunity to react on where we’ve been, to see what today brings and to prepare for who we are yet to become. We pay attention to the passage of time, so that we spend our days wisely.

These 49 days are a lesson in mindfulness training: becoming familiar with that which we take for granted or act on automatically without contemplation.

It is exactly what has been happening in this time of social distancing and isolation. The pandemic has forced us to perform a factory reset on our lives. Our routines have stopped. Our regular patterns, habits and behaviors have stopped. Our plans have been put on hold, canceled and altered. We cannot plan too far ahead. We have been forced to be more aware of the present and be intentional in our outings, actions, and interactions. Auto-pilot is off, perhaps for first time in a long time.

When we say the Omer blessing and count each day, our tradition calls upon us to say Hineini, “Here I am,” each of these days, to cultivate our capacity to be present. With intention, our attention provides awareness and insight that we might not otherwise discover as we slowly and methodically make our way from the moment of freedom to the glory of the divine encounter of Torah at Sinai.

And as we continue to count how long we have been in isolation, we can plan how we will slowly, methodically, and intentionally make our way back out into the world again, because,God-willing, one day we will return fully into the world. We want the feeling of normalcy, to feel good again, to get back to routines of life, to get back to work outside the home, and for many the ability simply to get back to any work. The need for comfort and normalcy and return will be real and urgent, yet we can take this lesson from our tradition to ease in intentionally – it will be a big change. We have two choices: return as if nothing has happened, or take what we have learned in this crisis as a once-in-a-lifetime inexplicable, devastating, incredible, depressing, unimaginable, painful, profound, scary, eye-opening, heartbreaking, and overwhelming gift. This gift can be found in the great pause, the deep breath, this time in between the world we knew and the world yet to come.

This year as we count the Omer together, I invite you to think deeply and intentionally about what you want to add back to your life. This is our chance to define what our new freedom, our new lives, will look like. This is a sacred opportunity to trim the excess and waste and only load onto our lives the things that are necessary and welcome; things that make us happy, whole, and proud. To some extent, we can define what the world after COVID-19 will look like for us. Just like after a factory reset on our phone or computer, we can choose to lose the clutter, make improvements, and only put back what works.

Like the Israelites we will someday find freedom, and when we do, let us follow in their footsteps, and count each day with awareness as we choose goodness and Torah to guide our new lives ahead. 

Shavua tov and happy counting,

Rabbi Scott Nagel
The Sophia and Nathan Gumenick Senior Rabbi
Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman
Cantor and B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator

Message From the Rabbi

03/19/2020 05:00:09 PM


Rabbi Scott Nagel

Thurs. March 19, 2020 • 5:00pm

Dear Members and friends,

Fifteen hundred years ago, we were taught that if there is a plague in the city, gather your feet (i.e. limit the time you spend out of the house), as it is stated in the verse: "And none of you shall go out of the opening of his house until the morning (Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma, 60b)."

I find comfort in knowing that the uncertainty and anxiety we feel in our world today is not new. As governments, organizations, schools and individuals take precautions against the Coronavirus, I write to you with the reminder that I am here for you.  

I know our prayers will continue to be directed to those around the world who are experiencing illness, as well as those who are caring for them. We will hold those who are anxious in our hearts, as well as the many millions worldwide who have been isolated from others in quarantine for extended periods of time. Our hearts are broken as we ask for comfort for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

Please reach out if you need me. Congregation Beth Ahabah is here for you! We are working and thinking critically about serving you in this unprecedented and uncertain time.  

Take care of yourself. Be educated about how you can stay healthy physically, but also try not to allow the uncertainty and anxiousness in the air to weigh you down. 

If you are experiencing financial hardships, please reach out to me. I have a small fund for congregants under financial distress as well as some gift cards. 

Help Others. Judaism is largely about creating community, and that is very difficult to do when people are wary of touching and gathering. As our whole world faces this same challenge Keep an eye out on friends, neighbors and strangers alike. Let us have the strength to be understanding and kind in this time of great tumult.
For those that want to do something to help, please know that we are working with the community to help those affected by both the virus and secondary issues including loneliness, hunger, limitation of needed services, and even simply the ability to pick up medication and necessities for those in high risk categories. The food pantry at Beth Shalom is in need of donations. There is a need for people willing to run small errands and go shopping for those who are unable to do so. We will also be setting up a schedule to call all of the elderly members of the congregation just to check in and say hello.  If you are willing and able to help in these areas, please let us know of your availability and/or click one on the links below.
If you would like to make a contribution to support those in need and the effort to help them, the Community has set up an emergency fund at the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond which can be reached by clicking one of the following links:

Shabbat Services. We will continue to make services available on our YouTube Channel which you can reach by clicking HERE. Please make sure to click SUBSCRIBE to receive updates. All services during this time will be virtual and begin at 6:15pm on Fridays.
We are also working to increase the number of opportunities to connect and do distance learning. Please check your e-news for details.

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav teaches us that the world is a very narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid. The wisdom behind this teaching is that despite our thinking that we are in total control of our world, we really are not. Our lives are very fragile, and sometimes we get reminders of this. Rabbi Nachman did not compare the world to a field on which we might rest, but to a bridge, the symbol of passage, of journeying. And the secret is not to find a safe place, but to navigate the narrow crossing and remain unafraid.
May our world be blessed with healing - with refuah shleimah - at this time, and always!
Shabbat Shalom! Wishing you a Sabbath filled with peace and love, 
Rabbi Nagel 

A Prayer of Hope by Rabbi Naomi Levy
We are frightened, God, Worried for our loved ones, worried for our world.
Helpless and confused, we turn to You Seeking comfort, faith and hope.
Teach us God, to turn our panic into patience,
And our fear into acts of kindness and support.
Our strong must watch out for our weak,
Our young must take care of our old.
Help each one of us to do our part to halt the spread of this virus
Send strength and courage to the doctors and nurses
In the frontlines of this battle,
Fortify them with the full force of their healing powers.
Send wisdom and insight to the scientists
Working day and night across the world to discover healing treatments.
Bless their efforts, God. Fill our leaders with the wisdom and the courage
To choose wisely and act quickly. Help us, God, to see that we are one world, one people
Who will rise above this pandemic together.
Send us health God, Watch over us, Grace us with Your love,
Bless us with Your healing light. Hear us God, Heal us God, Amen

Congregational Message Regarding COVID-19

03/12/2020 05:00:41 PM


Rabbi Scott Nagel

Thurs. March 12, 2020 • 5:00pm

Dear Congregation Beth Ahabah Family,
There is consensus around one fact regarding COVID-19: we are in an evolving situation. All experts now encourage social distancing – avoiding large group gatherings and situations where there is risk of spreading the virus. There is also consensus that our actions in the next two to three weeks will be key in limiting the spread of the virus. As such, we are monitoring the needs of our community daily and making decisions for the health and safety of the congregation and community as needed.
Jewish tradition teaches Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh, that the community of Israel is responsible for one another. By extension, as citizens of the larger world, we are responsible for our neighbors and fellow citizens as well.
Congregation Beth Ahabah will do our part in the mitigation of this virus, which means modifying some of our routines, and remaining ready to make further modifications. We are all responsible for one another.  
Consistent with this teaching, below is information regarding changes to our programming and routines effective immediately. This email addresses programming through the next 7 days only. Additional communications will be sent next week regarding future programming as the situation evolves. We are grateful for our culture of profound connections and are saddened that we cannot nurture those connections in person as we begin to limit physical interactions and implement temporary interruptions of our programming.
We are continuing our Shabbat evening, bnei mitzvah services, and life cycle events. We will ask all individuals who attend services to follow precautions as described below. For those who choose not to attend services in person, we are exploring digital options and have set up a YouTube channel entitled “Congregation Beth Ahabah, Richmond, VA” and hope to be able to livestream services on that platform as soon as tomorrow night. When streaming, services will be available at this link:
For Shabbat evening services tomorrow, please arrive just before the 6:15pm start time to limit assembling as a large group. Our new practice is to replace handshakes and hugs with warm smiles and a joyous “Shabbat Shalom.” We ask that families and individuals sit at least 2 seats apart (except those people with whom you share a residence) in the sanctuary. Our sanctuary is large enough that all can have their own space.
Community Practice:

  • The most important thing that each of us can do to protect each other and the community is to stay home if we show any sign or symptoms of the virus, or if we have been in contact with someone who was or may have been exposed to COVID-19. If you are sick, please stay home. If someone in your household is sick, please stay home.  Please do call and let us know how you are doing.
  • Replace physical greetings with smiles and kind words.
  • Engage in frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds with soap and water.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or the inside of your elbow.
  • Additional hand sanitizing stations will be set up around the synagogue.
  • Surfaces and frequently touched objects will be cleaned and sanitized regularly.

Suspended programming in the coming week includes:

  • No community oneg preceding and/or following services at Friday evening Shabbat and Saturday morning services. No food or beverages will be available including challah, grape juice, and wine except ceremonially on the bimah.
  • No food will be served at the congregation, including the Shabbat Dinner tomorrow, Friday, March 13 celebrating the Women of Beth Ahabah. (This dinner will be rescheduled to a future date.)
  • Torah Study on Thursday, March 19 will not meet in person. Information regarding digital/remote participation, allowing for interactive learning, will be provided soon.
  • Tot Shabbat scheduled for this Saturday, March 14 is cancelled.
  • Talmud Lunch and Learn scheduled for Saturday, March 14 will not meet in person. Information regarding digital/remote participation, allowing for interactive learning, will be provided soon.
  • Religious School and our Family Gesher program for Sunday March 15 is cancelled.
  • The Camp Harlam Open House on Sunday, March 15 is cancelled.
  • Beit Midrash for both adults and teens on Monday, March 16 is cancelled.

Changing from in-person to virtual participation in the coming week:

  • All group and committee meetings will not be conducted in person. Each meeting will decide whether to meet virtually, to reschedule, or to cancel. Please look for separate communications regarding these gatherings.
  • Individual Meetings with Staff and Clergy will be changed to virtual meetings if possible. Some meetings will still need to happen in person. Individuals with appointments will be contacted on an individual basis if a change is necessary.   

Congregation Beth Ahabah has also modified internal plans and practices to make sure our community is protected during this stressful time.  Please know that we are always available if you would like to talk about the current situation, any fears or anxiety you might be experiencing, or concerns you have about future events.  Please know that we are responding with an overabundance of caution to keep our community healthy and to mitigate the spread of infection.
Regarding events beyond March 19, information will be provided as the situation continues to evolve. We support you in your decisions regarding how you choose to engage with our community at this time and we appreciate your flexibility and understanding as we work through this together.
We look forward to resuming our many in-person activities as quickly as possible.
B’shalom (In Peace),
Rabbi Scott Nagel
The Sophia and Nathan Gumenick Senior Rabbi
Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman
Cantor and B’nei Mitzvah Coordinator
Heather Dinkin
Director of Congregational Operations
James Hensley
Facilities Manager

Fri, June 5 2020 13 Sivan 5780