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RIPE Committee Update

01/15/2021 01:11:19 PM


Charley Scher

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, Beth Ahabah leadership recognized the need for centralized guidance regarding the safe operation of all aspects of Congregation life.  To that end, we convened a committee consisting of medical experts, clergy, staff, lay leadership and congregants (including business owners and Religious School parents). The committee named itself the RIPE (Return to In-Person Events) Committee, describing both its ultimate mission and the hopefulness that such a return would be possible in the months that followed.
As we move into 2021 and push through the seemingly endless winter that has seen COVID cases rise drastically throughout America and in Central Virginia, we want to update you on the work of our committee as well as the guidelines currently in place for Beth Ahabah.
The RIPE Committee has been meeting regularly for many months. We continually review safety protocols for life cycle events and discuss the need for restriction on return to in-person Shabbat and other worship services, Religious School, Beit Midrash, committee meetings, and Congregational programming, as well as return to campus for all staff and clergy. 
At each RIPE Committee meeting, we receive public health guidance from our two physician members: Dr. Neal Carl, a family medicine and health and wellness specialist whose practice includes a significant number of older individuals; and Dr. Peter Heyman, a pediatrics specialist whose practice focuses on the youngest individuals in our community. Dr. Carl and Dr. Heyman are well-versed in the science and medicine related to COVID, and enhance the committee’s understanding of public health guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health, as well as the Executive Orders and related guidelines from the Office of the Governor of Virginia. They are indispensable in shaping our understanding of the boundaries of safe practice in all aspects of current and potential community gatherings.
Although the current legal restrictions in Virginia do not prevent religious services of any size from being held in-person due to a specific exception, the RIPE Committee – with guidance from our clergy as well as our physician members – has prioritized the Jewish value of Pikuach Nefesh (literally “saving a life”). We are taught as Jews that this is the most important value of all, and it means specifically that in the time of COVID, we must place health and safety above our desire to be together. Accordingly, we believe that it is incumbent at this time to follow restrictions similar to those that apply to non-religious gatherings in Virginia since COVID itself does not know the difference between people worshipping and people getting together for secular reasons. Therefore, due to the extraordinary health crisis in the Richmond area at the present time, Shabbat and holiday services and all other Congregational activities will remain virtual until further notice. We are also maintaining the current attendance limits of 25 individuals at life cycle services in the Sanctuary and 10 individuals at the graveside for funerals. In addition to complying with other specific safety and health requirements, all attendees at life cycle services must have masks on and be appropriately distanced (at least 10 feet away at all times in the Sanctuary) from those not in their household.
We know that these limitations required for health and safety have been an unprecedented challenge, and we have continued to enhance our virtual offerings and options to create and maintain engagement and community-building during this difficult time.  
We are hopeful that the post-holiday COVID spike will peak as expected in the upcoming weeks and then recede, and that distribution of the various COVID vaccines to the higher priority groups across our state will also serve to diminish the risk of infection and lead to a loosening of public health restrictions. We will communicate regularly with you and are optimistic that we will have happier and more welcome news for you in the months ahead. Along with the rest of the Congregation, we absolutely cannot wait to be able to move toward a return to normalcy. We will get there, and it will be great! Thanks to all of you for your patience and thoughtfulness along the way.
Wishing you all health and happiness in this new (secular) year, on behalf of all of the committee members:

  • Rabbi Scott Nagel
  • Cantor Sarah Beck-Berman
  • Heather Dinkin, Director of Congregational Operations
  • James Hensley, Facilities Manager
  • Charley Scher, Congregational President
  • Julie Mullian and Lee Katz, Congregational Vice Presidents
  • David Aschheim, Anne Blankman, Dr. Neal Carl, Dr. Peter Heyman, and Art Mullian, Congregants
Thu, May 6 2021 24 Iyyar 5781