KBH: Our size is our strength

November 25, 2020

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Kehillat Bet Hamidrash, Kempsville Conservative Synagogue, also known as KBH, is a small, do-it-yourself Conservative Synagogue. Its modest building is home to 60 plus family units. Throughout the pandemic, the leadership has faced many of the same challenges as the larger area synagogues. They have responded to engagement, communication, spiritual, and safety issues—and are pleased with what they’ve accomplished. In some ways, the congregation’s small size probably has made this easier.

Just like the larger shuls, volunteers packed and delivered High Holiday bags to every member. With the help of United Synagogue, leaders learned about safety task forces, halachic interpretations and possibilities for the use of technology, and a myriad of other topics. The world opened up for international collaboration for Tikkun Leil Shavuot and Selichot programming.

Unlike the bigger synagogues, KBH opened the sanctuary in mid-July. Its task force, with members NeuroToxicolgist Dr. John Young, Safety and Security chair, who has spent the last three decades as an exposure and risk assessor and while living in Israel, served as the Supervisor of Risk Assessment, National Food Control Service, Ministry of Health; chazzan, M. David Proser; and Alene Jo Kaufman, administrative vice president, researched, polled, and designed until they felt they had a viable and safe plan.

The plan was a hybrid—hold in-person services as well as Zoom—with specific guidelines for in-person attendance. The sanctuary was rearranged into a pod-like setting. Each pod contained a chair to sit in and a chair for siddurim, chumashim, and tallit bags. Pods were set six feet from each other. Family pods were set up for families who live in the same household. Anyone who wanted to attend services “reserved” his or her initial spot, which was assigned to the congregant for the duration and included a name tag to insure continuity. The books remain on the chairs from week to week—insuring that the same congregant uses them from Shabbat to Shabbat. For High Holiday regulars who wanted to attend in person, additional pods were set up.

Modifications to the service include brachot for the aliyot are recited from seats rather than at the Torah; gabbaim stand at lecterns six feet from the Torah reading; High Holiday sermons were delivered on KBH’s new YouTube channel.

Additional safety measures are in place and the safety and security committee works to maintain an environment that is as safe as possible.

As a small shul, the congregation knows it would not be able to be where it is without the support of the community. KBH’s programming partner, Temple Israel, shared their Zoom platform weekly on Shabbat until KBH was ready. United Jewish Federation of Tidewater and Tidewater Jewish Foundation generously helped. The COVID-19 Emergency Fund of the Tidewater Jewish Community provided funds for enough technology to be able to “Zoom” with congregants through the High Holidays. Tidewater Jewish Foundation awarded funds to add to the equipment need to effectively Zoom and to upgrade the sanctuary’s out-dated and insufficient sound system.

During “normal” times, after Shabbat services, attendees share a Kiddush luncheon, catching up with each other, often for hours. This is an important time for KBH regulars and it was missed. So, each week, for about an hour after services end, the congregation meets—from their homes. Chazzan David Proser leads kiddush and motzi and members have lunch together via Zoom. It’s not the same as being together in person, but it is an important part of maintaining this strong community.

Soon, it will Hanukkah. The congregation has learned much in the last nine months and looks forward to continuing to take advantage of its size and celebrate in a meaningful, yet careful manner.

Alene Jo Kaufman is first vice president of Kehillat Bet Hamidrash/Kempsville Conservative Synagogue

- Alene Jo Kaufman

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