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March 17, 2020

Dear B'nai Israel,

During his sermon this past Shabbat, Rabbi Berkowitz asked, "When have we encouraged our congregation to not attend services? To not embrace one another?" We are so used to doing the exact opposite that we find ourselves in uncharted territory. However, it is our commitment to you that we will navigate these times together….

Our senior leadership has been work diligently to adapt to rapidly changing guidelines from the CDC and state and local officials. We are now making the painful decision that B’nai Israel’s building will be closed to the public until further notice. Our staff is working remotely and has made other arrangements to remain available to serve your needs.

Our building is closed, but our community remains open. This email describes the broad outlines of our virtual space.

What does this mean for worship services?
Daily and Shabbat services are now being conducted via Zoom at the usual times. For technical reasons (which Rabbi Safra will explain tomorrow, see below) we will be reciting the regular Kaddish on weekdays but an alternative to Kaddish on Shabbat. Please click here for the link to join our service via live stream or telephone. Scanned copies of our Siddur are available on the site; these copies are being made available for our exigent circumstances but not authorized for mass distribution. Please keep in mind the new format when deciding what time to join our virtual services. On Shabbat morning especially, we expect the service to end considerably earlier than usual; we recommend joining at or near the beginning of the service.


Daily Minyan Schedule
Monday-Thursday, 7:15 AM & 8:00 PM
Friday, 7:15 AM & 6:15 PM

Sunday, 9:00 AM & 8:00 PM


What does this mean for synagogue events and programs?
B'nai Israel is committed to bringing as much programming to you as possible. Each week that our building is closed, you will receive an email with “Upcoming Virtual Offerings” offered through Facebook or Zoom. If you have not done so already, please join our B’nai Israel Congregation Facebook group to ensure you do not miss anything. Videos and conversations will be recorded and archived for you to access at any time.

Here’s what’s happening in the next few days:

  • Wednesday, March 18 at 11:00 AM, Community Gathering with Rabbi Safra. Rabbi Safra will offer texts and ideas on “The Exigencies of this Moment: When do the details of Jewish Law apply, and when should they be set aside.” There will be plenty of time for questions, ideas and conversation. Click here to access the live broadcast at 11:00 AM tomorrow on our Facebook page.
  • Thursday March 19 at 12:00 PM, Office Hour with Rabbi Safra. This is a time to ask questions, share ideas, or just be together. There is no agenda for this gathering other than to hear from you. In future weeks, we plan to schedule conversations around specific pastoral needs; but this week we just want to be together. (Beyond this scheduled time, all our clergy is available for regular pastoral counseling. Please contact them by phone or email as you normally would).
  • Friday, March 20, at 11:00 AM, Shabbat Sing-a-long with Cantor Josh: This program is especially great for families with pre-school-aged children, whether or not they are enrolled in Schilit Nursery School. This program will continue every week for as long as our building is closed
  • Monday, March 23, at 10:00 AM, Havdalah with Rabbi Berkowitz: The Monday morning Havdalah is a regular feature of our Schilit Nursery School. We will keep this weekly program going online for as long as our building remains closed.
  • Tuesday, March 24, at 2:00 PM, Office Hours with Rabbi Berkowitz: Join us again on Facebook Live for Office Hours with Rabbi Berkowitz. Bring your questions, share ideas, and join the community discussion.
  • Wednesday, March 25, at 1:00 PM, Adult Education with Netta Asner: Join our shlicha for a conversation about Holocaust thought in America and Israel. This follows the International Holocaust Remembrance Day which took place on January 27. The series will continue with discussion of Holocaust survivor authors such as Primo Levi, Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, etc. For more information, click here. This learning opportunity will be held via Zoom.

Beyond this email, Early Childhood Director Karen Gerton and Education Director Moshe Ben-Lev are communicating directly with students and families to provide additional community resources and learning opportunities. Future emails will include information with new ways to prepare for Shabbat and Passover and support our kosher caterers at the same time.

Please note that the April and May editions of the Scroll will be distributed in electronic format only. By dispensing with the 2-week print deadline, we can ensure that the information you receive is as accurate as possible. If you or someone you know are not receiving our emails, please email Jennifer Cohen. There are cases when individuals have unsubscribed (either accidentally, or we forgive you if you did on purpose!), and there is a process we have to use to get you signed up.

Stay tuned for more information and communication … for as long as this crisis continues. Thank you for your patience as we learn to navigate these new technologies for our congregation.

With gratitude for this community,

Rabbi Michael Safra, Senior Rabbi 
Hal Ossman, Executive Director
Steve Rothenberg, President


March 16, 2020

Dear B'nai Israel Congregation,

In light of further developments and directives to maintain social distance and limit public gatherings, we have decided to make our daily minyan entirely virtual. Participants will not come to the synagogue, but will have the opportunity to recite Kaddish from home until such time as it is deemed safe to gather in larger groups. Please click HERE for the link. The shiva gathering this evening to comfort the family of Harley Felstein has been cancelled. 
We will be sending a more complete communication to the congregation soon to share our procedures for Shabbat and invite you to other virtual gatherings in the days and weeks ahead. Please be on the lookout for more information in the days to come.
Even as we accept the advice to keep our distance, we are eager to create opportunities for alternative forms of community building. We need each other during this time of crisis, perhaps more than ever.
Rabbi Michael Safra

March 12, 2020

Dear B'nai Israel Congregation,

The health and safety of our community continues to be our top priority. As you know, the situation with the coronavirus pandemic remains fluid. We are writing to assure you that our leadership continues to work diligently under the guidance of the CDC and state and local officials regarding appropriate measures related to synagogue operations and preparedness.

Based on the current recommendations, please note the following changes and cautions that will be implemented at B’nai Israel immediately:

  • Shabbat Services: Due to the large number of attendees, we are temporarily asking community members to not attend Shabbat services in person. We will still be holding services for B’nai Mitzvah families and their invited guests, and everyone is invited to participate via a live stream video service called Zoom. The instructions to view the Livestream (or dial in by phone) and the hours in which these services are available on our website. There will be no community Shabbat kiddush until further notice.
  • Daily Minyan: Due to the smaller nature of our daily minyanim, we are able to continue to keep our doors open for those who wish to participate. All services will be held in Dweck Sanctuary, which allows livestreaming. If there is a minyan present in the sanctuary, it is acceptable to say kaddish at home along with the group. Please stay home if you are feeling ill. Those who attend services should maintain physical distances from others where you can. This may mean sitting a few more seats away from those next to you than you normally would. A friendly wave should replace a hug or handshake. If you are in the group of people defined by the CDC as most vulnerable to coronavirus, please do not come to synagogue. Your health and safety are paramount.
  • Education: In line with the edict by Governor Hogan to close all Maryland public schools from March 16-March 27, Talmud Torah will close as well starting this Sunday, March 15 through March 29. B’nai Israel Education Director, Moshe Ben-Lev, will be in touch with plans for distance learning.

The B’nai Israel Schilit Nursery School will be closed March 16-March 27. B’nai Israel Early Childhood Director, Karen Gerton, will be in touch soon with creative activities for families to do at home. We regret the hardship for families brought about by these closings and do not take these decisions lightly. Please continue to monitor your email for updates.

  • Events and Programs: All events and programs until at least the start of Pesach on April 8 will either be postponed, cancelled, or held through video conference. We will make further announcements regarding events during and after Pesach in the coming weeks. We appreciate your patience as we deal with the shifting of our calendar and we will make every effort possible to reschedule cancelled events. Always check for the latest updates regarding events and programs. For now, here is the list of event updates:

Rescheduled Events:

3/26 The Perlman Cantors Concert – RESCHEDULED FOR SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 8. Purchased tickets and sponsorships will automatically transfer over.

Live Streamed Events through Zoom:

3/15, 3/29, 4/5 Aleph Isn’t Enough Adult Hebrew Class with Netta Asner

3/15 Adult B’nai Mitzvah Class

3/18 From International to National Adult Education Class with Netta Asner

4/2 JTS Livestream Lecture

Postponed Events:

3/13 Wine & Cheese

3/13 6th Grade Family Shabbat Dinner

3/14 Meet & Greet with Or Cohen

3/15 3rd Grade Siddur Secrets

3/15 LIFE Lecture with Ambassador Akbar Ahmed

3/19-3/22 Eliana Light Artist-in-Residence Weekend (ALL ACTIVITIES including Shabbat dinner and learning sessions)

3/20-3/22: 5th and 6th Grade Kallah

3/20 2s Shabbat Dinner

3/23 Monday Night at the Movies

3/27 Day School Shabbat Dinner

3/29 Rabbi Matthew Simon’s Book Review

3/29 Dor L’Dor Brownie Baking

3/29 LIFE Lecture with Marc Brettler

4/3 Wine and Cheese

4/4 Passover Workshop

We appreciate your understanding as we monitor the rapidly changing situation. Once again, please continue to check for the latest updates and information.

Even in this confusing and rather unprecedented time, we remain committed to our mission as serving as a house for prayer, learning, and community in whatever capacity that takes. If you have pastoral concerns during this time, please be in touch with the synagogue as you normally would.

Rabbi Michael Safra, Senior Rabbi                           

Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz, Assistant Rabbi              

Hal Ossman, Executive Director                      

Steve Rothenberg, President

March 6, 2020

Dear B’nai Israel Community,

We know that there is a lot of concern about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) and how we can all stay safe and healthy. This is obviously of the utmost priority and importance to us, because our large and wonderful community gathers together frequently. As such, we need to come together as a community in this moment and take measured steps to help protect each other during this challenging time.

We ask all community members to monitor updates and implement suggested measures from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). For more information on how coronavirus spreads, its symptoms, prevention and treatment, testing, and updates, we encourage you consult the CDC website:

For now, we would like to highlight these important messages. Please:

  • Be sure to wash your hands frequently with soap and water. We have ample hand sanitizer and soap in the facility at services and programs.
  • Please stay home when you're not feeling well and keep family and children at home even at the first signs of a cold. This is especially true if you have a cough or a fever. We need the community’s help on this.
  • Avoid touching your face – especially your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Limit physical greetings like hugs, kisses, and handshakes. This will be especially challenging in a close community like ours on Shabbat and at regular programs. We will need to work on establishing new cultural norms over the next couple of weeks. A big smile and wave can take the place of a handshake for now. We appreciate your respecting this decision.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or other disposable item, dispose of that item in an appropriate receptacle, and then wash your hands.
  • Assist with general cleanliness practices at food events. Wash your hands before eating and use the utensils provided.

We will continue to follow expert health official recommendations and will continue to update you as necessary. As a sacred community, we care for everyone’s physical and spiritual well-being and thank you for your partnership in these efforts.


Hal Ossman, Executive Director
Rabbi Michael Safra
Steve Rothenberg, President

Thu, May 13 2021 2 Sivan 5781