On March 14, the day we announced the temporary closure of the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center and that the Alliance’s operations would move online, I was speaking to a close friend and fellow nonprofit CEO. I shared with him that we would be closing and that I was relieved we had made the decision. He said something in that moment that has stuck with me throughout the last two-and-a-half months. “This was the easy decision,” he said. “Reopening is going to be so much harder.”
At the time, closing felt like a monumental decision as there was no clarity about what the future would look like. We now know what happened next: The governor ordered nonessential businesses to close the next day, and Rhode Islanders began a prolonged period of staying at home, preparing for a surge in COVID-19 cases, flattening the curve and shifting our lives online.
I am so proud of our staff at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and of all the Jewish professionals throughout our strong, vibrant community. Seemingly overnight, they have all put aside their personal anxiety and concerns about the virus, and have found creative ways to preserve the rituals, routines and connections that make our community special.
As the state and region begin the process of reopening, our community must do so as well. We must do so, however, with one guiding principle in mind. Pikuah nefesh, preserving human life above all else, must drive our decision-making now, and into the future.
At the Alliance, this value has been our North Star in our own reopening preparations, and in our collaborative work with Rabbi Sarah Mack, the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, and our agencies during community-reopening discussions. We have done research, consulted with experts in a variety of medical fields, learned from other communities and countries what practices work best for minimizing risk, and, most importantly, worked with R.I. Gov. Gina Raimondo and state health officials to ensure our standards and guidance meet or exceed state recommendations.
Like the state, our community must approach reopening slowly. We need not rush back. Frankly, what we have learned over the last few months is that we can creatively come together in many ways, and we should not simply go back to what existed prior to COVID-19.
At the Alliance, we’re planning a slow, steady reopening that protects our staff, our Dwares JCC families and members, and, ultimately, our entire community. I encourage you to look at the details of our plans, at jewishallianceri.org/reopening.
So why are we beginning to reopen now, in early June? Why not wait a little longer? It is a fair question, and one that I have wrestled with these last few weeks.
Like all major decisions, I try to base my thinking on data and research. But that is particularly challenging with COVID-19, which is still new; there is still much we do not know.
The research on preventive measures has guided me. Mask wearing, social distancing, limiting crowds and frequent handwashing provide people with a reasonable amount of protection from the virus. Trust has also guided me. Trust that our governor and state health officials would not allow us to emerge from the stay-at-home order if it wasn’t safe. And trust in our community, that everyone will follow the guidelines so that we all protect each other.
When you come to the Dwares JCC, you can expect to be asked a series of screening questions and have your temperature taken before you enter. Everyone will be required to wear masks and to practice social distancing and frequent handwashing.
Our maintenance staff has been busy during the closure keeping the building clean and sanitized. We have new cleaning equipment, including an electrostatic machine, that will ensure the building is as clean as possible.
Signs are posted throughout the building reminding people of the new rules and providing them with markers for social distancing. Additionally, our staff will work on staggered schedules, and the building will be open limited hours at first. More hours will be added in the summer should conditions in greater Rhode Island allow.
The health and safety of our community remains our top priority. I am confident that the Alliance and other organizations can open in a smart and safe way. In doing so, we can continue to provide opportunities for the community to build and to celebrate what makes our community so special.
In the end, my friend was correct – deciding when to reopen was the harder of the two decisions. But the care, compassion and thoughtfulness I have seen from our staff, and community members who helped in the decision-making process, gives me confidence that we’ve made the right decision. Slowly and safely we will come together again.
ADAM GREENMAN (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, the publisher of Jewish Rhode Island.