By any measure, the last few months have challenged us in ways we could not have imagined before we first heard about a new/novel Coronavirus causing upheaval across the globe. It seems as though in the blink of an eye, here in Michigan, schools and businesses were closing, we could no longer safely attend our places of worship, and our economy all but ground to a halt.

The Jewish community in Washtenaw County is faced with an unprecedented situation. A community that builds personal connections through its social, educational, cultural, and religious services and programs was forced to close the doors of its facilities, but that did not stop our Jewish communal organizations and congregations from continuing to provide for and even increase efforts to meet the basic and spiritual needs of their members and the community at large.

Since March, during a time when we’ve never been so isolated, our community leadership has been working ever more collaboratively and supportively with one another. We have been meeting weekly to share resources and information which have enabled organizations to access much needed assistance to keep staff employed and maintain financial stability. Together we have raised and allocated funds to address unanticipated needs due to COVID, recruited new volunteers who have delivered food to those in need and reached out to check in on those most vulnerable, and developed creative programming to members of our community.

Reopening the community’s facilities is another essential area of collaboration. Even as individual organizations make plans according to their particular needs and contexts, a task force has been meeting to share information and resources around how we can best safely and securely open our community over the coming months. The task force includes leaders representing the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Services, Hebrew Day School, Beth Israel Congregation, Temple Beth Emeth, Chabad and UM Hillel, and two public health professionals, Ruth Kraut of the Washtenaw County Health Department and Arnold Monto of UM School of Public Health.

The common guiding principle in making determinations around reopening is Pikuach Nefesh – the preservation of human life. The ability to provide for the safety and security of those who use our buildings, including staff, tenants and program participants, is the number one factor driving decisions about when and how to reopen. Every organization is committed to following the guidelines of the CDC, the State of Michigan, and relevant licensing agencies.

Beyond the principle of Pikuach Nefesh, there are varied considerations, approaches and timelines for re-opening; as I write, the JCC is preparing to open its Early Childhood Center and Camp Raanana. At the same time, many congregational leaders are committed to continuing remote programming through the summer and considering a range of factors in deciding how to hold High Holiday services in the fall.

The re-opening task force is a valuable forum. The group shares expertise and resources and considers collaborations such as community purchase of PPE and other supplies needed as buildings and offices begin to open. It is also a space for frank discussions about how to maintain our cultures while reopening with guidelines that are antithetical to how we normally connect with our communities.

In the coming months, we will continue to communicate with the community about reopening and will provide details on the Community COVID Resource page at For more information about the reopening task force, contact Eileen Freed at, 734-773-3537.