Area religious institutions are adapting and changing practices in light of the coronavirus pandemic, with some modifying services or closing their doors temporarily. That includes Christian, Catholic, Muslim and Jewish congregations with some canceling in-person worship and others cutting back on the number of prayer services offered.
At the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon, a complete shutdown began on March 13.
“It was very hard for me to close down the synagogue,” Rabbi Zushe Greenberg said Monday. “It was painful.
“For 25 years, we have had services every Shabbat and never closed down no matter what happened,” he said. “There was no such thing as closing down it synagogue. It doesn’t exist.”
But the one thing that overrides everything is saving life, the rabbi said.
“Jewish law teaches us that even for one small chance of hurting someone’s life, you have to take precautions because Judaism sanctifies life, and life is number one,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “You have to listen to professionals who tell us how to protect our lives. It’s not overriding the law. It’s observing the law.”
Jewish law also calls for prayers to be done in a quorum of 10, but the law followed now is saving lives and supersedes everything, the Rabbi said.
Rabbi Greenberg said red flags went up when speaking to his first cousin, a rabbi who heads a Chabad congregation in Italy, a country hard-hit by COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of the coronavirus.
The cousin talked about how the impact of the virus forced the closing of just about every institution, including his synagogue in Rome.
“He said it was only a matter of time that this is coming to America so you better close down your synagogue,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “This was a wake-up call that I realized how serious and how dire the situation is.”
“We have closed and canceled all services in person,” Miriam Greenberg, wife of Rabbi Zushe Greenberg, continued. “We don’t want anybody to have to expose themselves or anyone else.
“We believe people are not taking this as seriously as they should be,” she said. “Every person that stays home is saving a life, literally.”
The temple initiated a large number of classes online and more are planned in the future, Mrs. Greenberg said.
Sunday School classes were held virtually last week, with a total of about 10 classes being offered currently on line.
“Everyone is going virtual,” she said.
Other congregations have remained open, while others are making decisions day to day.
On Monday, the Ohio Bishops met together and spoke to Gov. Mike DeWine. They announced the decision to temporarily suspend all public Masses through Easter Sunday. All Dioceses in Ohio will do this including Cincinnati, Toledo, Columbus, Steubenville and Cleveland. Provisions will be made for funerals and those will be outlined this week.
At St. Rita Catholic Church in Solon, pastoral associate Albie Leko said attendance has dropped considerably since the outbreak. The parish has 3,200 families with about 1,000 taking part in weekend Masses regularly. That number has dwindled to three quarters of that, he said.
In addition, services are modified. For example, there are no longer ministers of wine or any use of hymnals or worship aids, Mr. Leko explained. Anything that is “handled” is eliminated.
There is also no passing of a basket for weekly collections, with people just placing their donations into a basket.
At this point, Mr. Leko said the church is awaiting more recommendations from the diocese.
“The feeling is it is going to get shut down,” he said of weekly Masses.
The Chagrin Valley Islamic Center is making modifications week to week, board member Masroor Malik said, with them canceling last Friday’s weekly prayer service at Signature of Solon that draws as many as 70 people each week. It is likely that this Friday’s service also will be called off, he said.
“This has been done after extensive discussions and weighing the public health as well as religious implications involved with the current ongoing COVID-19 pandemic situation,” Mr. Malik said. Members are advised to do Jumaa, or Friday congregational prayers, in small congregations or other similar gatherings.
“We will evaluate this from week to week,” he added, with plans to do more studies at home or listening to lectures online to stay connected.
“We are looking to see if this goes longer if we can do online sermons or lectures for our community also,” Mr. Malik said.
While there is no central authority to their faith, with decisions up to each individual mosque board, Mr. Malik said the congregation follows the guidance of the teachings of Islam, which has a high sanctity on human life and taking precautions.
“This is basically taking precautions,” he said.
The Rev. Cynthia Theobald, pastor of the Solon United Methodist Church, said they, too, are making their decision as the situation unfolds. She did hold services last Sunday, but it is uncertain about this coming weekend, she said.
“We are trying to figure out how to go from this point on,” the Rev. Theobald said. “I don’t know what our future holds.”
Attendance was down considerably last week, she said of services, which typically draw about 75 people. Recent attendance was less than half of that amount, she said.
Rev. Theobald has communicated with other religious leaders, many with smaller congregations like her own.
“We felt like we would end up under the” amount recommended for gatherings, she said, “but we want to be good community neighbors and partners still trying to sort this out.”
The church was a polling location for Tuesday’s primary, which was canceled until June 2. Its preschool has closed.
The bishop of the Methodist congregation had strongly recommended halting all church services, she said.
“The people who came last week were very happy that we had services, but we definitely want to be very good community partners and careful and intentional.”
They made sure the church building was clean, the Rev. Theobald said, and hand sanitizer was available at the entrance.
Mr. Leko said, “we pray for needless anxiety” each week, especially during this trying time.
“The idea is to have no fear and trust the Lord, but use your common senses,” he said.
Catholics are left with their own spiritual choice to attend Mass, he said. “The difficulty is even if you feel and look healthy, you can carry it (the coronavirus) and transmit it.
“That’s the hard part.”
Rabbi Greenberg said in light of this pandemic he lives with the mantra set forth by his mentor and leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, founder of the Chabad movement, who says to “think good and you will be good.
“We have to take all the precautions, but we have to be positive and think positive,” Rabbi Greenberg said.
He added that, while it’s better to observe as a community, Judaism is observed everywhere.
“Everyone has to observe on your own,” he said. “It’s an individual obligation. We don’t observe Judaism only in the synagogue.”
The temple continues to make the best of the situation and to learn and grow, Mrs. Greenberg said.
The staggered staff of about 50 employed at the temple are coming in here and there, with teachers at the preschool and Hebrew school asked to close up their rooms and make videos to send to students. Secretarial staff is working in a staggered fashion.
Mrs. Greenberg said that although visits to nursing homes have been restricted and advised against across the country, the Chabad is still delivering a kosher meal to a resident in Solon and leaves it at the door.
“You do what you need to do to stay safe physically, then you can see what good comes out of this and what you can do to help others,” she said.
“We are trying to take all the precautions and to be positive,” Mr. Malik said. “We can all overcome this together. The American people are strong people.
“We will overcome, move on and come out of this stronger.”