Congregations adapt to Coronavirus (Sun-sentinel)
Full article at https://www.sun-sentinel.com/coronavirus/fl-ne-houses-of-worship-20200320-4iaudprzv5fo5irgj3pvtivwh4-story.html
Lois K. Solomon, South Florida Sun Sentinel
Imam Sultan Moihuddin gives a facebook live lecture at the Islamic Foundation of South Florida in Sunrise on Friday March 20, 2020 after the normal Friday prayers were cancelled because the congregation is not able to meet in large groups due to the coronavirus. He said that he wanted to maintain a connection for the community with the mosque and even though they weren’t able to have prayer in person, they were still there for them.(Mike Stocker / South Florida Sun Sentinel)
Unable to gather in the traditional way, South Florida worshipers are brainstorming creative strategies to stay observant as coronavirus keeps them apart.
Phone chains to check in on congregants’ health, virtual services, bedtime stories online from the rabbi, Bible study through the Zoom platform: Religious communities are using every technology to make sure their congregants don’t feel isolated or forgotten.
But leaders know technology can’t always make up for physical contact and praying in the same pew as your peers. They are trying to emphasize the positive as they deal with new challenges each day, ranging from how to handle a funeral to how to observe Passover and Easter while maintaining social distance.
“There’s something to be learned from this, to appreciate life as we had it,” said Rabbi Shuey Biston of Chabad of Parkland, an Orthodox Jewish congregation. “We took for granted going to the supermarket, getting together with friends. There’s a reason for everything in this world. We are trying to be a source of strength.”
Among the routines taken for granted: attending worship services, which usually include not only praying but socializing, eating, shaking hands, kissing and hugging.
For Muslim men, praying in straight lines shoulder-to-shoulder every Friday is not only a routine but also a commandment from their prophet, Muhammad: “Straighten your rows, stand shoulder to shoulder, be soft upon your brother and fill the gaps, for the devil enters through the gaps like the small lambs.”
Still, when coronavirus comes calling, the rules must evolve. The Imam Council of South Florida Muslim Federation, a conclave of mosque leaders, recommended the suspension of the traditional Friday prayers through April 3.
If mosques choose to remain open, congregants must remain six feet apart in groups of fewer than 10.
“Literally we would usually have 600 to 800 people on Fridays,” said Nezar Hamze, executive director of the South Florida Muslim Federation. “You can’t control that amount of people. There were a lot of emotions on display when people were told they couldn’t gather as they had been. There was some resistance.”
Michael Shah, 23, of Davie, who had been volunteering to lead Friday prayers for Muslim employees at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, said he feels a void in his life.
“It does feel like there’s a disruption, a hole that’s there now,” he said. “After prayer, you always talk, catch up, socialize, get something to eat. That’s the biggest part for me.”
All the major religions have significant holidays in the next few weeks. The Muslim holiday Ramadan begins April 22 and lasts through May 24. Passover, the Jewish commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt, begins April 8 and lasts through April 18.
And then there’s the Christian Lenten season, culminating with Easter on April 12. The Rev. Andrew Sherman, of St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, said he’s deciding whether to proceed with the tradition of foot-washing that usually takes place the Thursday before Easter. The ceremony commemorates Jesus’ humility but requires close human contact.
“I haven’t got that one figured out yet,” Sherman said.
He said other decisions have been more straightforward, such as live-streaming Sunday services on Facebook or Bible study sessions conducted on the Zoom platform.
Episcopal churches have canceled all events, as have Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Palm Beach. In the Catholic church, only funerals, baptisms and weddings are allowed to proceed, with restrictions.
Catholic priests are still celebrating Mass without the faithful present.
Bishop Gerald Barbarito of the Diocese of Palm Beach compared social distancing to Jesus’ self-isolation in the desert and temptation by Satan.
“While this is a very difficult situation, it is essential for us to realize that the life of the Church continues and it is with us no matter how isolated we may be or feel,” he wrote to his parishes.
Jewish community leaders also sent out a letter, but this one went to Northerners who typically visit South Florida for Passover. The message: Don’t come!
The letter, signed by more than 50 rabbis and medical doctors, said in part: “[Passover] is around the corner and although it is normally a time for families to come together as many do here in South Florida, especially in the Miami, Boca Raton, West Palm Beach and Orlando areas, this year is different…Please avoid traveling to Florida during this crisis because by doing so you will be putting this already vulnerable community at greater risk.”
Most synagogues and their schools are closed, with rabbis performing only major life events such as funerals.
Rabbi Allan Tuffs of Temple Beth El in Hollywood said he officiated at a funeral this week where the virus prevented two of the deceased’s three children from attending.
“There were just a handful of people there,” Tuffs said. “We taped it for the ones who couldn’t come.”
Robin Nierman, a mother of two from Boca Raton, was trying to think of ways to stay in touch with her Jewish community and remembered a tradition she had been intending for years to master: baking challah.
She put out the word on Facebook that at 3:30 p.m. on Friday she would be mixing and braiding the Jewish bread, traditionally eaten on the Sabbath, and invited her friends to join her on Zoom with their own recipes and comments.