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CBH Guidelines for Gatherings

Read Rabbi Josh's introduction here:

Latest update: February 4, 2020. This document will change over time. The data on the ground will change, the scientific understanding of best practices will change, our understanding of the science will change, our creative responses to the boundaries will change. Please hold all of this loosely. We felt it was important, however, to share with you how we are thinking and planning at this moment.

Quick Links: CBH Main Guidelines for Gathering | Winter 2021 Update


CBH Guidelines for Gatherings: February 4, 2021

CBH Covid-19 Taskforce 
Winter 2021 Update



Good public health is focused on effective prevention. When effective prevention is successful, it lessens anxiety. Less anxiety is only a problem when it leads to a false sense of security and the desire to question if the same preventative measures are still needed. The CBH Covid-19 Taskforce examined our current guidelines and the eagerness expressed by some in light of this common public health understanding.

In our review, the good news is that to the best of our knowledge there has been no evidence of transmission from one CBH member to another because of a CBH event. We believe that the establishment and the adherence to our guidelines have been a success. Our congregants are safer because of the intentional steps the synagogue has taken including move most of our offerings to an on-line platform.  
At our meeting, we took stock of the past 11 months and shared feedback.  We discussed the eagerness of some of our members to resume opportunities to gather, at least in some form or another. We also discussed that for some members virtual offerings create a strain or a hardship. We also noted that many of our offerings have had greater and more regular participation, wherein other aspects of our congregation program like our school and teen program, there have been challenges and attrition. 

In addition, we wanted to discuss how a new administration and the rolling out of vaccines might impact our guidelines and plans. 

Thus, we began with the overarching question: Are we at a place and time where our current CBH Covid-19 guidelines can be reviewed and revised?

In short, the CBH Covid-19 Taskforce expressed that with regard to most aspects of the pandemic,  we are still primarily in the same place. Yet, they also agreed that we should resume meeting every month or so, so we can closely monitor if there are changes that will invite modifications to our guidelines.

Why are we in the same place? 

The current vaccine supply remains low, and widescale distribution of multiple brand new vaccines with complex storage and dosing schedules is challenging. It is also likely that demand will exceed supply until at least late spring or early summer. 

Also, scientists caution that people who have been vaccinated may still be able to transmit the virus--more research on this is needed. Thus, it remains unsafe for us to gather until the bulk of us are vaccinated. Remember, children have not been vaccinated yet and if we had to guess, it will likely not happen until later this calendar year

Further, studies must be done to understand whether we will need booster shots post-vaccine. Even more concerning is that we do not have the science for how effective the current vaccinations are against the new variants, some of which are more infectious and harmful. With these strains, existing risk mitigation measures need to remain in place.

While some of our local counties have shown a dip in the infection rate, it is likely in relation to increased deaths due to Covid-19. Living in a city and state that has poor risk-mitigation practices, means events like the recent Super Bowl may increase community transmission over the next several weeks. 

What is hopeful

The national mask mandate is an important new preventative measure that will likely have a positive impact. 

Warmer weather is coming and with close assessment, CBH might be able to have small outdoor masked gatherings without singing or chanting in the later months.

Increasing vaccine supply, additional research currently being conducted, and a positive public health climate will likely lead to yet unseen advances.

How this impacts CBH

The CBH COVID-19 Taskforce will continue to meet regularly, monitor the situation, and will send out updates after each meeting.

We expect that the bulk of what CBH offers will continue on-line through at least June.

We need to examine what we can do to extend the sense of community and hear how we can best meet the needs of those who find the current offerings a barrier to their participation.

We will continue to monitor the entire programmatic and ritual offerings, and will keep a particular focus on opportunities for children and teens as new guidelines for schools will be emerging soon. 

Will Robertson from the chorus and Kate Hennessy from the school joined the conversation in order to raise their specific questions and concerns. While there are no immediate changes at this time, we encouraged planning for potential changes now.

We want to encourage aspects of our congregational life like the Chorus or the Community School to start convening groups virtually to discuss how to gather data, how to examine best practices and how to create procedures, protocols, including the important challenge of enforcement. We also suggest the creation of guiding documents like covenants.


We are incredibly grateful for our public health workers who are sharing their personal expertise, perspectives, and guidance truthfully and transparently. We must not confuse our sadness and feelings about the messages of keeping the same practices from the gratitude for our Task Force. Let’s all thank those who are working so diligently and offering some of their rare spare time to support our congregation.  

We must continue to channel the love and enthusiasm for our community into our endurance and creativity to persevere through these difficult times.  This has not been easy for any of us and it is because we care so deeply about the collective wellbeing of CBH that we continue to revisit and address these needs.  We seek to balance our eager hopefulness to meet again with right-sizing our expectations. We hope you will continue to find meaning, connection, and support with our offerings.

CBH Guidelines for Gatherings : May 10th 2020

Read Rabbi Josh's introduction here:

Latest update: May 10, 2020. This document will change over time. The data on the ground will change, the scientific understanding of best practices will change, our understanding of the science will change, our creative responses to the boundaries will change. Please hold all of this loosely. We felt it was important, however, to share with you how we are thinking and planning at this moment.

Introduction: The time before us

Many of us have harbored the hope that in the coming weeks, the world would simply open up again, and we could put this difficult period behind us once and for all. We have endured - we are enduring - something that is very hard, and it is natural to imagine crossing the proverbial finish line in celebration. Yes, the world will open up again. (And won’t that be a glorious thing!) But we are learning from medical and epidemiological experts that our expectations need to shift.


Perhaps the biggest shift we need to make is to accept that we are not able to create a reliable timeline for when different gatherings might be possible again. The timeline will be set by the virus. This will not be a linear process, and the way it unfolds will depend on a lot of interacting variables. Up until now, many of us have used racing metaphors: sprints and marathons. But rather than running a race, this next period of time is more like a dance - shifting back and forth, seeing how the virus responds to our behaviors and adjusting accordingly, then shifting our behavior if the virus shifts, while our scientific community searches for a vaccine. We will be in this back-and-forth until there is a vaccine.

Our path over the next period of time (a year, perhaps? 18 months? Longer?) will be one of constant discernment and response. The reality is, we cannot tell you whether you will be able to have 100 people at a wedding next spring, or 50 at a brit mitzvah this winter; nobody can. All we can do is listen to our scientists and medical officials, do our best to plan prudently for a couple of months at a time, and build flexibility into every plan we make.

The document that follows - a document that will evolve, to be sure - explains the most recent guidance from the CDC and the White House in terms of the various stages of “openness” we expect to see in the next period of time, and then putting this guidance together with Jewish teachings and values, imagines what community activity at CBH might look like during that time. Again, we expect that progress through these will not be linear; we will move back and forth through these stages of openness in response to the public health situation.

Guiding Jewish values and teachings:

  • Pikuah nefesh/ saving a life - safety of both staff and congregants, as well as the general public health.
  • Equity - we strive for fair access to our offerings for all community members
  • Do not put a stumbling block before the blind - we recognize our hunger to be together, and are mindful of crafting environments that support safe individual behaviors. If we find that when we gather, individuals are unable to adhere to safety guidelines, we will return to virtual gatherings, removing the proverbial stumbling block.
  • Kol Yisrael arevim zeh l’zeh - We are all responsible for one another.

A note on singing: As we move into the possibility of small gatherings, one of the most challenging things for us to think about as a community has been the particular risks of singing. There is still a lot we don’t know, and research is ongoing. However, several studies have demonstrated that the aerosolized particles released when we sing are significantly more than when we talk, and cannot safely be contained with a cloth mask. We expect that this will mean that until we have a widespread vaccine, we will not be able to sing when a group is gathered, even to sing/chant an aliyah. We will need to discern when we should gather in person and abstain from singing, and when we should gather online, where we can hear individual leaders sing and each sing in our own homes. Needless to say, we are watching closely for evolving information on this front and are using all our creative energies to find new possibilities within safe boundaries. We are so eager to hear each other's voices.

We lean into savlanut, patience, to help us bear the burden of this time. We lean into chesed, loving kindness, as we seek out new and creative ways to show love to our neighbors and ourselves. We look for the good, hakarat hatov, even when it is harder to find than the afikomen.

Imagining the future: phases of openness

🟌We are here 🟌

Base: Safer at home/ Shelter in place

  • All gatherings of any size are online, recorded from individual homes.
  • Staff meetings are online or via phone.
  • All individual appointments are online or via phone.
  • Minimal, drop-in staffing sufficient for essential operations (deposits, mail processing, etc).
  • Regardless of which phase we may be in come the fall, our primary High Holiday offerings this year will operate at “base” -- that is, offerings will be virtual, to be enjoyed from the safety of home.

Phase One: Very small groups (up to 10 with distancing and facial masks)

Criteria to enter phase one

  • Downward trajectory of influenza-like and covid-like symptoms reported within a 14-day period.
  • Downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period
  • Downward trajectory of positive cases as a percent of total tests within a 14-day period (flat or increasing volume of tests)
  • Hospitals can treat all patients without crisis care
  • Robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers, including emerging antibody testing.


Vulnerable persons should continue to shelter in place. When in public (including parks and outdoor recreation areas), all individuals should maximize physical distance from others and wear PPE. Social settings of more than 10 people should be avoided. Non-essential travel should be minimized, and individuals should isolate following travel.


Guidelines and Expectations for CBH community life during Phase One:

  • Continue holding online services only.
  • It may be possible to resume streaming from the sanctuary or the patio outside the sanctuary, while maintaining at least 6 ft of space between staff and wearing PPE. (Though possible, this is likely undesirable, since being in the same space requires PPE and precludes singing if the service is co-led. Both of these constraints would be detrimental to the experience of congregants watching from home.)
  • Schools and organized youth activities that are currently closed should remain closed.
  • Life rituals (weddings, brit mitzvah, funerals) should be kept to 8 people or less in attendance, including the brides/grooms/brit mitzvah themselves. Consider limiting to immediate family only. We advise only publicizing the date and location to those who are on the approved list to prevent hurt feelings or awkward situations.
  • Small groups continue to meet online.
  • Limit in-office functions to essential operations; encourage tele-working. If more than one person is in the office, all should be wearing masks. Make sure that surfaces, including the phone, are regularly sanitized.
  • Consider allowing certain building users/renters back in (music lessons, etc.) if they are able to observe gathering limits and distancing protocols, and you are able to accommodate the cleaning needs.
  • Leadership teams of fewer than 10 might consider meeting in person while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, or continue meeting online.
  • It may be possible for small groups of children (10 or fewer) to meet for programs or education, but activities and environment must be crafted to maintain distance, and all participants must wear cloth masks.
  • Communally used chairs must be a hard surface for proper disinfection (i.e. we will use black folding chairs rather than upholstered chairs)
  • For higher risk individuals, currently defined as people over 60 and those with underlying conditions, the risk during this phase is still significant. We recommend that these individuals, whether staff or congregant, remain at “base” - i.e. continue to shelter in place.

PHASE TWO: Groups of up to 50 with distancing and facial masks (Note: CBH sanctuary limits group size to 30)

Criteria: The region satisfies the original gating criteria a second time, and there is no evidence of a rebound.

Remember, it is possible that conditions will not improve, but infections will increase again. In that case, physical distancing recommendations would need to be tightened temporarily in order to get back on track. Progress will not necessarily be linear. You can help by encouraging careful hygiene, following the physical/social distancing recommendations, encouraging people to stay at home if they have any symptoms of illness, and to cooperate with contact tracers if they are diagnosed.

Summary: All vulnerable individuals should continue to shelter in place. When in public, including public outdoor spaces, individuals should maximize physical distance and wear PPE. Social settings of more than 50 people should be avoided. Non-essential travel can resume.

While gatherings of up to 50 people can be considered per the CDC, the sanctuary at CBH can only accommodate about 30 people with appropriate distancing. We also recognize that in-person gatherings carry too much risk for many of our members at this time, so it will be important to continue streaming.

Guidelines and Expectations for CBH community life during Phase Two:

  • Services may be streamed from the CBH sanctuary with a small group of congregants present in person under the following conditions:
    • Everyone present must wear a mask.
    • Those attending will be asked to come and go directly from the sanctuary, to avoid congregating in the smaller lobby space.
    • Whenever possible, the gathering will be held outside or the windows and door will be propped open to increase air flow.
    • Chairs will be spaced in the sanctuary such that those who live together will sit together, and there will be at least 6 feet of distance between each household.
    • The best information we have as of this writing indicates that singing poses a particular risk by creating aerosols that carry the virus a significant distance and remain suspended in the air for a significant period of time. A cloth mask is unlikely to be enough to protect you or your neighbor. Therefore, we will not sing yet when a group is gathered.
    • There will be no food served, and no time set aside for community mingling after the service.
    • Because of the similarity between singing and chanting the Torah and its blessings, we expect that both the parsha and the blessings will be read and not chanted. Holding and touching the Torah scroll should be minimized with an eye toward safety. Distance should be maintained during aliyot; people might simply rise from their seats to reduce congestion at the bima.
    • Communal siddurim, kippot, yad, and tallitot will not be used (though people may bring their own personal items).
    • Communal chairs must be a hard surface for proper disinfection (i.e. we will use black folding chairs rather than upholstered chairs in the sanctuary)

The desirability of gathering in this way depends on our ability to develop an equitable system of who can gather, our ability to support both an in-person experience for a small group and a virtual experience for others at home, and individuals’ abilities to follow all of these challenging and unfamiliar guidelines. If we find that those in attendance are not attending to these practices, we will move back to virtual services for the sake of everyone’s safety.

  • Lifecycles can take place with careful attention to the following:
    • Even in a large venue, the total number of people present must be under 50, including family, guests, and staff; and
    • Social distancing must be observed, which may create additional limitations on the number of guests in a smaller venue. The CBH sanctuary can safely accommodate 30 people plus staff.
    • Guests from out of town -- i.e. a different viral environment than Atlanta’s -- may participate only virtually.
    • All present must wear masks.
    • We will carefully attend to the most current guidelines on singing/ chanting. Our guidance right now indicates that these are not safe group activities.
    • There will be no oneg or kiddush.
  • Small Groups can meet in person or online, as long as distancing and PPE can be observed. We recommend maintaining online options for people who do not feel comfortable.
  • Small groups of children may meet for programs or education, but activities and environment must be crafted to maintain distance, and all participants must wear cloth masks.
    • We anticipate that CBH will not be able to travel for social justice work or other programs for some time, but can pursue in-person social justice opportunities in Atlanta as long as groups are small and social distancing is observed.
  • Business
    • Regular office functions could resume more or less safely while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks, or employees can continue to tele-work. Continue to attend to cleaning and sanitizing the office. Pay particular attention to high-touch surfaces and handwashing.
    • Individual meetings with the rabbi could resume, or could continue virtually.
    • Leadership teams might consider meeting in person while wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, or continue meeting online.
    • Allow building users/renters to resume operations, with a plan to address cleaning needs and agreement to observe gathering and distancing protocols.
  • General Building
    • Post signs indicating symptoms and urging people to stay home/seek medical attention if they have symptoms.
    • Maintain a good stock of tissue, soap, hand sanitizer and disposable paper towels for drying hands.
    • Clean the building regularly and between user groups, paying extra attention to high-touch surfaces.
    • If you become aware of someone in the community or a building user infected with COVID-19, put your communication plan into action, and cooperate fully with contact tracers.
  • For higher risk individuals, currently defined as people over 60 and those with underlying conditions, the risk during this phase is still significant. We recommend that these individuals, whether staff or congregant, remain at “base” - i.e. continue to shelter in place.

Questions for CBH Leadership

  • From what source will we pull the data to ascertain which phase we are in? There are discrepancies between GPH and CDC already.
  • Whose job will it be to check this data, and how often?
  • How many people can our outdoor space accommodate with distancing?
  • Has Church Mutual weighed in on benchmarks for reopening, and for operating any programs? What is our liability and coverage if someone were to get sick?
  • What kind of online streaming option will best serve us moving forward? Should we invest in better equipment that is mounted in the sanctuary and a platform more secure than Zoom, or is the flexibility of Zoom and our ability to see one another most important right now?
  • How will we discourage people congregating after services?
  • When in earlier phases of relaunch, how will we cap attendance at events so there is room for members of the community to join us and so we don’t go over guidelines?
  • Who will enforce these guidelines if someone attending a gathering is not following them?
  • What are small groups that we might want to encourage or bring together at CBH?
  • How will we ensure sanitation and disinfection in regards to communal spaces?
    • Areas where small groups gather during the week
    • Playground
    • Chairs
    • Doorknobs, bathrooms, other areas that people touch when in your building
  • How will you update your building use agreements to reflect the new realities of COVID-19?
  • If someone contracts COVID-19, how will we communicate with our congregation and members who may have come into contact with that individual while maintaining privacy and pastoral care?
  • If someone who has been in your building contracts COVID-19, how will we do a more intensive cleaning prior to its next use?
  • How will we communicate our safety plan and best practices to the congregation?

Recommended Reading/Viewing

We are indebted to the Wisconsin Council of Churches, which produced a thorough and helpful document on these questions over a week ago already, and whose document has served as a model for us. You can read their document in full here: Returning to Church (from the WI Council of Churches)


Primary Guidance

Opening Up America Again (from the White House)


The Plan for Reopening Houses of Worship After the Coronavirus Crisis


CDC Outlines Guidance for Reopening Church


CDC Guidance for Reopening Schools, Child Care, and Summer Camps Is Leaked


The Risks - Know Them - Avoid Them


On Singing

The coronavirus pandemic and aerosols (A heavy dose of science)


Singing, the Church, and COVID-19: A Caution for Moving Forward in our Current Pandemic


A Conversation: What do Science and Data Say About the Near Term Future of Singing? (a 2+ hour webinar/video)


Church Music in the Time of COVID


Additional Resources

Why Getting the US Back to Normal in the Next Couple Months is a Fantasy. PBS NewsHour, April 20, 2020.

The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead. New York Times, April 18, 2020.

COVID-19: Now I understand King’s truth of the ‘inescapable web of mutuality’, Zachary Helton, Baptist News Global, April 21, 2020.

Church in these “VUCA” Times. Jake Morrill.

24 Questions Your Church Should Ask Before People Return. Ken Braddy, Jr

Leaders, It’s Time to Ask Critical Questions About the Post-COVID19 Church. John Thornburg, United Methodist Insight, April 14, 2020.

Distributed Church. Fresh Expressions.

How to Seize this Moment for Your Church. Ed Stetzer.

How VUCA is Shaping the Business Environment, and What It Means for Innovation



Fri, September 22 2023 7 Tishrei 5784