Ottawa congregations to delay opening for at least two weeks

By Michael Regenstreif, Editor

Although Premier Doug Ford has announced that houses of worship in Ontario can begin to open at 30 per cent capacity beginning on Friday, June 12, all of Ottawa’s major Jewish congregations will not begin to hold religious services for at least two weeks. The congregations have been physically closed since mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic although most have held some services and educational and cultural activities online.

Following Ford’s announcement earlier this week, Ottawa’s community rabbis – from across the denominational spectrum – collectively reiterated the statement they released late last month, following consultation with public health officials including Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, that such an announcement from Ford would begin “at least a two-week preparation period before implementing any initial group gatherings.”

The rabbis pointed to Pikuach Nefesh, the Jewish principle that saving a life is paramount, and said, “As provincial rules change in relation to best practice and worship services, our priority towards health and safety remains tantamount,” and that the at-least-two-week period will allow for “sufficient time to prepare for what comes next and learn from best practice,” adding “we will do all that we can to assure the health and safety of our community.”

This suggests that the earliest possible date any of Ottawa’s Jewish congregations resume holding services will be Friday, June 26.

The original statement was endorsed by Adath Shalom, Chabad of Centrepointe, Congregation Beit Tikvah of Ottawa, Congregation Machzikei Hadas, Glebe Shul, JET, Kehillat Beth Israel, Or Haneshamah, Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad, and Temple Israel.