NEWS Italian synagogues reopen their doors

By Pagine Ebraiche staff

Synagogues have reopened on Monday, as established by the protocol signed by the Italian Government and the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities (UCEI) at the Chigi Palace last week.

The document is the result of fruitful, ongoing dialogue between the two institutions, and provides regulations on all aspects related to the attendance of places of worship.

The outcome was strongly appreciated by UCEI President Noemi Di Segni, who attended the meeting along with Chief Rabbi of Rome Riccardo Di Segni, representing the Rabbinical Assembly of Italy (ARI).

They signed the protocol along with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese.

“The signature of this protocol is a highly significant event restoring a fundamental constitutional freedom which was restricted due to the emergency, which we now understand is a long-term challenge. We will respond to it with all necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our fellow worshippers,” underlined President Di Segni.

“This is the result – she continued – of close cooperation between institutions, i.e. the Government and UCEI, also involving representatives of other religions. The protocol, approved by the Technical-scientific Committee, deals with different critical aspects, among which access to religious buildings, measures to be taken during services, sanitisation of the premises and objects and communication matters.”

The protocol also mentions “the commitment shown by the Ministry of the Interior’s Central Administration for Worship and by those who worked on this document, showing openness towards all demands.” It also underlines the teamwork undertaken by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Minister Luciana Lamorgese, Prefects Michele Di Bari and Giovanna Maria Rita Iurato, and the coordinator of the Technical-Scientific Committee Doctor Silvio Brusaferro.

According to Di Segni, the protocol regulates all of the aspects which will ensure a safe reopening. UCEI “will give specific instructions to each Community, according to its specific needs, in order for us to attend religious services again with deep emotion, accessing our beautiful welcoming synagogues, in anticipation of the upcoming solemn feasts.”

“Today, representatives of UCEI and ARI signed with the Government a protocol which allows Jewish worship services to resume on Monday, 18th May, in compliance with thorough sanitisation and social-distancing norms. Jewish communities are circulating detailed instructions for these rules to be observed. We would like to express our satisfaction with the restart of tefillot with a minyan, and we would like to thank those who have worked towards this result. We also want to urge everyone to observe rules scrupulously as they were established by the Government,” said Rabbi Alfoso Arbib, President of Italian Rabbis. “We are facing danger to people’s lives and health. We hope God listens to our prayers and helps us – and the whole world – to overcome this difficult situation,” he added. His announcement ended with a quote from Psalm 121: “The Lord will watch over your coming and going”.

Over the last few hours, Rabbi Di Segni has coordinated the writing of a summary report on the implementation of the protocol’s rules for the different synagogues in Rome.

“Reopening is largely dependent on the size of spaces. We will only reopen those synagogues where social distancing can be ensured,” he underlined.

Among the measures suggested in the protocol is the presence of volunteers to manage people flow in and out of the synagogue, which will possibly be destined to separate entries if safety measures allow it. People will access synagogues wearing masks and gloves, and spaces will be sanitised between services.

Where possible, services will be held outdoor. Choir activity is not yet allowed in order to avoid mass gathering. Some norms are related to Sefer Torah, e.g. how to leaf through it and how to move it. Multiple minyanim will be possible if they are spaced out. Finally, access will not be ensured to people who are vulnerable due to previous contacts or their pathological conditions.

“It is fundamental that this protocol should not be considered as an invitation to a rushed reopening, because this kind of decisions should be preceded by careful reasoning instead. This idea was also underlined, at European level, by leaders of the Orthodox rabbinate. Hence, it applies to Italy as well. It’s good for those who are not comfortable with the reopening to wait given the still complex epidemiological framework. So should the communities with small synagogues,” explained Rabbi Di Segni, referring to the whole of Italian Jewish Communities.

The protocol states, “Any religious service or gathering is allowed when the precautional norms for the containment of the current outbreak are adopted. In particular, attenders are required to wear suitable equipment to protect their airways and must keep a safe distance, at least 1 m, from others. In compliance with the regulations on social distancing, the person in charge of the place of worship will calculate the maximum capacity of the religious building, taking into account the minimum safety distance, which should be 1 m both in the front and on the side. Those who access places of worship for religious services are required to wear masks. Places of worship must be accessed individually in order to avoid mass gatherings both in the building and in the outbuildings; all services must last shortly. Religious authorities are entrusted with identifying suitable ways to hold services, ensuring social distancing and enforcing safety measures. In this transitional phase, access to places of worship is only allowed to a fixed number of people, who are managed by volunteers or collaborators whose tasks are to help them enter and exit the synagogue and to monitor the maximum allowed number of attenders, while wearing suitable personal protection equipment, disposable gloves and a clear distinctive mark. Should the expected attenders outnumber significantly the maximum allowed number, more frequent services may be scheduled. To favour orderly access, multiple doors, when present, should be opened, possibly making a distinction between entrance and exit. Doors should stay open, so that people flow is safer, and doors and handles are not touched. People who have had contacts with people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in previous days are not allowed in the religious buildings. Likewise, people showing flu-like or respiratory symptoms, or a temperature equal to or higher than 37.5° C, are not allowed either. When possible and allowed, it is recommended to hold services in outdoor spaces, provided that attenders leave quickly afterwards. As for specific worship aspects which might entail close contact, the relevant religious authorities are entrusted with identifying the best ways to implement precautionary measures and avoid infection. Ministers can carry out religious activities and cross regional borders in exceptional cases, when complying with current legislations and providing a self-declaration along with a certification by the religious institution.”

On the matter of measures during religious services, the protocol states, “In order to enforce social distancing, it is necessary to minimise the number of officiants, who must in any case respect the minimum distance. A single cantor can be present. Each community’s participant must ensure the 1-metre minimum distance.”

On sanitisation of premises and objects, it was established that “Places of worship must be adequately sanitised before and after every service or gathering. At the entrance, masks and hand-sanitiser must be available for those who need them; a security officer, chosen by the religious authority and wearing a distinctive badge, will monitor social-distancing enforcement and will limit access until full capacity is reached.”

Another chapter of the protocol focuses on communication. It states, “The person in charge of the place of worship is responsible for the circulation of this protocol’s contents. The fundamental instructions must be affixed on the door of the place of worship. Among them are: the maximum allowed number of attenders, based on the building’s capacity, amounting to one person every 4 sqm; an entry ban for people showing flu-like or respiratory symptoms and for people who have had contacts with people tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in previous days; the obligation to observe social distancing, to respect hand hygiene rules and to wear suitable personal protection equipment, especially a mask covering nose and mouth.”

The protocol ends with a suggestion: “When the place of worship does not permit the enforcement of this protocol’s rules, outdoor services may be evaluated, ensuring their dignity in compliance with health regulations.”

Translated by Claudia Azzalini and revised by Mattia Stefani, both students at the Advanced School for Interpreting and Translation of Trieste University and interns at the newspaper office of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities.