Area congregations offer a variety of options
COVID-19Welcoming the masked and mask-less alike

Area congregations offer a variety of options

Local synagogues work to accommodate vaccinated and unvaccinated members

Synagogues regulations vary for members wishing to worship in person. Temple David in Monroeville has readied their congregation with signs in the sanctuary, post-COVID-19.  Photo by Barbara Fisher.
Synagogues regulations vary for members wishing to worship in person. Temple David in Monroeville has readied their congregation with signs in the sanctuary, post-COVID-19. Photo by Barbara Fisher.

Masked or unmasked? Vaccination registration or the honors system?

Local congregations, treading new ground in public health requirements, have spent the last several weeks grappling with when and how they would welcome back members for in-person services. The options available to those who want to celebrate Shabbat, in person and with their community, vary depending on the congregation.

Beth El Congregation of the South Hills offers two Shabbat services weekly, each with different requirements.

The congregation’s Friday night services are held outdoors and open to anyone, regardless of vaccination status, according to Chris Benton, Beth El’s executive director.

“Masks, social distancing — it is [designed] for anybody,” she said. “On Saturday morning, there’s an indoor option and that is vaccinated only.”

The Shabbat morning service does not require masks and is currently limited to those old enough to be vaccinated. In order to attend the Saturday service, the congregation requires members to verify their vaccination status one time with office staff. That verification can take place in person, on FaceTime or through Zoom. The congregation does not make copies of the vaccination cards, Benton said; names are simply added to a list.

Congregants who come to the synagogue without first verifying their vaccination status will be asked to do so when they arrive. Due to prohibitions against writing on Shabbat, Benton said, she places a sticker next to the congregant’s name and adds them to the registration list the following day.

Across town, Squirrel Hill’s Congregation Beth Shalom recently updated its attendance policy, according to Robert Gleiberman, the congregation’s new executive director.

Since June 11, Beth Shalom services have been open to everyone, regardless of vaccination status. Members who previously showed their vaccination cards to the congregation’s staff can choose whether or not to wear a mask, Gleiberman said.

“Those that have not been fully vaccinated, which includes children and adults that have decided not to for whatever reason, they are allowed to come, but they’re required to wear a mask,” he said. “We’re still asking everyone to socially distance themselves from others. We’ve got plenty of room to move around the sanctuary.”

The new guidelines are in place for all of Beth Shalom’s religious services, include daily morning minyans and Saturday morning Shabbat services, which are often held in a tent in the synagogue’s parking lot.

“Our doors are open to everyone,” Gleiberman said, “as long as they follow the requirements we’ve set forth.”

The city’s largest Reform synagogue, Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside, does not require members to disclose their vaccination status before attending services.

“We are asking people to be vaccinated if they can,” said Matthew Falcone, the congregation’s senior vice president. “But we’re not doing any kind of proof of vaccination where you have to have it recorded in some way. We have full faith and confidence that people who say they are vaccinated are.”

Masks are required in all common areas of the building, Falcone explained. That policy extends to all who enter the building, including members attending other congregations that are housed within Rodef Shalom.

One of those congregations, Tree of Life, requires people to register a week before they attend services, according to its executive director, Barb Feige. On the registration form on the congregation’s website, those interested in attending service are asked if they have been vaccinated.

If someone would like to have an aliyah, they are required to share their vaccination record in advance, Feige said. Unregistered attendees will be asked their vaccination status; if they have not been inoculated they will be asked to sit further back in the sanctuary and remain masked throughout the service.

Adat Shalom’s executive director, Lisa Rothstein, said that the Cheswick synagogue has been reopening in stages.

“Right now, we are open for in-person services, Friday night, Saturday morning and for Sunday morning minyan services,” she said.

The congregation is not requiring attendees to disclose their vaccination status, but does require preregistration to help with contact tracing, in case it’s needed.

Rothstein said she loved being back in the building for in-person services.

“It was joyous to be back in the sanctuary,” she said. “And I hope people will really feel comfortable to come back and worship.” PJC

David Rullo can be reached at

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