Important Kavana Staffing and Covid Updates

It is certainly disappointing not to be able to be together in physical ways right now. However, we appreciate the many creative ways that people in our community have been showing up for one another, engaging in Jewish life together, and deepening relationships during this strange and isolating time. Clearly, ours is a community that values Jewish engagement, spirituality, and human relationships as essential functions… and when we apply our innovative frame, we are finding all sorts of ways to draw close (both emotionally and spiritually) despite the (physical) distancing.

I’m writing to you for the first time from the month of July 2020, as we enter Kavana’s new fiscal and programming year. As such, I wanted to share a few important updates:

First, the JEN Rabbinic Fellowship has been such a tremendous source of blessing for Kavana over the past four years. With Rabbi Josh Weisman (our 2018-20 fellow) now settled as the Senior Jewish Educator at UW Hillel, and Rabbi Sydney Danziger (2016-18) as the Senior Rabbi of Temple B’nai Torah in Bellevue, we can all take pride in having seeded the Seattle Jewish community with great up-and-coming rabbinic leaders, steeped in the Kavana model! The Fellowship will not continue in the current iteration, but we will, of course, continue working closely with the Jewish Emergent Network on creative projects and also on training the next generation of rabbis. (Please stay tuned for more details on both in the coming months!)

Meanwhile, several of you have inquired about what will happen next in terms of staffing and program capacity at Kavana. I am delighted to announce that although we are not yet ready to hire another full-time rabbi, we do have plans to sustain the programming that Rabbi Josh has ably led over the last two years! Traci Marx will be joining the Kavana staff (in a significant part-time capacity) to lead our monthly Friday night services, High Holiday services, and to provide musical/spiritual leadership in a variety of other programmatic settings. The High School program will now come under the umbrella of our Education program, overseen by Cara Abrams. I will assume Rabbi Josh’s rabbinic roles (such as pastoral care and officiation at life-cycle events). And last but certainly not least, the social action and social justice work that has become an increasing area of focus for our community over these last few years will be sustained by a large team of lay leaders and staff members working in close collaboration.

The other big topic on everyone’s mind, of course, is what this new program year at Kavana will look like in light of Covid-19. As I’m sure you can imagine, both our staff and board have been immersed in planning discussions over recent weeks, and I’d especially like to thank our board members and the Kavana partners who have provided advisory input recently to help our organization in our decision-making, particularly Jeremy Berman, Erin Bernau, Sharon Bogan, Chuck Cowan, and Peter Ehrenkranz.

Without a doubt, our thinking will continue to evolve as we all learn more about this virus and its trajectory in our community. For now, we have determined that it’s best (both safest and most inclusive) for Kavana to continue offering mostly online opportunities to connect this summer. Sadly, we will not be able to offer the large-group events, such as Shabbat-in-the-Park and the Annual Camping Trip, that have been the hallmarks of every previous Kavana summer. However, if King County remains in Phase 2 for a while, we may try to take advantage of the opportunity offered by Seattle’s warm and dry summer weather to bring people together in limited ways for smaller outdoor gatherings (with Covid precautions in place, of course) – for example, an Erev Tisha B’Av ritual event (see below).

Once King County reaches Phase 3 of re-opening, we will consider adding more in-person events… although even then, we will take these decisions on a case-by-case basis and continue offering virtual options too. We want to prepare our community that in all likelihood, Kavana’s High Holiday services/programs this fall will be designed for online/at-home engagement (perhaps with a few creative communal touch-points happening in person, outdoors). It’s also highly likely that Kavana’s educational programs for kids and families will be offered virtually/from home, at least as we begin the 2020-21 academic year; we are exploring more modular options for our afterschool programs in order to give everyone maximal flexibility as the year unfolds.

It is certainly disappointing not to be able to be together in physical ways right now. However, we appreciate the many creative ways that people in our community have been showing up for one another, engaging in Jewish life together, and deepening relationships during this strange and isolating time. Clearly, ours is a community that values Jewish engagement, spirituality, and human relationships as essential functions… and when we apply our innovative frame, we are finding all sorts of ways to draw close (both emotionally and spiritually) despite the (physical) distancing.

As summer proceeds, I want to encourage each of you to continue engaging in Jewish life meaningfully, with the Kavana community, in ways that feel in-line with your own risk profile… whether this means continuing to participate in on-line services and programs from the comfort of your own home, or using the Kavana partner directory to set up small back-yard hangouts or outdoor walks with other members of this community, or eating Shabbat dinner together with Kavana friends on Zoom, or whatever else you might dream up!

It feels good to know that we’re all “in it together” for the long haul, whatever curve-balls the second half of 2020 may throw our way. Here’s to a beautiful summer, and a great new programming year for the Kavana community!

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum