Years ago, when I spent summers with my family at a bungalow colony, it used to bother me that there were breakaway minyanim even though there was a shul. Therefore, I can appreciate Rabbi Schonfeld’s frustration as he expressed in his column in last week’s paper (“Bamos: Still a Major Problem”). However, I believe he is mistaken in painting with a broad brush by claiming that outdoor minyanim exist because they are convenient and comfortable and not because of the COVID situation. As someone who davens both in shul and outside, there are many reasons why people daven outside. It is safer to daven outside. There is always airflow. Under most circumstances, under the new CDC guidelines, you can go without a mask. Contrast this with davening inside. The air is stagnant. Many times, no windows are open. If you want to open a window, especially if it is hot or cold outside, there is pushback. Also, there has been a decrease in people wearing masks in shuls either based on the shul policy or worshippers on their own deciding not to wear masks. This is not including those who do not wear the masks properly (covering both their mouth and nose).
It is more comfortable to daven inside. Outside, in the winter it’s cold and in the summer it’s hot. Unlike davening inside, there is no heat or air conditioning when you daven outside. Also, you must compete with the wind and the rain. The majority of those who daven in the outdoor minyan do not live on the block where the minyan is, so it is not a matter of it being closer than a shul.
There are people who have not been vaccinated who are davening inside. Even though according the CDC fully-vaccinated individuals are less likely to spread the virus, I do not want to be the cause of getting someone else sick. What is happening in India with the explosion of a new variant of COVID shows that one should not be complacent even if one is vaccinated. It has already begun to affect fully-vaxxed people in Israel.
Certainly, there are people who have the attitude described by Rabbi Schonfeld. They like a faster davening with no speeches and appeals. Some of them daven in hashkamah minyanim (early minyanim) on Shabbos for these reasons. Yet Rabbi Schonfeld’s shul and many other shuls have these minyanim. Although Rabbi Schonfeld does not mention about indoor minyanim not held in a shul as an example of what he would call “Bamos,” I would agree that it is hard to justify their existence in Kew Gardens Hills.
On an unrelated note…
As a result of COVID-19, there has also been a greater need for social services, and in particular, food. New organizations have sprung up to deal with this problem. There has been one organization, the Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC), which has been dealing with this issue for years. The QJCC was founded in 1969 because of the attempt to build low-income housing in Forest Hills. It is one of the oldest Jewish nonprofits in the city. The council was one of the earliest Jewish agencies to start a food pantry and to start providing cooked kosher meals for home bound seniors.
Most people know of the organization because of the free summer concerts in Cunningham Park called “Jewish Music Under the Stars.” For those whom it would be cost prohibitive to pay for a concert, this is the only time that they can hear the music they enjoy.
Diversity is the new buzzword. QJCC has always been diverse. Its board has included the spectrum of the Jewish community, from orthodox to those not affiliated with any synagogue. It includes Ashkenazi and Sephardi. Immigrant communities are well represented on the board, including at the officer level. Likewise, its synagogue membership includes orthodox, conservative, reform, Ashkenazi, and Sephardic congregations. The concerts are also diverse, usually Yiddish theater music, Bukharian music, and orthodox Ashkenazi musicians. A united Jewish community is what is most important. The Hebrew word “Tzibur” (community) contains the letters that refer to all types of Jews.
In these times, the Queens Jewish Community Council needs your help more than ever to continue its important tasks to help the community. On May 12, the QJCC is going to hold a virtual dinner. Please show your support by signing up for the dinner at Qjcc.org/dinner or otherwise give a donation at this same site. Every dollar helps.