Bais Abraham rabbi aims to reach every congregant amidst concerns over coronavirus

In the wake of the coronavirus, Bais Abraham Rabbi Garth Silberstein and other leaders of the Modern Orthodox congregation are trying to reach every congregant to check on his or her well-being. Photo: Bill Motchan

All across the St. Louis Jewish community, rabbis are calling congregants at greater risk for the coronavirus to ensure that these people have what they need, said Rabbi Garth Silberstein of Bais Abraham Congregation. 

Bais Abe has a small enough membership — less than 100 families — that Silberstein and other leaders of the Modern Orthodox congregation decided to try and reach every member. Silberstein joined the congregation in September, which means he’s in the early stages of his relationships with congregants.

“As a rabbi, you want to know everyone in your community really well, but things are going to happen to people who you don’t know well, and you need to be able to be there for them,” he said.

Like most area congregations, Bais Abraham has moved its daily services and regular classes online. Silberstein had previously had requests from people interested in taking his classes remotely, but he declined. 

“I felt that it detracted from the experience of the people who are were actually in the room if half my attention is on my laptop screen because it’s that much more time that I’m not making eye contact with the people who are in the room with me,” he said. 

But for now, there won’t be any students in the room with him when he teaches a class on the weekly Torah portion at the Crown Center for Senior Living or a Judaism 101 class at Bais Abe for people interested in converting to the religion or people who are Jewish but want to learn more. 

“I’m sure that if I continue to do teaching over video, I will get better and focus less on the technology and more on the text and the people. But I think there is something powerful with human beings being in physical proximity to each other and in eye contact and just being in the same space with the same air that I don’t think video will ever replace,” Silberstein said. 

If he ends up having to call Bais Abe members not just to check in but rather because they have lost a loved one to COVID-19, what will he say if people ask him why God would allow this to happen?

“That question comes up not just with coronavirus but by anything that could befall us,” he said. “We are vulnerable creatures, and death is something that we all experience. Some of us are going to experience it at a ripe old age, and some of us, sadly, will experience that before our time. 

“And the truth is, we as human beings, never really know why one person will skate through life and another person will have a lot of hardship and tsuris (woes), but we trust that whatever we are experiencing, God is there, and God is looking out for things and that ultimately, whatever we experience in this life, our reward is waiting for us in the world to come.”