A Beacon of Light in the Darkness

How the Temple Sinai Library Continued Serving the Congregation During the Pandemic

The Purim Spiel was barely over and the laughter still echoed when the dark cloud of the pandemic descended, ending for the foreseeable future any possibility of the congregation of Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C. gathering in person. For the Library Committee, the closing of the Temple posed a number of challenges: How could we function if we could not meet in the library? How could we provide our most basic service – the lending of books – if congregants could not enter the Temple? And, most importantly, how could we maintain our cohesion as a committee and, at the same time, offer a lifeline to Temple members who now found themselves isolated in their homes, cut off from their social connections?

As thousands of Americans began dying of COVID-19, we faced our own, more personal angst: Our beloved and much-admired committee co-chair was terminally ill. A person whose dedication to the Library Committee knew no bounds, he quickly saw a need for the committee to continue functioning and came up with a solution: Zoom meetings. It was from these meetings that many good things flowed.

Before the pandemic, committee members would volunteer in the library on Mondays or Wednesdays and perform their tasks in small groups or individually. This arrangement meant that many members did not get to know each other well, if at all. With the advent of weekly Monday morning Zoom meetings, we met as a group where we processed and shared the changes in our lives and the world, drawing strength and support from each other. In addition, meeting virtually enabled our co-chair to stay involved even as his condition worsened.

Ideas and programs quickly developed. Among the most significant were the Circle of Book Lovers, a weekly compendium by one of our members of books, Israeli TV shows, movies, and virtual lectures and discussions; a book cart for contactless book borrowing; a major redo and improvement of the library’s homepage thanks to the work of a tech-savvy member; partnering with the nursery school to offer individual book bundles for Purim, Passover, and Shavuot; and the addition of a major new bibliography, A Guide to Jewish Perspectives on Ethics & Moral Values by still another member.

With the coming of 2021 and the prospect of vaccines to put an end to the pandemic, the mood of the committee brightened. Unfortunately, our optimism dampened with the very sad news that our co-chair had lost his battle against cancer.

In a time filled with pain and tragedy, the Library Committee never wavered in its commitment to the Temple community. In fact, it increased its efforts to serve in the face of severe obstacles, created new programs that continue as the Temple reopens, and welcomed new committee members. In doing so, the committee not only helped maintain the connections of Temple members to each other and to the wider world, it also strengthened the personal bonds among the committee as well.


Mitch Miller, Temple Sinai Library Volunteer

As published in the AJL News and Reviews. (December 2021/January 2022). a publication of the Association of Jewish Libraries.