Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, had a message on Thursday for Orthodox Jews: Phase in communal prayer as local coronavirus restrictions are being lifted.

“The kind of social interactions which is the core of the beauty of your culture has unfortunately led to a higher risk,” said Fauci, also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in a webinar conducted by the Orthodox Union.

He advised Orthodox Jews to take incremental steps in re-establishing in-person prayer.

“If you said, for the time being, ‘How about once a day and five days a week as opposed to three times a day, seven days a week,’ if you could phase that part in,” that would ideal, said Fauci. He did quickly add, “I don’t want to be presumptuous to know what that would mean to you from a spiritual standpoint.”

Fauci warned against letting into synagogue older adults and those with underlying conditions, including hypertension, diabetes and obesity, until those healthy have been at the synagogue for a couple weeks.

“As tough as it sounds, I have family members in the same boat. You’ve got to make sure that they are really protected,” he said.

Fauci predicted that in the fall, “there will almost certainly be [the] virus” around the time of the High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

And he did have a request. Considering the exhausting long hours he said he has put into responding to the outbreak, Fauci asked, “As you’re doing your praying, make sure you include me in that.”

Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the Orthodox Union’s executive vice president, assured Fauci that was a given.

Regarding social distancing, in which it’s advised to remain 6 feet apart from others, Hauer said that the OU was advising its congregants to be 8 feet apart, just to be safe, since Jewish crowds are know for their traditional need to comfort, enjoy and be near one another.

Fauci laughed and said, “The emotional core of the Jewish people of being warm and close to each other, you can’t resist!”

© 2020 American Jewish Congress.