Jewish Holidays and Practices
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Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, begins on Sunday night. Traditionally the day is spent praying and fasting. While anyone can fast no matter where they are, what about those who live in an area with little or no Jewish community, or those who have difficulty making it to services?
As they did last year, the congregation Nashuva in Los Angeles is working with the Jewish TV Network to broadcast their Yom Kippur services on Sunday night, live and online. They drew an estimated 200,000 people from around the globe last year, creating an opportunity for all these folks â€“ whether part of the mainstream or on the periphery of the community - to share in the celebration of the holiday.
While we think itâ€™s great that they were able to lower barriers and reach so many people, we believe online services work best when they lead to further engagement offline. Free online services serve as a good entry point, and we hope those participating take the next step and begin to make real-life connections with the larger Jewish community.
To all those reading this blog, wherever you are in your Jewish journey and however you decide to celebrate, we at JOI hope you are able to find meaning and value in the redemptive nature of Yom Kippur.
Earlier this year, First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill offered two parenting workshops at a local Barnes & Noble. One of the workshops focused on making Passover meaningful for young children, while the other looked at bedtime and the early morning through the lens of traditional Jewish prayer.
The two programs were part of a recent initiative called â€śBuilding Our Jewish Homeâ€ť that was launched last year by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaismâ€™s New York Metropolitan Region. In a recent article in the (New York) Jewish Week, Rabbi Cara Rosenthal, the education coordinator for this two-year program, said the purpose of the program is â€śto reach people where they are and fill needs that are not being met.â€ť
Rosenthal explained that one of the benefits of having programming outside the synagogue is that there may be people who are â€śintrigued by Jewish topics, but not comfortable with them.â€ť This approach respects the various levels of affiliation among individuals and families in the area without pressuring them to join a congregation. Instead, the initiative helps encourage participation on a more personal level. She continued:
â€śA neutral location helps. These are bright and well-educated people who are used to feeling mastery. Theyâ€™re not feeling that kind of mastery in the Jewish setting. We also want to make people feel comfortable with their level of Jewish knowledge, not like theyâ€™re behind the eight ball.â€ť
Here at JOI, we couldnâ€™t agree more. In our work with organizations around the country, we often advise holding programming in secular neutral spaces like bookstores, grocery stores, and community fairs - what we call Public Space Judaism. People may feel uncomfortable in a Jewish setting, and holding the program in a different space helps remove a potential barrier to participation: location. By addressing this issue, First Hebrew Congregation of Peekskill is trying to â€ślower barriers to participation,â€ť one of the principles of our Big Tent Judaism Coalition. We look forward to hearing more about the programming that is a part of the â€śBuilding Our Jewish Homeâ€ť initiative, and we hope that many of the events continue to remove barriers that prevent individuals from participating fully in Jewish life.
There was a short but significant news item in the JTA today about a Rosh Hashanah service in the Baltimore area. They reported that â€śat least 5,000 people attended a free Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars serviceâ€ť this past weekend at Oregon Ridge Park, just north of the city. Hosted by the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, it was the third time the congregation held a public Rosh Hashanah service, and they are hoping to repeat the outcome of the last two years â€“ namely getting families to join the congregation and become enterprising members of the community.
While we would not encourage BHC to immediately pitch membership since we believe affiliation comes from engagement, we are excited to see how the congregation is trying to maximize the impact of the High Holidays to create lasting and meaningful relationships.
This demonstrates once again that following a few tried and true inclusive strategies â€“ such as lowering or eliminating cost and location barriers â€“ can help us attract unaffiliated members of the community and give us a wonderful opportunity for engagement. But it doesnâ€™t have to happen only around holidays. Hopefully the more we hear about people creating these opportunities for engagement, the more weâ€™ll hear about communities experimenting with a variety of innovative outreach techniques that encourage all underserved populations to do more Jewish activities and become more involved in Jewish life.
As synagogues prepare for the High Holidays, many face challenges that come from the large number of people who walk through their doors. They have to balance accessibility with security, space, and cost. But are those the only areas to look at?
Bnai Keshet, a congregation in Montclair, NJ, is addressing accessibility from another angle â€“ they are offering High Holiday services that are accessible to individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing impaired. According to an article in the New Jersey Jewish News, the Reconstructionist synagogue will use an open captioning system known as Communication Access Real-Time Translation (or CART) which translates (via a stenographer) the spoken word into text on a screen.
The assistant rabbi, Rabbi Darby Leigh, said the decision to offer services that are accessible to the deaf is about becoming a â€śwhole community.â€ť
â€śThe mainstream Jewish community is not whole, full or complete, if we do not give every Jew who wants to be here the ability to be here,â€ť he said. â€śWhile we say we want to have an open door, we do not have it if we are not making it possible for Jews of varying abilities and disabilities to comeâ€ť to services.
Rabbi Darbyâ€™s comments fit nicely within the principles of our Big Tent Judaism Coalition. Big Tent Judaism organizations, of which Bnai Keshet is a member, strive to remove any barriers that prevent individuals from participating fully in Jewish life. For some organizations, that could be offering open captioning. For others, that might be something different. What are you doing to help make sure your institution is open and accessible for all who approach?
Every year there is a big debate as to whether or not people should have to buy advance tickets to attend High Holiday services. Known as â€śpay to pray,â€ť this practice, while beneficial from a financial standpoint, can also be seen as a cost barrier for people who want to attend synagogue on what many consider the holiest days of the year.
JOI weighed in on the matter with an op-ed in the daily Metro newspaper, which is published in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. We believe people shouldnâ€™t have to pay to pray, especially this year when we have such high unemployment and a sour economy. Giving someone the opportunity to experience the High Holidays for free might encourage them to come back and even pay annual dues.
Through our Big Tent Judaism Coalition, we have heard from many places across the country that offer free High Holiday services. Temple Adat Shalom in Poway, CA has a number of services with free admission, and Congregation Shirat Hayam in Marshfield, MA is free for all who approach. You can also check out BTJâ€™s Directory of Welcoming Organizations to find synagogues and congregations in your area that might offer free or reduced cost tickets for the High Holidays.
Nationally, Chabad also offers an easy and accessible online search for free High Holiday services everywhere from â€śAlabama to Wisconsin.â€ť And as they did last year, Nashuva is working with JewishTVnetwork.com to stream its Yom Kippur services. Anyone with an internet connection will be able to participate. Last year the service drew an estimated audience of 200,000 from all over the world.
We urge you to contact your local Jewish federations to find out if there are any free High Holiday services being offered in your area, or if any congregations offer reduced cost tickets for non-members. No one should be shut out on these holidays. And if you know of free services in your area, we invite you to leave comments on this blog with information!
To read the article in its entirety, click the link below.
Grandparents Day is on Sunday, and here at JOI we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the important role grandparents can play in nurturing the Jewish identity of their grandchildren, including grandchildren that are being raised in intermarried/interpartnered households. Whether itâ€™s hosting a festive meal for the Jewish New Year, sending grandchildren current events about Israel, helping grandchildren build a Hanukkah menorah, or any other Jewish activity, we created an e-card to say â€śThank youâ€ť for all that you do to help strengthen the Jewish community.
Please feel free to pass the card along to any grandparents that you think might enjoy it. Happy Grandparents Day!
No matter how long someone has been disengaged from the Jewish community, itâ€™s never too late to reconnect. Whether itâ€™s something as small as attending a Friday night service or taking part in a major life-cycle event, Jews of all backgrounds and observance levels have an eternal opportunity to become a part of the community â€“ even if their methods are a little unorthodox.
A story in the J, San Franciscoâ€™s Jewish weekly, featured just that kind of reconnection with a very unique bâ€™nai mitzvah ceremony. A 75-year-old father and his 50-year-old daughter were both recently called to the Torah and jointly celebrated their spiritual coming-of-age. After following their own paths back to the Jewish community, both felt that â€śsomething was missing from their lives,â€ť so they decided that a bâ€™nai mitzvah was the best way to share their flourishing Jewish identity with the community and each other.
This amazing story is a reminder that connections or reconnections can happen at any time for those in the Jewish community. Synagogues and institutions need to make sure that if someone makes the effort to reach out to us, our doors will be open. This could be our only chance to connect this person to the values and meaning of the Jewish community, so we need to seize the opportunity. If properly welcomed and given the resources they are looking for, they have the potential to grow our community and add to the rich tapestry of the Jewish people.