“Open Seats” on the High Holidays

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah. As we have written about in the last couple of days, this is a holiday in which most synagogues will only allow you inside if you have paid in advance. The same goes for Yom Kippur, which begins in 10 days. Hopefully everyone, especially the unaffiliated or unengaged, who wants to go to synagogue to celebrate, has found a place to welcome them in. While we have already blogged about where to pray for free during the High Holidays (in both New York and nationwide), we would like to mention a few more options for people who still might be looking.

In the New York area, thirteen Reconstructionist synagogues (four in Westchester, nine in the metropolitan area) have set aside seats for “non-members who wish to attend High Holiday services.” They are calling this the “Open Seats” campaign. Their goal, according to an article on, is to open the holidays “to Jewish participation and inclusion, a strong theme in Reconstructionist synagogues.” The article continues:

“The Reconstructionist movement, which strives to make Jewish tradition, theology, and spirituality relevant in modern times, has been on the forefront of Jewish outreach since its inception,” said Hannah Greenstein, outreach coordinator for the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation of Metropolitan NY/NJ. “Its spirit and longtime practice of inclusion has made Reconstructionist Judaism an appealing home for interfaith and multiracial families and gay and lesbian Jews,” she added.”

JOI has been working with the Reconstructionist movement in recent years. Our associate executive director Paul Golin has worked a marketing consultant, playing a large part in their strategic outreach approach. We both believe Judaism should be open for anyone who chooses to affiliate, and it’s great to see these Reconstructionist synagogues walking the walk on the Holiest days of the year. Shana Tovah (Happy New Year)!


  1. All non-Orthodox movements should concentrate less on being concerned about modern times and be more focused on future times.

    There was a religious sect called the ‘Shakers’ (a Quaker offshoot). They didn’t believe in procreating but did strongly believe in gaining new members by what you would call ‘outreach’

    Today there are 4 Shakers left according to Wikipedia. From your article the reconstructionists seem to be following the same strategy.

    Comment by Dave — October 1, 2008 @ 6:10 pm

  2. Dave, that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Where in the article does it say that Reconstructionism doesn’t believe in procreation? Of course Reconstructionism believes in procreation, and therefore they are not “following the same strategy” as the Shakers.

    The comparison of American Jewry (liberal or Orthodox) to extinct religions is a tired ploy that wasn’t true 150 years ago when it began and still won’t be true long after you and I are gone. The fact that Reconstructionism as a movement not only exists but is growing PROVES the continued vibrancy of liberal Judaism! Their rabbinic college opened only 40 years ago. Secular Humanistic Judaism and the Renewal movement are even newer. Who knows what new streams will emerge in the 21st Century.

    Population growth may be a concern, but the contention that Jews in the non-Orthodox movements should spend their time worrying about extinction is simply alarmist and out of touch with reality.

    Comment by Paul Golin — October 1, 2008 @ 11:21 pm

  3. I think it’s a great idea…on paper. In our Conservative schul, the First day RH- 11:30- 1 pM - standing room only. How do you justify to dues paying members that there are no seats for them, but non-members who got there early have seats? How do you keep the senior members who no longer have kids in Hebrew school from dropping out knowing they can still come for free ( as if gthey were members ). I understand that they should belong to support the Jewish community etc., but in reality ( at least in the suburbs of NJ ) that is not the case.
    L’Shana Tova


    Comment by Ell — October 3, 2008 @ 10:32 am

  4. 1/ Is Reconstructionism pro-procreation? They support gay rights and abortion rights-definitely not pro-natalist positions.

    2/ Reconstructionism is growing? The article itself says there are available seats on High Holy Days. Not very good proof of ‘growing’.

    As to the ‘vibrancy’ of liberal Judaism, of all municipalities in the US, 5000 pop. or more, Kiryas Yoel has the lowest median age-15.

    Can you name a ‘vibrant’ liberal Jewish congregation anywhere in America with a median age of 15?

    Maybe by ‘vibrant’ you meant active seniors?

    Comment by Dave — October 5, 2008 @ 8:57 am

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