High Holiday Service Accessibility

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 – 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 “whole community.”

“The 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,” he said. “While 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 come” to services.

Rabbi Darby’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?

If you are interested in learning more about how you can open your doors, join the big tent coalition by signing up or contacting Paul Golin at

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