The High Holidays: Moving People from “See You Next Year” to “See You All Year”

The High Holidays mean different things to different people. For some, attending services is a social gathering – a way to catch up with friends you may only see at High Holiday services. For others, it is simply an obligation – the one “Jewish” thing they may do all year. And for others still, it may have deeper meaning – starting a new year with a clean slate on a deeply spiritual level. Across the country, this last group is often the smallest, causing synagogue professionals and volunteers to scratch their heads and wonder how to create a deeper and more lasting relationship with more of their community. They seek to make coming to synagogue a more frequent and meaningful experience, and to find ways to take “three-day-a-year” Jews, and help them become “all-year” Jews.

Last night, SYNERGY: UJA-Federation and Synagogues Together, hosted JOI executive director Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, associate executive director Paul Golin, and senior director of training Eva Stern for a seminar entitled “High Holidays: How to Move Three-Day-a-Year Jews from ‘See You Next Year’ to ‘See You All Year.’” Dozens of Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders from the Greater New York area attended in person or via web conference. The evening’s focus was centered on how to not only welcome newcomers during the High Holidays, but also to further engage current members—those who are affiliated, but are not active—and demonstrate the genuine meaning and value that engagement in their communities can provide.

Kerry began the evening discussing the current state of synagogue affiliation and engagement, highlighting that the model many synagogues currently follow needs some tweaking. The mentality that a synagogue’s members are there to support the synagogue needs to be turned around, so that the synagogue is there to support its members. Eva continued the conversation by providing concrete techniques to make the High Holidays not only more welcoming, but more fruitful in terms of future engagement. One suggestion was to look at the High Holiday services experience through the eyes of a newcomer. Many of us have attended the same synagogue for years, and know where to enter, where to sit, etc. But what if we were new? Would we know where to go, and would there be someone to ask? Answering these questions before the High Holidays could mean higher attendance, and more engagement down the line. Paul concluded the presentation by discussing the messaging communities transmit about the benefits in greater Jewish engagement.

The seminar was the beginning of a great conversation, with attendees brainstorming about new ways to reach out, welcome, and engage individuals and families in their respective Jewish communities during the High Holidays and lasting throughout the year.

If you are a High Holiday volunteer, ticket collector, usher, or lay leader, we invite you to join the conversation, by attending our webinar “Making the Most of the High Holidays”, on Wednesday, September 14th at 2 PM EST. For more information and for details on how to register, click here.

1 Comment

  1. Shalom All,

    That which used to be the sole provenance of synagogue membership is available online or ala carte for free or for no more than fraction of the price of a typical membership in a non Orthodox synagogue. So indeed, why be a member of a synagogue?

    Other than an accident of birth, anti anti Semitism, and political liberalism with a sprinkling of Jewish holidays, there is no agreed upon definition of non Orthodox Judaism and this is the fundamental problem for its primary delivery system, the synagogue as well as other “Jewish” organizations. Non orthodox Judaisms and their synagogues need to answer three questions:

    1. Why be Jewish? 2. Why do Jewish? and 3. Why Judaism? And I can think of no better place to begin this journey than at upcoming High Holiday Worship services. Without clear, crisp, concise and compelling answers to these questions more and more Jews will be voting with their feet that non Orthodox Judaisms and their synagogues are irrelevant if not meaningless.

    The difficulty facing most “Jewish” organizations (other than synagogues and not JOI) among other things is the adjective “Jewish.” Quite simply, what makes them “Jewish” and why is the adjective “Jewish” necessary in our dayy?

    Other similar questions that arise are: What’s the difference between:

    1. a Jewish conversation and a conversation among Jews?
    2. Jewish music, art or writing and the music, art or writing of Jews?
    3. Jewish ideas, positions, thoughts and the ideas, positions or thoughts held by Jews?
    4. “The Jewish community” (which does not even exist in any meaningful sense of the word community) and a group of Jews? And the question that really sums this up is,
    5. Beyond an accident of birth, what/who is a Jew?

    Quite simply that a Jew does or says something does not necessarily confer Jewish status on that which was done or said. Likewise, a majority of Jews in a group does not necessarily confer Jewish status on that group. Defining Jewishness, or Jewish status is the elusive common denominator in all these questions. And before one can do that one must redefine a meaningful, relevant passion producing non orthodox Judaism as Jewishness and Jewish status flow from Judaism NOT vice versa. The further away from the immigrant experience we get, the more irrelevant for most Jews, ethno-cultural Jewish markers become. This reality dooms peoplehood definitions of Judaism.

    The High Holidays are coming and they present a singular opportunity to reach more Jews in the pews than at any other time. And sadly, to paraphrase Abba Eban, the vast majority of non Orthodox synagogues and their leaders will miss yet another opportunity to miss and opportunity to create a High holiday experience that touches the hearts and minds of the congregation in such a way as to make them want to come back during the rest of the Jewish year. Instead of the “obligatory” Israel sermon or the one about being/becoming more active in synagogue life, how about vision casting a meaningful contemporary non Orthodox Judaism? An over-arching theme for the coming year could be: “From consumerism to community; envisioning and creating a meaningful and relevant non Orthodox Judaism.” It could/would be a great start.

    “…V’ha’aretz hay’ta tohu vavohu v’hoshech ‘al p’nei t’hom” in Breishit 1:2, as well as Solomon’s words in Mishlei 29:18 “B’ein hazon yipara’ ‘am in the absence of vision, people will become unrestrained,” unfortunately describe the status quo. Whatever was, is broken beyond repair; beyond even the power of Divine Tsimtsum.

    Where are the leaders who have inhaled “Ru’ah Ha’Elohim,” who will then exhale the inspiration of a new paradigm? They’re most certainly found in successful megachurches around the country (the evidence is overwhelming). All there seems to be for non orthodox Judaism and its institutions is the insanity of doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. Qol d’mamah daqah of God is asking/shouting (a paradox to be sure) of all of us,”Ayeka? Where the blazes are you?” Can any one hear it? Is anyone even listening?

    An answer can be found in we humans picking up some of the broken shards of that which remains of the status quo and creating a “heart thumping and God honoring” new Mosaic (pun intended).

    Jordan Goodman
    Wheeling, IL

    Comment by Jordan Goodman — September 10, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

Leave a comment



Click Here!