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Holy Days For The Unaffiliated

Holy Days For The Unaffiliated

A Manhattan rabbi who is organizing, for the first time, High Holy Days worship services this year in her neighborhood, has a message for New York City’s active, identified, affiliated Jews: Stay where you are.
Rabbi Judith Hauptman, a professor of Talmud at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America for 30 years, has rented space in Greenwich Village’s First Presbyterian Church (Fifth Avenue and West 12th Street), lined up volunteer prayer leaders and shofar blowers, and set up a Web site ( for services to be held the first day of Rosh HaShanah (9 a.m.-noon, followed by a kosher meal) and the Kol Nidrei night of Yom Kippur (6-8 p.m.). The services are free, no pre-registration required and no dress code. They are not affiliated with any Jewish organization. They will be “traditional,” but egalitarian, Rabbi Hauptman says.
And they are only, in the words of the Web site, for “searching” members of the Jewish community who have nowhere else to go for the holidays.
“If you have a synagogue where you can go,” she says, “stay away.”
The rabbi, whose ordination is from the nondenominational Academy for Jewish Religion, thought of the High Holy Days services last year when she heard of young Jews, not members of a congregation, who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the high fees that many synagogues charge for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur tickets. “We have lots of fine, young people who don’t make arrangements” to attend High Holy Days services, she says.
“A light went off in my head,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m going to do the minyan.’ ”
“I’m a ‘Shabbat rabbi,’ ” leading services at the Cabrini Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in the East Village. “I’m becoming a High Holy Days rabbi.”
In New York there are an untold number of “somewhat alienated people in their 20s and 30s,” young singles and couples, secular Israelis, émigrés from the former Soviet Union, and intermarried families, Rabbi Hauptman says. That is whom she’s trying to reach, through posters in Hebrew and notices in neighborhood newspapers.
Rabbi Hauptman says she wants to “build a community” here, bringing alienated Jews back into the Jewish fold, maybe offering monthly Shabbat programs or a Passover seder.
She has raised $8,000, including a grant from UJA-Federation, for rent (services will take place in the church’s social hall, “where there are absolutely no religious symbols”), security, and High Holy Days prayer books.
The hall holds 200 people. Those interested can register at the minyan’s Web site after Sept. 1 to be guaranteed a place.
Rabbi Hauptman has designed a participatory service, which will include singing and her explanations of the holiday liturgy. She named the nascent congregation for her late mother, who died in 1956 on the eve of Yom Kippur.
Rabbi Hauptman has heard mixed reactions. “The people who are most positive,” she says, “are people who have children in this age group,” the 20s and 30s.
And she’s heard, “through the grapevine,” that members of some congregations feel that her free project will “cut into their income.”
Rabbi Laurence Sebert, spiritual leader of her congregation, the Town and VillageSynagogue, which offers its own free yom tov services for the unaffiliated and is loaning Rabbi Hauptman a Torah scroll, supports her venture, she says. Rabbi Hauptman adds, “He says, ‘There are plenty of Jews to go around.’ ”

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