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Shuls, Zooms and Nightclubs: Where to Do High Holiday Services in New York City in 2021
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Shuls, Zooms and Nightclubs: Where to Do High Holiday Services in New York City in 2021

Our second annual (gulp) guide to safe and spiritual celebrations.

Rabbi Steven Blane will lead the Sim Shalom Jewish Universalist Online Synagogue's High Holidays services at the Bitter End jazz club. (William Alatriste)
Rabbi Steven Blane will lead the Sim Shalom Jewish Universalist Online Synagogue's High Holidays services at the Bitter End jazz club. (William Alatriste)

(This guide is in formation. If you have a synagogue or service to add, please email information to editor@jewishweek.org.)

No one expected a guide to virtual High Holiday services to become an annual thing. Last year, synagogues and other institutions had little choice but to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur remotely, in small “backyard” (or outdoor) minyans or under strict occupancy guidelines.

Now, with the surge of the COVID-19 Delta variant, rabbis and lay leaders are back to planning services that mark the holidays in meaningful ways while keeping congregants safe. Most synagogues and alternative institutions in New York are planning to have at least some in-person options; most are limited to their members, but we list some of the more welcoming and interesting options below. 

And while few if any Orthodox synagogues will be using the technology that allows services to be streamed live, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and independent communities will once again offer streaming services via Zoom, YouTube, Facebook and other platforms.

All of these institutions have been working all summer to make their services, however and wherever they are held, authentic, powerful, uplifting — and safe — spiritual experiences.

Join in with local synagogues from home.

(Streaming services are free unless otherwise indicated.)  

B’nai Jeshurun (independent) will publicly livestream, at no cost, all prayer services, including its traditional family, young family and mindfulness services, to all who would like to join. Sign up to receive a service schedule, BJ’s supplemental mahzor, as well as a downloadable version of “Find Your Way Home: A Reflective Journal for Elul.”

Park Avenue Synagogue (Conservative) will have in-person services and a live stream open to anyone with internet access. The main community service can be streamed on the synagogue website. You can find the full schedule here.  

Stephen Wise Free Synagogue (Reform) is livestreaming services here. All of its virtual offerings are listed in the schedule here

Temple Emanu-El (Reform) will offer a livestreaming experience through its website, Facebook and YouTube pages.  Additional in-person worship services, for members and their guests, will be held in Central Park at SummerStage on Yom Kippur morning and afternoon.

Sutton Place Synagogue (Conservative) is streaming services. Register here for virtual access.

Central Synagogue (Reform) will livestream its services. Go here for the full schedule.

Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which welcomes gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, queer and straight individuals and families, will broadcast services from its West 30th Street home. Registration is required. The link and password will be sent prior to services.

Lab/Shul (“artist-driven, everybody-friendly, God-optional”) will be live streaming from City Winery Hudson Valley with a small, in-person communal gathering. Watch on their Facebook page or YouTube channel.

Bet Am Shalom (Reconstructionist) in White Plains will have video streaming available for all services; registration is required for non-members.

SAJ-Judaism That Stands for All (Reconstructionist) will be holding “multi-access” services, with some online and some in person. Services will be in a Zoom room (not webinar) format, enabling participants to see and chat with each other, and to join in congregational participation moments. Register here.

Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale will offer live stream access to its services. It also has a series of High Holiday instructional videos and resources on its Elul Channel.

East End Temple (Reform) is sharing its services and High Holy Days programs online with friends, family and prospective members. Non-members must register for online streaming access.

The Community Synagogue (Reform) in Port Washington will be offering live streaming for those who cannot or do not feel comfortable attending in-person. Click here for the stream.  

Metropolitan Synagogue of Murray Hill (Reform) services will take place only on Zoom and are open to members and friends of the community. Register for each service separately here.

Larchmont Temple (Reform) will mark Erev Rosh Hashanah with an evening of song and community at Constitution Park, Sept. 6 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Bring your own picnic supper; ice cream and nosh are on them.

Or skip the synagogues entirely. 

One exciting aspect of Jewish life in New York City is that there are pop-up efforts to offer new experiences all the time. That’s true even during a pandemic. We’ve rounded up a few of the non-synagogue options for High Holiday worship here.

A musical service in a Brooklyn church: Rabbi Zach Fredman, who led the New Shul in the West Village until 2020, is launching a new enterprise called the Temenos Center for Art and Spirit. Its first major events will be High Holiday services held in Manhattan and Brooklyn, including Yom Kippur services in a historic Unitarian church in Brooklyn Heights. Expect ethereal music from Fredman’s band, the Epichorus, as well as a heavy, and heady, dose of spiritual content, as Temenos promises “a home for ritual and creativity that honors the wild humanity of all people.” Tickets, which are required along with proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test, are available at a variety of price points.

A jazz service in a nightclub: Rabbi Steven Blane worked in synagogues for years, but over time he became disillusioned with traditional structures of American Jewish life. Now, he leads the Sim Shalom Jewish Universalist Online Synagogue, which bills itself as “liberal in thought and traditional in liturgy.” Backed by a jazz quintet, Blane will be leading services at the Bitter End, the Greenwich Village nightclub, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. For Kol Nidre and a prefast meal, the group will be meeting at Silvana, an Israeli restaurant in Harlem. Tickets range in price and are required for all services including on Zoom; the city’s vaccination rules for nightclubs and restaurants will be observed.

A cantorial reunion in a bowling alley: Starting a decade ago, a musician named Jeremiah Lockwood, the grandson of a noted Chicago cantor, began performing during High Holidays services held by the group Because Jewish. After a hiatus, Lockwood and his band, the Sway Machinery, are getting back together this year for services that will be streamed on Fans.com as well as accessible in person during Rosh Hashanah only, at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl. Rabbi Daniel Brenner will serve the event’s spiritual leader; on Yom Kippur, the Yiddish singer Anthony Russell will join the festivities. In-person tickets range from $20 to $50 per service.

An outdoor singalong in Brooklyn: Shir Hamaalot is an independent minyan that, before the pandemic, met regularly in person in Brooklyn for traditional, egalitarian services rich in communal singing. In recent months, the minyan has held COVID-safe outdoor services several times, and it’s planning in-person High Holidays services, too — potentially the only all-outdoor, not-on-Zoom-too non-Orthodox services in the area. Space is limited, so advance signup is required, and the group is asking anyone who attends to donate $18 — and help lead services if possible, too.

A 20s + 30s High Holidays experience: Together with B’nai Jeshurun, the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan will welcome the New Year through song, prayer, social gatherings and mindfulness, including an inaugural 20s + 30s High Holidays experience offered in person. The JCC is also offering in-person (with limited seating, at JCC Harlem) and livestreamed services for the High Holidays this year. For more info and to register, click here.

A family service on the roof: Rebecca Schoffer, director of Jewish Family Engagement at the 92nd Street Y, will lead in-person family services on the Y’s Penthouse Rooftop. The 92Y is also offering online services free of charge this year, led by Rabbi Elka Abrahamson and cantorial soloist Elana Arian.

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