Some More High Holy Days Innovations

Some More High Holy Days Innovations

New spiritual practices for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur include drama, group misheberachs and nature hikes.

The spiritual innovations that congregations and other Jewish organizations around the country have made part of their religious services on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur include the following:

  • As part of the 10Q project of Reboot, the New York-based cultural organization, participants can answer online questions connected to the spiritual themes of the holidays; the answers, kept in a secure online vault, are emailed back to the participants a year later to give respondents a chance to see how they have “grown”.
  • At Temple Israel/Congregation Heichal Yisrael in Cliffside Park, N.J., Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer introduces wordless niggun melodies before many of the prayers, to put worshippers in a proper mood, and explains many of the prayers. Before the Al Chet prayer on Yom Kippur, he explains the meaning of many of the individual At Chet items
  • Ikar, a “progressive, egalitarian Jewish community” in Los Angeles, asks people to email in personal stories of forgiveness that are read in the synagogue during Rosh HaShanah services. Ohel Ayalah, a congregation that offers free, walk-in High Holy Days services and Passover seders and frequent Shabbat programs at various New York sites, reads in English (instead of the usual Hebrew) the first day Rosh HaShanah haftarah about barren Hannah’s prayers in the Torah, and invites everyone to calls out the sounds for the shofar blowing. “It makes them feel more connected,” says Rabbi Judith Hauptman, professor of Talmud and rabbinic culture at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who founded Ohel Ayalah.
  • Many contemporary congregants, Rabbi Engelmayer says, don’t understand the significance of many traditional Machzor prayers “because the words don’t speak to them. The words were written by other people in other times and other circumstances.”
  • The Bible Players, a two-man spiritual acting-and-improv troupe, leads “scripted imrov” on topics like repentance and the shofar for middle school-age students at synagogues each year, says Andrew Davies, executive director. The “Torah comedy” on serious yom tov themes “allows them to make it their own,” he says. teshuvah .
  • At Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn, lay members of the synagogue often give the High Holy Days sermons and divrei Torah.
  • Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann has instituted several innovations at Kol Tzedek, a Reconstructionist congregation in West Philadelphia. Among them: a community-building tashlich picnic at a nearby public garden on the second day of Rosh HaShanah, , an ”Experiential Yom Kippur Mincha” in which congregants act out themes connected with the Book of Jonah, and a separate Yizkor service on Yom Kippur, before mincha, in which worshipers are invited to discuss loved ones who have died.
  • At Congregation Bet Shalom in Tucson, members participate before the High Holy Days in a creative writing course during which they write short poems or essays on the meaning of the holidays that they read for the congregation during the Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur services.
  • At Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Md., the shofar service is moved to the beginning part of the Rosh HaShanah morning service, instead of the end of the Torah service later in the day. And a “large crew” of shofar blowers lines the aisles of the high school auditorium where the services take place, responding to the shofar calls from the bimah, “to break down the psychic distance inherent in a religious service,” says Hazzan Rachel Anne Hersh.
  • Adat Shalom invites worshipers who have lost a loved one in the previous year to stand and name that individual on the night of Rosh HaShanah, followed by a naming of babies born in the last 12 months.
  • Rabbi Jamie Korngold’s “Adventure Rabbi” program in Colorado includes a hike around a lake to the site of Rosh HaShanah services, “to reflect on the nature of change and notice what the wilderness can teach us about dealing with change,” the rabbi says.
  • On the Union for Reform Judaism website, one congregant describes how all grandparents at High Holy Days services are invited to stand when the MiSheberach blessing is recited for one grandparent who had received an aliyah. Similarly, members of other groups in the synagogue, like bikur cholim volunteers or tutors are invited to stand for a group blessing.

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