For members of a synagogue, the preparation for the High Holy Days season starts weeks, if not months before Rosh HaShanah.
In some congregations, there are the daily selichot prayers that are recited during the month of Elul that precedes Tishrei, and additions to the daily worship services. There is increased giving of tzedakah and the performance of good deeds. For some, a new machzor; for others, a new outfit.
For rabbis, sermons to write.
For cantors and choirs, melodies to rehearse. For the synagogue itself, there’s also a period of preparation.
Many congregants, some of whom may not have set foot inside since the previous Yom Kippur, will see a building that’s newly ready for yom tov. Floors waxed, pews cleaned. Maybe a new curtain on the arc, usually white to symbolize the High Holy Days’ spiritual purity. At the Forest Hills Jewish Center, below, a sign outside invites people to “Come Home For the Holidays.”
At Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, the cleaning included the front steps, the railing shined to gleam in the late summer sun.
Inside the building, the lead-up to Rosh HaShanah began in June. A review of the sound system and lights, maintenance of the woodwork, touch-ups of paint jobs and stenciling.
“It means a great deal to all of us to walk into a building that is clearly cared for, and in which we don’t have to worry about mechanical or other failures,” says Rabbi Peter Rubinstein. “The point is that we want the building to physically represent the excellence we expect from ourselves in everything we do.”