Organizations across the spectrum of Jewish life in the Greater Washington and Baltimore area are holding low-cost or even free events and services, aiming to ensure that all Jews have an appropriate way to celebrate the upcoming High Holiday season.
These events include traditional and communal holiday dinners, outdoor services, and even a Yoga-and-Torah experience at the National Arboretum organized by Sixth and I, taking place Tuesday, September 11.
“We have a broad spectrum of community members here in DC,” said Sixth & I Historic Synagogue’s Religious Programming Associate Annie Simon. “We do our best to meet people where they are at.”
Preparation and Selichot
Like every year, classes and Selichot services will be offered by many synagogues in preparation for the High Holidays. This year, the first night of Selichot begins after nightfall on Saturday, Sept. 1.
While Selichot begins at midnight, some communities will gather prior to the beginning of the service. Orthodox synagogue Ohev Sholom, located in the Shepherd Park neighborhood in Washington, D.C., for example, will hold a tisch (a joyous singing celebration) featuring divrei Torah (speeches on Torah subjects) beginning at 10 p.m.
Several synagogues will be holding classes on different themes in the weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah. Offered by Sixth & I, Adas Israel in DC, Kesher Israel in DC, and others, the classes range in prices up to $40.
Rabbi Hyim Shafner of Kesher Israel, who is teaching a class on repentance and forgiveness in Jewish thought, said he believes these classes can help community members connect to the spirit of the holidays and empower them to dig deeper.
“Our goal is to make the High Holidays as inspiring as we can for people. Sometimes people walk into the High Holidays without any preparation,” said Shafner. “Just like in a relationship, you can’t just walk in and expect it to be powerful and close. It’s the same with G-d — it takes preparation.”
The Big Day(s)
While the cost of seats and tickets to High Holiday services can be quite high, several organizations are offering less taxing alternatives.
On Monday, Sept. 10, both Ohev Sholom and American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad) of Washington, D.C., will be holding communal Rosh Hashanah dinners for the second night of Rosh Hashanah. The cost is $18 for adults and $12 for children at Ohev Sholom, and $36 per adult, $25 per child at Chabad. Moishe House of Northern Virginia will host their second annual potluck-style dinner that night.
Among the many Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur events, GatherDC will be hosting its second annual alternative Yom Kippur experience. According to the organization, the event is aimed at “post-college and pre-family, 20s and 30s who are Jewish or Jew-curious,” with tickets priced at $18.
At the same time, many organizations provide special prices for young professionals and members in need of financial assistance. Rabbi Shafner said that both he and others have a responsibility to ensure that financial hardship doesn’t preclude anyone from participating in the spirit of the High Holidays.
“There’s some charge for seats, but we’re happy to work with people,” he said. “Our general policy is that the financial side should never hold anyone back from being part of the community.”
In addition, several organizations including GatherDC and the Edlavitch DCJCC have set up ticket exchange services in an effort to help community members find the services and events that fit their spiritual and economic needs.
Spirit of the Holidays
Rabbi Shira Stutman of Sixth & I said that this period is a good time for introspection.
“The High Holidays provide us with an opportunity to look inward and think about goals and aspirations for the year ahead,” she said. “In 5779, we’re inviting the Sixth & I community to start a resolution for themselves and their families, whether that’s being more compassionate with others, working toward justice, or simply doing something that’s outside their comfort zone.”
Rabbi Shafner said that he sees the holidays as an opportunity for Jews to come together.
“On the holidays, all Jews are like one family before G-d,” he added. “We remember the Temple in Jerusalem and we all come together to pray on the holidays. It’s a good time for us to remember as Jews that we are responsible for one another.”
By Anis Modi
Anis Modi is a staff reporter for Kol HaBirah. Born and raised in Israel, he currently writes for several DC-based publications while pursuing his master’s degree at American University.