Congregations serve up a menu of options — some free — this High Holiday season
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High HolidaysServices available both in and out synagogue walls

Congregations serve up a menu of options — some free — this High Holiday season

Synagogues hope to offer service alternatives for the entire community.

Chabad of Greenfield is holding High Holy Day services at a non-traditional location--an old PNC bank. Photo by David Rullo
Chabad of Greenfield is holding High Holy Day services at a non-traditional location--an old PNC bank. Photo by David Rullo

“Tickets, please.”

It’s a familiar refrain heard in synagogues across the globe as congregations welcome members for High Holiday services.

An interesting thing has happened on the way to shul, though. Over the last several years, congregations have attempted to reach members and nonmembers alike through alternative services and non-traditional experiences outside their building’s walls.

Temple Emanuel of South Hills found success more than half a decade ago with its Tashlich and Tacos program. The experience includes a traditional Tashlich service at Canonsburg Lake followed by a meal at nearby Mad Mex.

While the Tashlich service is free and open to anyone who wishes to attend, the meal at Mad Max has reached capacity and is closed.

Leslie Hoffman, Temple Emanuel’s executive director, said the Reform congregation launched the program as a way to increase visibility of the Tashlich service and create an engaging, social High Holiday event. It has since become one of the most popular parts of the congregation’s regular holiday offerings.

Nearby Conservative synagogue Beth El Congregation of the South Hills has a host of activities free and open to the public that don’t require tickets.

On Sept. 24, those who find spirituality in nature can share the fresh air with Beth El. The congregation will mark the end of Shabbat with a pre-holiday candlelight hike and Havdalah at Peters Lake. If your legs haven’t had enough, the congregation is hosting an “easy hike” at Bird Park two days later complete with a Tashlich service and ice cream.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Beth El hits cyberspace with a virtual contemplative walk. The nature experience is completed with an outdoor reflective service on Yom Kippur.

Realizing that braving the autumn weather might not fit like a comfortable pair of shoes for everyone,Beth El also has programmed several musical experiences including both Rhythm and Renewal and Rockin’ Rosh Hashanah on Sept 26. Jewish community members are also welcome to take in Yom Kippur Musical Meditations on Oct. 5.

Beth El will conclude its nontraditional offerings with a virtual Yom Kippur afternoon discussion through the lens of Jewish ethics, according to Chris Benton, its executive director.

“They’re nice ways for people to experience Beth El when they might be new to the area or interested in belonging to a congregation or experiencing Jewish community,” Benton said. “I think we do community really well. It’s a nice opportunity for people to get a taste of that for the holidays.”

Temple Sinai Executive Director Drew Barkley said parts of the Squirrel Hill Reform congregation’s services were open to the public before he got to the city six years ago.

Community members can participate in two “tot services” on Erev Rosh Hashanah and Erev Yom Kippur free of charge, as well as the regular Erev Rosh Hashanah service and afternoon Yom Kippur service.

Additionally, nonmembers can participate in Sukkot and Rosh Hashanah second-day services.

“For security purposes, everyone needs to be ticketed before they come. People who aren’t members should reach out so we can register them and give them a ‘community ticket.’ What we don’t want, again for security purposes, is people just showing up,” Barkley said. “The only exceptions are college students at Pitt, CMU, Chatham, Duquesne or wherever. Students with a student ID don’t have to have tickets and don’t have to call us in advance.”

The hope, Barkley said, is that those attending High Holiday services at Temple Sinai will feel at home and want to return.
“Whatever their journey is,” he said, “we hope we can be a part of that.”

At New Light Congregation, community members can take advantage of the congregation’s “Seat Holder” policy adopted several years ago.

“These are people who are not members of the congregation who attend High Holiday services with us,” the congregation’s co-president, Stephen Cohen, said. “They’re on our mailing list, but they chose not to be a formal member. We ask for a donation, and most of them do, but we don’t badger them. They send us a check. We’re very grateful if they just attend services and enjoy them in a meaningful way.”

Everyone must preregister for services at New Light, which is located at Beth Shalom Congregation.

“We live in a different world of security now,” Cohen said, “and with COVID, we just need to make sure that everything is copacetic.”

Both Chabad Jewish Center of Monroeville and Chabad of Greenfield have taken their services on the road, celebrating in nontraditional spaces.

Rabbi Mendy Shapiro of Monroeville said High Holiday services will be outdoors in a tent and do not require tickets. There are no fees, but reservations are appreciated.

He began holding services in the tent several years ago out of necessity, as the number of attendees outgrew the space in the Chabad Jewish Center of Monroeville, he said.

“We call it the High Holiday Tent at Chabad of Monroeville,” he said, “It offers us more space in a beautiful setting.”

As an added benefit, the tent offers anyone who might still have any lingering COVID concerns an added measure since services are outside, he said.

There is no charge, he noted, for any service or luncheon, including break-fast following Yom Kippur services. The one exception is a Rosh Hashanah dinner, which has a fee and requires an advance RSVP.

Rabbi Yitzchak Goldwasser of Chabad of Greenfield also needed a location to accommodate his growing list of High Holiday attendees. Luckily, he didn’t have to look far.

“I was sitting in my office, and I was thinking, ‘Where are we going to do this?’ Two doors down is a former PNC bank with a big for lease sign. I called them up,” he said, “and they were happy to make arrangements for the month.”

The rabbi has spent the first part of the month cleaning the location and setting up tables and chairs. He’ll hold Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services there. He’s asking families to preregister so he has an idea of how many people will be attending, but registration isn’t required.

All are welcome to attend services, he said, which will vary slightly from traditional Rosh Hashanah services.

“We’re doing an afternoon service. It will be about an hour and half, mainly for families with children that find it difficult to participate in full services,” he said. “It will be at 2 p.m., and they’ll get a piece of everything. We’re going to blow the shofar, some selected prayers, the main prayers and a kiddish.”

Goldwasser also will blow the shofar at Summerset at Frick again this year on Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. In addition, he plans on visiting various senior living facilities and apartment buildings. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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