(JTA) — The global pandemic has upended traditional High Holiday services this year, closing synagogues or severely limiting attendance for the most-attended services of the year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s also given rise to countless online services, collaborations and innovations that will allow Jews around the world to have diverse, robust holiday experiences online.
The options can be overwhelming. But we’ve collected a non-exhaustive list of High Holidays offerings, arranged by the kind of experience you’re seeking.
Most of these offerings are free, but a few require a small payment. To prevent unwanted intruders, many require preregistration. So don’t wait until after Rosh Hashanah has begun Friday evening to check out the options — but know there are plenty available if you do.
If you want to see your friends: Most non-Orthodox synagogues are holding online services, and if you register in advance, you may be able to see your fellow congregants while you pray. To stay secure and also to shore up finances at a precarious moment, many are requiring preregistration and payment. But if you plan ahead, you should be able to drop in on most communities.
If you’re looking for something short and sweet: Pretty much all synagogues are shortening the typically long services, either to head off Zoom fatigue during online services or limit virus exposure during in-person ones. Our partners at My Jewish Learning are offering a one-hour, greatest-hits speed service on Rosh Hashanah morning (and again on Yom Kippur). Register here to get the Zoom link. A bonus: If you’ve been tuning into our weekly quiz show, you’ll recognize the rabbi.
If you realize on Saturday morning that you want the traditional synagogue experience: Forget to sign up in advance for your local or favorite synagogue’s online services? My Jewish Learning has you covered with a list of no-cost, no-registration-required streaming services, in every U.S. time zone, including many of the biggest Reform and Conservative synagogues in the country.
Chairs are set up for a socially distanced service at Congregation Ohr Hatorah in Atlanta. (Courtesy of Rabbi Adam Starr)
If you’ve got small kids at home: Even synagogues that are holding small-scale, socially distanced services are not offering the children’s services that are typical on the holidays. But there are plenty of singalongs to drop in on online. Our partners at Kveller have rounded up 10 services that are appropriate for toddlers and preschoolers, including Kveller’s own erev Rosh Hashanah singalong with Alicia Jo Rabins Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET.
If you want a celebrity-studded experience: The (calendar) year that gave us “Saturday Night Seder” is also bringing celebrities to the virtual High Holidays bimah. Hillel and Reboot’s Higher Holidays (free; registration required) online spectacular features both a service and a series of talks on Rosh Hashanah from folks including master baker Jake Cohen and former Obama speechwriter Sarah Hurwitz. On Yom Kippur, the celebrity factor ramps up even more, with Kol Nidre performed by Broadway star Adam Kantor and a service featuring the Milk Carton Kids to end the holiday. JewBelong, a group that aims to engage people who aren’t connected to Jewish institutions, has produced a star-studded show that will be available on demand after its premiere at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The participants include Sen. Cory Booker, singer Lisa Loeb and the Sklar Brothers comedy duo.
If you want to reflect with cutting-edge communities: The Jewish Emergent Network is a group of seven nondenominational communities that work together, including Romemu in New York City, the Kitchen in San Francisco, Mishkan in Chicago and more. It’s holding a program at 2 p.m. on Yom Kippur exploring themes of forgiveness, drawing on the people and strengths of each community. The individual communities are holding their own services, too: Lab/Shul in New York City, for example, is making a wide slate of programs and prayer available online to anyone who registers in advance, while IKAR in Los Angeles will be broadcasting on Facebook Live.
The Rosh Hashanah custom of dipping apples in honey got its start among Ashkenazi Jews. (Liron Almog/Flash90)
If you don’t Zoom on holidays but still want an online experience: Orthodox Jews do not use technology on holidays, thus Orthodox synagogues are not holding online services. (Many are meeting in person, with precautions.) But a few, understanding that many people may prefer to pray at home instead of communally, have put some Rosh Hashanah content online for folks to use to get in the mood before the holiday and its accompanying restrictions set in. The Orthodox Union has collected lessons from dozens of rabbis and leaders, while Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City, for example, has uploaded prayers and sermons for multiple services, including a Sephardic one, that you can tune in for at your own pace.
If you want to be sure your experience reflects Jewish diversity: At least one collaborative High Holiday event is centering on Jews of color, who have become more visible than ever after a summer in which Americans have grappled with issues of race and racism, including in the Jewish community. Jews in ALL Hues and the Jews of Color Initiative have brought together 40 Jews of color and multiple organizations to produce a series of services for the holidays. Those who register in advance will get a special prayer book compiled for the service, but it will also be streamed on Facebook.
If you go to services for the sermons: Many synagogues are dropping or shortening sermons this year, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a host of thought-provoking takes on Torah to encounter over the holidays. Again, My Jewish Learning has collected a bunch, in a “sermon slam” from across the denominational spectrum, to get you started.
Rabbi Andrea Gouze of Easton, Mass., demonstrates how she will blow the traditional shofar during the High Holidays services. The end will be covered with a face mask to prevent transmission of virus. (David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
If you just want to sing along: High Holiday prayers and songs are emotionally resonant and powerful to sing and hear. Here’s one Spotify playlist, of many, that pulls together songs from the holidays by a range of Jewish artists. You can also just go for Avinu Malkeinu on repeat. There are new versions of the Yom Kippur song of penitence performed by 6-year-old viral video star Bibi Shapiro, Jewish musician Josh Nelson and Shaina Silver-Baird, who is working on a web series about a renegade cantor. (Beware: That last one may not be safe for shul.) There’s also the old standby by the jam band Phish.
If you want a window into another country: Travel is pretty much off the table at the moment, but livestreaming means you aren’t limited to synagogues by geography. A Masorti synagogue in Rehovot, Israel, plans to stream all of its services (limited numbers of congregants are permitted in Israeli synagogues, despite the national lockdown aimed at bringing the pandemic under control). In Argentina, Lamroth Hakol in Buenos Aires will be streaming its Spanish-language services. Few synagogues in England are streaming their services, but New London Synagogue, the oldest non-Orthodox one, is.
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