Tuesday, / August 4, 2020
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New Synagogue Goers Find Easy Welcome At Chabad

By , Agoura Hills, CA

(lubavitch.com) The Jewish High Holiday services are sometimes viewed as fashion shows where tickets are hawked at Super Bowl prices. As Rosh Hashanah approaches on Friday, some Chabad centers are using social media such as You Tube to satirize this exclusive approach and to promote their own style of inclusive prayer.

One short video produced by Jewish Abstract Media (JAB) splices footage from an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David asks: “Why do you need a ticket to go to Temple? It’s crazy.” He ends up approaching a scalper who is selling premium tickets for hundreds of dollars. “I have fabulous two seats right down in front, the cantor will be practically spitting all over you,” the scalper says.

Another video compares purchasing New Year’s tickets to the ticket class system used by airlines. The video starts with the question: “What High Holiday ticket do you have?” People stream in the service with tickets that read “important person,” “most important person,” “regular person,” and “bought ticket on Ebay.” At the end of the segment, a narrator says “At Chabad at Malibu, everyone prays first class.”

Many Shluchim have not purchased JAB’s videos, but every Chabad center has its own shtick for bringing people of all Jewish backgrounds in for the High Holidays. This is a snapshot of what they will be doing this New Year.

Chabad of River Towns, Dobbs Ferry, NY

Rabbi Benjy Silverman used to promote the videos, but “I didn’t do it this year because I felt it may be putting down other synagogues and I wouldn’t want to do that,” he says. “And number two – it doesn’t necessarily promote what is so special about our services.”

Silverman has tried something new the last two years to attract people for the New Year. He sent complimentary tickets to 3,000 people near the center, which is l5 minutes north of Manhattan.  “People are used to expensive synagogue options for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur,” he says. “It’s pleasant to get something in the mail and know that you can show up, daven and enjoy.”

Silverman says he expects about 350 people during the High Holidays. The community is very “secular and liberal” with four Reform congregations, one Conservative congregation, and one Reconstructionist congregation. He describes the atmosphere as “relaxed, very meaningful, inspirational, and enjoyable” where people can expect “a lot of stories and Jewish tradition.”

Chabad of the Conejo, Agoura Hills, CA

Across the country Rabbi Moshe Bryski and his staff of rabbis will be hosting services for 2,500 people in eight locations around one of southern California’s fastest growing Jewish communities. The big event is a retreat at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza Hotel where attendees can eat, pray, and stay overnight for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. “Once word got out about this retreat, people started coming from all over southern California to join us as well,” Bryski says. “The hotel really turns into a little Jerusalem during the holiday. It’s a beautiful feel not just to come for services, but to spend a few days together as we usher in the New Year.”

Different people from all Jewish affiliations and backgrounds flock to the hotel for the event. “Every Jew needs to feel connected during this High Holiday season and every Jew needs to feel at home,” Bryski says.

“Whether they are a member of any congregation or not, or if they are affiliated or not – they need to know they are part of a family and that the doors are always open for them and they will be made to feel welcome.”

Chabad Israeli Center, Atlanta, GA

Rabbi Mendy Gurary primarily caters to the secular Israeli and Hebrew speaking Jewish community in Georgia. “They don’t really experience Yiddishkeit in Israel,” he says. “They are actually looking at it from the other side because they don’t really engage with the religious people in Israel. But when they come here in America they realize to be a Jew you’ve got to do something about it – you can’t just live in Israel.”

Gurary expects 150 people to attend his High Holiday services where he incorporates Sephardic prayers with the traditional Chabad service. It is this hybrid of prayers which helps attract the Israeli community during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Chabad at the University of Toronto, Ontario

Northeast of the boarder at Canada’s largest university, Rabbi Yishaya Rose prefers traditional Jewish cooking to You Tube videos to promote his New Year’s events. “We put a lot of emphasis on cooking a variety of foods,” he says. “My wife (Shira) is just a really great cook. She makes a lot of great salads and different kinds of fish. That home cooked feel is really good for students. It may seem silly, but when you are a student, if nobody makes a Shabbat diner for you, you’re not going to make it for yourself.”

Rose also uses Facebook and posts flyers around campus to get the word out to students who might not have a place to go for the High Holidays. “It’s really about creating a home atmosphere for students,” Rose says. 

Scores of rabbinical students have set out earlier this week to locations worldwide, to help Chabad representatives with overflow crowds.   With several thousand Chabad centers worldwide, many of them moving their services to nearby hotel social halls to accommodate the large crowd, and many setting up additional “shuls” in areas not served by a full time Chabad representatives, the numbers of people who will venture into a synagogue this year is expected to grow.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos, the Chabad-Lubavitch educational division, says that Chabad attempts to reach more people every year.

“The idea is that we want to be wherever there are Jewish people who need our help celebrating the Jewish High Holidays.

“Our message is one of unity and inclusiveness, and that’s the kind of welcome everyone can expect to find when coming into a Chabad synagogue for services.”


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