This is the time of year when even the unaffiliated feel the pull of prayer, and many of them seek to join with other Jews to usher in the New Year. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — the World Series of Judaism — is also when seats in synagogues are at a premium.
Increasingly, congregations of all stripes are searching for solutions to the recurring dilemma of being responsive to the needs of affiliated members while welcoming those who aren’t. Because those who are not regular synagogue-goers often find themselves alienated by unfamiliar prayers in an unfamiliar language and by unfamiliar melodies in an unfamiliar environment, initiatives that are responsive to these concerns focus on making prayers more welcoming and accessible.
That’s what Rabbi David Greenspoon is offering at his independent High Holiday services in Reisterstown. “There will be no politics, no fundraising appeals or even pre-assigned seats,” he promises. “Our services will be fully egalitarian.”
For those who find a synagogue environment stuffy, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Temple Isaiah in Fulton each are offering Rosh Hashanah family services “under the stars” with picnics and music. Temple Isaiah’s rabbi, Craig Axler, believes the novelty of an outdoor service will attract the curious. BHC is providing a prayer book downloadable to smartphones or tablets for those attending the outdoor service.
Chabad at Johns Hopkins and Chabad of Owings Mills are another answer for those who don’t like to be told how much they need to pay in order to pray. “On the High Holidays the doors to heaven are open. … So are ours,” Chabad of Owings Mills’ website announces. Similarly, the Aish HaTorah-oriented Jewish Family Institute offers prayer services for a modest donation, where questions and discussion are encouraged.
For those not attracted to prayer at all, but who wish to be immersed in the spirit of the High Holy days, Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah offers a Rosh Hashanah program, which includes holiday-themed readings, poetry, songs and a symbolic Tashlich service — where participants who want to take stock of the prior year can cast their sins away.
Each of these offerings can help bring people closer to Judaism, and we welcome the programs and the creativity behind them. With such variety available throughout the greater Baltimore area, if one approach doesn’t suit you, another one might. And that is the point. As Isralight’s Rabbi David Aaron said, “We are not trying to move God when we pray; we are trying to move ourselves.”
So while one size will never fit all, you still need to try a program to see whether it fits you. Happy hunting. And happy New Year.