Last year, the Howard County congregation’s afternoon open-to-the-public family service at the temple drew close to 200 people. Now, the congregation is trying its hand at what’s called “Public Space Judaism.”
“It’s really meant to be something that’s relaxed and celebratory,” said Rabbi Craig Axler, who explained it’s a way for the synagogue to create opportunities that draw people to Judaism, “to be able to put something out there that has a low enough bar that anyone could come in.”
If passers-by just wander in, so much the better, he said.
“That’s part of what happens with Public Space Judaism. There will likely be some people who come because they’re intrigued,” Rabbi Axler noted.
Temple Isaiah will hold its traditional morning service as usual. The family service is an opportunity for families to worship together, as well as an opportunity to reach into the unaffiliated community.
“Mostly, the focus on that day is to bring in the New Year joyously at a beautiful location, up on the hill overlooking the lake, and have that spiritually in the outdoors,” said Monica Recht, a member of the Temple Isaiah board.
The service takes place on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 2:30 p.m. at Centennial Park Pavilions E, F and G — rain or shine. It’s free and open to all.
Participants are invited to arrive an hour early with a picnic lunch. Families should bring blankets to sit on, and they can throw balls and toss Frisbees as they wait for the service.
“The service, I think, is going to be really lovely. It will be really great for families,” said Rachel Petroff Kessler, Temple Isaiah’s family educator. “There will be a lot of singing, great stories by Rabbi Axler. Whether these are families that are also celebrating the holiday at synagogue in some way or are not currently connected to a synagogue in the area, it’s a great way for them to have a Rosh Hashanah experience together.”
“They can certainly expect a lot of music,” said Rabbi Axler.
At 3:45 p.m., the congregation will head to Centennial Lake for Tashlich, where participants will toss bits of bread or other food into the water to symbolically cast off the sins of the previous year.
A dessert Kiddush follows Tashlich.
The outdoor family service is a first for Howard County. The organizers emphasize that Rosh Hashanah in the Park is in no way competing with Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s popular Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. In its seventh year, the Under the Stars service will take place on erev Rosh Hashanah, Wednesday, Sept. 4. (Under the Stars is also free, but preregistration is required. Go to bhcong.org.)
Working with the Jewish Outreach Institute, Temple Isaiah will hand out customized Shalom Sesame calendars for the kids to take home and color. The calendars list Temple Isaiah events and other Jewish events and activities in Howard County.
“We’re out there opening our arms. We’re publicizing this event within our synagogue community and also in the broader community in Columbia and Howard County,” said Petroff Kessler. “This is something we hope everyone feels comfortable attending, whether they’re members of a synagogue or not.”
If successful, Rosh Hashanah in the Park could become an annual event.
Rosh Hashanah in the Park
Thursday, Sept. 5, 2:30 p.m.
Centennial Park, Pavilions E, F, G
4800 Woodland Road, Ellicott City
For information, call 410-888-9100 or visit templeisaiah.org.
Amy Landsman is an area freelance writer.