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Please Join Us, But Not Just on the Days of Awe

Please Join Us, But Not Just on the Days of Awe

Wooden welome sign hanging from a rope string

Last year at this time, there was much discussion in my Facebook feed about whether people should attend High Holiday services; critics argued that the High Holidays are not a full picture of what makes Judaism and a Jewish community special. (Yes, this is what Jewish educators talk about on social media.)

People across the spectrum of Jewish practice devote a significant amount of time to thinking about, planning for, and deciding what to do about the High Holidays. And judging by the angst my colleagues and I feel at this time of year, I think it’s safe to say we expect for many of you to show up – and, yes, for some of you not to return until next Rosh HaShanah.

High Holidays with children can often feel particularly stressful and overwhelming, mainly because of the sheer number of people and the potential unfamiliarity of it all. I feel a sense of responsibility to those families who come through our doors each year, especially those who are trying to decide if dipping their toe into the world of the synagogue and Jewish life is worth it. I want it to be a wonderful experience for you and for your family, and I hope it will be. I hope you will feel the joy and sweetness of Rosh HaShanah, the incredible gift of a moment to slow down and hug your child and hear the solemn and awesome sound of the shofar.

But I also know that many of you will either leave your children at home or spend time chasing them around the room, trying to get them to participate, maybe feeling embarrassed when they don’t. Please don’t feel that way. You are welcome here – no matter how your kids behave, even on the High Holidays, which feel like they have higher stakes. I know, too, that High Holiday tot services can be chaotic, especially if there are hungry or tired toddlers in the room.

Like judging a book by its cover, judging a synagogue by what you see on the High Holidays will tell you something about the community, and maybe offer something exciting that draws you in. But to truly experience the depth, the feeling, and the meaning inherent in the congregation, you have to delve deeper.

The High Holidays are filled with wonderful, meaningful moments, but indeed, they do not tell a community’s whole story. To really experience its awesome power, you should see what comes after the Days of Awe.

We want you to come to High Holiday service and events. They are full of meaning and beauty – and the shofar and the apples and honey are great, too! But please don’t judge a congregation only by what happens in a Rosh HaShanah or Yom Kippur tot service. Come back when things are less crowded (and less hectic), when we can welcome you properly and show you what we’re all about. Come back for the sights and sounds and tastes of Shabbat (or Sukkot, perhaps the most underrated Jewish holiday ever). Come back – with or without your child – for a class, a movie, a social event, or something else that speaks to you.

Our synagogues are so much more than what you see during just two days a year. On all other days, too, we want to welcome you in.

Find a Reform congregation near you and inquire about their High Holiday services.

Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal is the director of youth and family education in Central Synagogue in New York City.

Rabbi Rebecca Rosenthal
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