For the first time in its history, our congregation has implemented a full slate of festival services. We have always been a second day Rosh HaShanah congregation, but haven't had festival morning services for the Regalim or other holy days. Now, we do. Granted, the turnout has been light for some of the services, but we've always had a minyan+. We have also instituted evening services for the festivals and holy days in which the liturgy is consistent with the basic elements of halakah, as opposed to (and in addition to) the "observances" that we've had before that did not always include a worship service with the basic liturgical elements
One long-time congregant asked why we needed to start all that now. After all, he said, we've been just fine for all these years without the extra services. "It's not a Reform thing to do," he opined. My answer is that this isn't a matter of Reform, or Conservative, or Orthodox, or Reconstructionist, or fill-in-the-blank--it's a Jewish thing--an explanation I find myself using more and more these days.
Another congregant told me that while attending the festival morning services is not his "thing," he finds great value in them. It was initially paradoxical to me as well, but he explained that although he doesn't feel the spiritual need personally right now to attend these services, he finds solace and satisfaction in knowing that his synagogue offers them for those who do find it important and for him, if there is a time later in his life when he will also find it important. He pointed out that he no longer feels like he has to offer excuses when his neighbors, many of whom attend a Conservative synagogue down the street, ask why his shul doesn't have services. He also noted that until we started the practice this year, he had little knowledge or understanding of the significance of the festivals, Regalim, and other holy days.
It may be true that historically many Reform congregations have not offered worship opportunities for the festivals, Regalim, and other holy days, including Shavuot. I, for one, believe strongly that as we raise awareness and increase worship opportunities, knowledge amongst our congregants will increase, and interest and attendance will increase. Our philosophy is something akin to "If we build it, they will come...:" If we have them (the services), and if we inform people, they will...
Jan 2007 Digest 019 Several of the Reform congregations in the Washington, DC/Maryland area join together for Holiday morning services. Temples have services on a rotating basis. Clergy from the participating congregations share in leading the service. It is good for the community and encourages enough congregants to participate to make the services more meaningful. Myrna
Jan 2007 Digest 019
Perhaps congregations need to have some "programming" other than a worship service to draw people. Maybe it's a Lunch and Learn following services.
Or, congregants can be encouraged to observe the prohibition of labor on the Festivals. Even if all the work-prohibited festivals fall on weekdays, that's only eight days off a year if you count two days of Rosh HaShanah and use the Israeli/Reform calendar for the other festivals.
Frank ~500 families
Jan 2007 Digest 019
Yes, there is the issue of taking off from "work" to attend these services, but I think there are other factors, that is, how people understand these holidays. Pesach has become a family get together. And while it is pointed out that it is the most celebrated Jewish holiday, most of these modern sederim are far from religious in nature.
Shavuot is not even understood by most Reform Jews, and since most don't believe that the Torah was given at Sinai as the word of God, how is this relevant to us? The same can be said of Sukkot--who wants to live in a shack for eight days?
If we want to increase the observance of these holidays it will take a lot of education and putting a new spin on the holidays to make them relevant to a modern audience. Successful observances have included adult B'nei Mitzvah on Shavuot, and social action programs around Sukkot.
Jan 2007 Digest 019
We offer a full slate of Festival evening and morning services. The draw is greater on mornings of Yizkor, but we always seem to manage at least a couple of dozen worshipers even without. It is our position that the "success" of the Festival evening and morning services cannot be measured by the number of seats filled, but rather by the quality of the experience for those who do attend. (That said, the numbers have steadily increased since we started with Sukkot now three years ago.)
A fellow congregant explained it this way to me: He said that even though he is presently not inclined to attend a Festival Shacharit service, and marginally inclined to attend an Erev Festival service, it is important to him to know that his synagogue offers them. He doesn't have to explain to his Jewish neighbors who belong to the Conservative synagogue three blocks from ours, and himself, why his shul doesn't. And, as he pointed out, if the services weren't offered at his synagogue, there is absolutely no chance he'd ever even think about attending. Now that they are, well, who knows.
Those who do attend find an environment and atmosphere much more like our early Shabbat morning minyan--intimate, less formal, participatory, hamische--than the High Holiday feel. We have played with starting times, ranging from 9:00 to 10:30 am, thinking that perhaps an earlier start time may appeal to those who are inclined to come to shul even if they aren't going to take the entire day off work. We haven't yet settled on the best time, but continue to work on it.
I would love to add another element to our Festival morning worship opportunity: A study/learning session and a Kiddush lunch following Shacharit.
John 1100+ units
Jan 2007 Digest 019
We are a tiny congregation--so we are unable to gather for formal worship services on these days. (Even if we all decided we wanted to, the building we rent is used for other purposes during weekdays.) So we approach it a bit differently by "doing."--As in always building a community sukkah combined with our annual BBQ. (First we build the sukkah, then we serve the kosher hot-dogs). We leave it up all week, and invite people to wander in and have a meal, a Starbucks, a dessert, or whatever.
There's the "let's eat blintzes and study until real late" for Shavuot. Community seders? Women's seders? Tu BiShvat seders? All involve elements of prayer. On Shavuot we've had brief evening services with emphasis on reading and discussing the Book of Ruth. (which is as complicated as any TV drama).
On another Shavuot which began on a Saturday--we made Havdalah (worship) and then watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding with a discussion afterwards about the joys and difficulties of "accepting" (as in accepting the Torah), and being accepted by another religion and culture. Cheese cake of course!...
Jan 2007 Digest 021 We have started using Synaplex (a part of the STAR programming). Starting at 6pm we have several programs going on each hour until 9--10 pm. (i.e., dinner vs wine tasting, dancing vs children's arts and crafts, services vs meditation, children's movie vs adult ed.). We have done this twice and it is standing room only (both affiliated and non affiliated). It is wonderful. Rick 323 families
Jan 2007 Digest 021
We have the Traditional Big Seder at the synagogue for Pesach, which is huge for us, locally, lots of folks we don't usually see. We make it really fun, and have people get up and participate in the service, not just reading, but discussing, leading songs, brachot, etc. Rabbi does a fabulous "rap" version of Echad mi Yodea, and he gets a chorus of kids to help. Way fun. Shabbat HaGadol I chant Shir haShirim.
Shavuot. This is so low key, it's a head scratcher. I chant Ruth, and we tell people to bring cheesecake, etc. Now this year, we are celebrating a Bat Mitzvah on Shavuot, and the big congregational attendance for that may be really educational about the festival for people.
Sukkot: We have the big Sukkah, kids decorate, and we have at least one big potluck. The kids do various things in their classes in the Sukkah, and we sing songs, read the appropriate portions, chant Kohelet. We all shake the lulav. Now, I know that it is not done to shake the lulav on Shabbat, but if we only get significant people during Sukkot on Shabbat, and we're trying to draw them in to the celebration of the Holiday, we want them to do the whole thing...
Jan 2007 Digest 021 In the Washington area, in recent years, we have seen an interesting development--on Erev Shavuot. Three congregations--one Reform, one Conservative, and one Orthodox start services etc., ca. 8 p.m. in their respective shuls. At about 11 p.m. all join together at the Conservative congregation, where study sessions led by the various Rabbonim last till 3 a.m.--all then move across the street to the Orthodox Congregation where the study sessions continue through Shacharit. Don't know how many stick it out all night, but the concept has possibilities. Marvin
Jan 2007 Digest 021
Approximately two years ago our rabbi came to the Ritual Committee to discuss once again the observance, or lack there of, of the festivals in our 1000+ family congregation. At that time we offered traditional "reform" morning festival worship experience for Sukkot first and last day, Pesach first and last day, Shavuot in conjunction with Confirmation. We would average approximately twenty-five to thirty-five congregants no matter what enticements we offered like free lunch or congregant Torah Readers. Prior to this we had developed a policy that Religious School would be held on an Erev Yom Tov or Yom Tov Shabbat and the clergy would conduct a Jr. Cong. service/program to help educate our kids. This program would take place during the last half hour of class and parents were invited to attend. In this way we hoped to be developing an awareness of the holiday. But this was not enough so we put our collective heads together to look outside the box. What follows is our current practice.
Sukkot--We no longer have a morning Festival Service. For the past two years we have held an Erev Sukkot Service and incorporated elements of the morning service, specifically a Torah Service and the recitation of Hallel. We have held a family deli dinner for our Religious School Families so they would not have to run home and eat and return to shul. We are up to about 100 participants.
Simhat Torah/Sh'mini Atzeret--We have always observed Simchat Torah on the 8th night of the Festival week and continue to do so. We have never had a problem attracting a crowd to this joyful service. Between our Preschool and Early Elementary Grades of our Religious School we pack the house. We have made this a mandatory service of our 10th grade Confirmands as well. We have a home grown klezmer band called "Izzy" with congregants of all ages (13-83). After the service while the dancing is going on in the social hall we call all the 10th graders into the sanctuary and unroll one Torah scroll. The kids are asked to find their b'nei mitzvah parshah and stand in front of it. It amazes me every year how many have no trouble at all locating their parshah. We discussed the idea of finding a way to incorporate Yizkor into the night but felt the mood was too raucous and Yizkor would not be appropriate. We have kept the morning Sh'mini Atzeret/Simchat Torah Service in place to enable us to offer Yizkor to our congregation. The usual twenty-five attend as well as some other congregants who just don't want to deal with the tumult of the night before. We offer a lite lunch as a reward to those of us who attend. (Its funny though; even the seniors who no longer have work do not make an effort to attend this Yizkor service. My theory in general for Sukkot/Simchat Torah is that it is to close to RH/YK for people to feel connected to.)
Pesach--We no longer have a service on the first morning of the holiday. Even our mighty band of twenty-five did not come out for this service. We felt that with 90-95% of Jews having some kind of Seder people were either still cleaning up from the night before and preparing for round two or traveling to relatives. Based on our success with Sukkot we decided to change the festival service at the end of the holiday to an evening observance. We decided to hold the Pesach Festival service on the evening of the 7th night. It would act as a closure to the week. In deference to our congregants who observe Pesach for eight days we said we would only serve pasadikah treats at the oneg. We continue our tradition of reciting Hallel and a Torah service with congregant Torah Readers and advertised that Yizkor would be recited. We held this service in the small chapel and had standing room only (100+). The response was amazing. This was the community we were all looking for. This year we will move the main sanctuary.
Shavuot--We have always held our Confirmation Ceremony on the day of the holiday and with an average class of 40+ confirmands we have no problem drawing a crowd. Of course the crowd is not made up of congregants at large. The seats are filled with the parents, grandparents, etc., of the class. Up until this year we have held an Adult Ed sponsored Tikkun Leil Shavuot on Erev Shavuot; attendance has been sparse to say the least and there has not always been clergy participation. We have decided to reprogram this night and try to bring Shavout to a larger congregational audience. We are in the planning stages of programming a Seder Shavout. The target audience for this will be our empty nesters.
Overall I commend our Clergy, Ritual Committee, and Board for thinking outside the box and finding a way to bring the festivals to life. We continue to struggle like all of you with ways to bring the spirit and essence of Judaism into our modern American lives.
Sept 2007 Digest 189 In [our city] we have a wonderful, and maybe unique situation. We have four liberal (Reform, Reconstructionist) congregations. The size of the congregations runs from 75 family units to over 1000. On the Festivals we have joint services, often followed by a luncheon. The clergy seem able to share the bimah, and all take part in every service. We thereby have a decent, not depressing, attendance, and also an opportunity to see people we don't ordinarily see. It has truly been a success I recommend it. Kitty