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October 8, 2015 | 25th Tishrei 5776
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High Holy Day Innovation

  1. At a Ritual Committee meeting last night we decided to create an explanatory pamphlet (maximum four pages) discussing and explaining Mah Nishtanah. The sheet will develop some of the differences between the Holy Days and some of the traditional practices (wearing white, not wearing leather, etc), and other issues we think are appropriate.
    910 units

  2. There is a newly developed [HHD] brochure at Temple B'rith Kodesh in Rochester, NY...You might contact...the temple and ask for the e-version of the document.

  3. A few years ago, our then new rabbi introduced the Tashlich ceremony to us. I, unfortunately, have never been able to participate in the ritual of casting away your sins. However, this has been a popular and growing tradition in my congregation. Last year we had approximately forty people meet at a lake in the next town over. This year we coordinated a combined ceremony with a conservative congregation (both temples booked their ceremony at the same time in the same place, so we joined hands). We had over eighty in attendance.

    New this year, we added a new Family Service for one hour prior to our main services. Parents and children together praying, singing, using the Gates of Repentence for Young People. We had one hundred people in attendance (parents, children, grandparents). We started with the younger children's side and moved to the older children's section of the book for Seder K'riat Torah throughout the end of the service. It was exciting and a huge success!

    [Ours] is a smaller congregation of almost 200 families. The Family Service attracted unaffilliateds as well as reached out to members that normally don't/won't sit through the full length service with their children.

    One other new tradition that we're trying this year is a group shofar blowing on Yom Kippur. We are holding shofar blowing lessons this week, and on Yom Kippur congregants will stand around the Sanctuary and blow the shofar together as one! I'm looking forward to this moving and spiritual moment!


  4. I have found it interesting to read about the theatrical techniques other congregations use to combat "boredom" at HHD services. Our congregation tries to promote personal involvement for the congregants to help them stay meaningfully engaged in the service. As a question was raised about group shofar blowing, we provide an intergenerational open lesson in shofar blowing prior to the HHD. I believe there is also an endowment to provide shofars to those who don't have their own. When we have a large enough contingent, they are stationed on the bimah, at both sides and in back of the sanctuary, and in the balcony ("surround sound"). The cantor calls out the instruction (i,e, "tekiah"), the congregation repeats it, and then the shofar blowers do their thing. Whether your congregation is large or small, this could be something wonderful for you to try.

  5. Here's a slight variation on the "surround sound" shofar blowing .

    I used to belong to a synagogue where we did a sort of "echo" thing with multiple shofar blowers. The goal was to bring to mind the ancient "chaining" of shofar calls from hilltop to hilltop to alert people in distant places.

    We'd start with one person on the bimah and others standing at the back of the sanctuary. The cantor would call the note, the person on the bimah would play the note and then the others would echo the call. With three blowers we actually had two echoes and each note was played three times--I'm not sure you'd want to do more ... and maybe just one echo is enough.

    At the end of the first set of calls, the two "echo-ers" would move from the back to the middle of the room and we'd do it again. Finally, all three would end up on the bimah for the final set of calls--still echoing the first blower. For the tekiah gedolah, we worked out a sort of signal so one person could let the others know when he was unable to hold the note any longer. As he was finishing, the next person would start--hopefully, without any period of silence. Then the third person would do the same.

    Between the three shofar blowers we would have a "gedolah" that lasted for a full minute or (with some deep breathing) even longer.

    Some felt it was too theatrical ... and it does add an extra five to ten minutes to the service. But, particularly as one of the shofar blowers, I found it to be quite a powerful experience. We haven't done anything similar at my current congregation. Unfortunately, we need to have "split-shift" services to accommodate all of our members--adding the extra time to services could create problems with what is already a tight worship schedule.

    Ed 900+ Families (The experience described above was at a congregation with about 300 families)

  6. I am not a fan of surround sound for Shofar blowing. In our congregation, we have fifteen or so people who gather next to the lectern and all blow together. The sound is fabulous. It actually reminds me of an air raid siren in Israel. In addition, we have some very young members of the Shofar chorale, two seven-year-olds who are quite good. Keeping them next to adults keeps them in line so to speak. My advice to those considering a chorale for next year is to try it as a group on the bimah. You will not be disappointed.

  7. Digest #2006-132

                …a great source of inspiration and insight that my office has produced for the Holidays…Jewels of Elul II, our second collection of inspiring stories and anecdotes for the High Holidays is live online.

                The following link tells you more about the project

    ( and how people can receive free hard copies of the booklet…

                Thanks to the support of our sponsor Mt. Sinai and online partners (The URJ, Synagogue 3000,,, Jewish Educators Assembly and others, we will reach many people with this exciting project…

    Craig Taubman
  8. Oct 2006 Digest 151

                Our major innovation [this year]…was a sermon by the cantor. We all knew she can sing, but who knew she can preach? As a prelude to the Yizkor service, she riffed on Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, as a takeoff point for discussing the fragility of life and the need to come to terms with bereavement. Leaving aside the content of her talk, I thought it was interesting, in light of the [listserv’s] recent discussion on who is a rabbi/cantor, that this sermon emphasized the idea that invested cantors ARE clergy.

  9. Oct 2006 Digest 152

                Our small innovation this year: The rabbis have done hakafah on Holy Days for the past few years. This year, for the first time, the board members and others on the bimah walked around behind the Torahs, greeting congregants as we went. I think it was a good touch.

  10. Oct 2006 Digest 152

                This was our year for changes. It started with S’lichot when we walked along a rented labyrinth to begin our meditative High Holy Day journey.

                Then each service began with a poem, not found in the prayer book, which helped to orient ourselves to the meaning of the specific service.

                We did a non-traditional Tashlich. We included direction cards, golf pencil and an envelope with the prayer books on Rosh HaShanah, and we invited people to write down a specific area of their life in which they wanted to improve. The temple office will mail the notes back to the participating congregants next August.

                The afternoon service of Yom Kippur was almost completely revamped. We used a new confessional prayer pamphlet. As part of this new experience, each congregant was given the opportunity to come before the open Ark and to say a personal, private prayer. Examples of the prayers were available in the prayer pamphlet.

                So far the feedback has been quite positive to all of the above changes.


    Approx 350 Families
  11. Oct 2006 Digest 153

                …On S’lichot we have always done a 9:00pm study session followed by a lovely service where we all help in the "changing over" of the Torah covers, etc. It works well each year. Attendance is steady.

                We have been doing Tashlich by a lake at a nearby city park for a couple of years. We all gather to sing a few songs, pray a few prayers, and are encouraged to bring bread to "cast our sins upon the waters" and then enjoy the natural surroundings and get in touch spiritually, for as long as we like. It is very moving if you've never done it before and is still a very powerful worship experience.

                As for the Holy Days: Four years ago we wrote our own machzor: Or T'Shuvah. As one of the four people on the “Machzor Committee," I can't begin to tell you how much the process affected me. We created a book that uses a unique "quadrant system" that allows our congregants and clergy to use the book on many levels in many ways…it is a big part of the increased enjoyment and success of our Holy Day worship experience.


    394 family member units
  12. Oct 2006 Digest 154

                We have made a number of changes over the past several years. The most dramatic was a complete revision of how we treat Avodah and Jonah.

  13. Oct 2006 Digest 156

                Am I the only one made uncomfortable by the idea of individual families approaching the open ark and offering personal prayers? It feels like communion, in a way, or like certain Mediterranean Catholic churches where I have seen parishioners approach the cross or statues of the Virgin Mary or various saints to place flowers or ex votos. There is something profoundly "un-Jewish feeling" about this that seems at loggerheads with service content and structure and intent.

  14. Oct 2006 Digest 156

                …as a member of a congregation who has this practice [approaching the open ark] during the N’ilah service on Yom Kippur afternoon, I can attest that it can be, and is, profoundly powerful.

  15. Oct 2006 Digest 156

                I thought prayer before the open ark was always a part of services. We often open the ark for prayer during a single service. Giving folks an opportunity to offer their own prayers "up close and personal" if you will, can be a profound moment. Our rabbi does a lovely thing during the Holy Days...lets the congregation know at the end of each service, that the ark will remain open for those who would like to offer a personal prayer on the bimah in front of the open ark. The service ends, people file out, greet each other, even as a number of folks go up to the bimah for personal prayer. It is not part of the service.


    250 families
  16. Oct 2006 Digest 157

                Perhaps some may have an uncomfortable feeling about those coming before the ark in silent prayer as the N’ilah service begins. I introduced such a practice in my congregation a number of years prior to my retirement. No one was forced to approach the ark. Yet, each year more individuals and families did. The time was well spent.

                Those who approached the ark felt a need to do so. Perhaps there are those who are not comfortable to see people do so. Many had more than their share of problems, others where there to voice their thanks for their blessings. Let us not loose sight of what Yom Kippur is all about.  As a rabbi I approached the open ark before Kol Nidre. Everyone has that same right. Never once did I regret introducing this innovation.

  17. Oct 2006 Digest 153

                We had our first-ever service for the second day of Rosh HaShanah. Our senior rabbi brought up the idea with the Worship Committee last spring; we all talked about it and agreed that we should do this. A member of the committee asked if we could assemble some of our own readings instead of just using the service out of the machzor like the previous day, and a small subcommittee formed to gather some candidates.

                I was part of this subcommittee…We talked about the parts of the service that were candidates for English alternatives, and we talked about the themes those readings should satisfy. People brought in a variety of sources, and we winnowed the pile down. Finally, the subcommittee met with the senior rabbi (who had some suggestions of his own), and we went through the machzor and the candidate readings and made decisions about what to insert where (and which readings were great on their own but just didn't fit). The chair of the Worship Committee also had input into this, but I'm not sure what form it took (he was not on the subcommittee). Our rabbi then handed everything off to a very capable and dedicated staff member who turned it into nice service booklets.

                Members of the Worship Committee (not just the subcommittee) shared in the leading of this service, along with our two rabbis. We got a lot of positive feedback.


    860 households
  18. August 2007 Digest 161

                Starting about five years ago, our congregation began to experiment with various ways of [enhancing] the Avodah portion of the afternoon service…and recruited a cadre of volunteer "performers" to rehearse and deliver the material as a connected whole, which it is. This does not mean covering all the material or inserting the entire martyrology; it does mean reading selected portions and providing a narrative that links the readings and places them in perspective.

                This may have helped increase the attendance in the middle of the afternoon leading up to Jonah and then to Yizkor. I fear that nothing has helped reduce the stampede after Yizkor. Those who will leave will regardless of the offers, enticements or threats. We have added Kichel at the door following N’ilah; we are too big to have a more significant Break Fast for the congregation, and I have no idea what will suffice to hold those for whom Yizkor is the meaning of the day…

                I see the congregation's duty as making this available to those who need just this and to let it be. For my own case a Yom Kippur with out N’ilah is like Motzi without bread.

  19. August 2007 Digest 161

                Due to our small size, we are able to have a community potluck break-the-fast. This way, instead of being disturbed by people leaving before the end, we have our service disturbed by people coming in for the very end of N’ilah, in order not to miss the meal that follows!


    30 families
  20. August 2007 Digest 162

                We have had laypeople reading much (if not most) of the Yom Kippur afternoon service. Personally, I think it does several things:

                It relieves the monotony of hearing the recitation.

                Also, it provides a way to "introduce" the whole congregation to some of its members and groups. We have Torah Study, the Religious school, and even Preschool parents reading. People ask "who's that" and get to see how broad our membership really is. Some people do it once or twice; a few have become regulars.

                This is also done during the evening and morning services (though not to the same extent). We have our b’nei mitzvah kids read the Torah, with adults representing the congregation reading the aliyot. That also increases the lay participation.

                Last, but not least, this relieves the rabbis of having to do all of the leading, and allows them to be participants for at least part of the time.

  21. Sept 2007 Digest 184

                …this year for the first time I can ever remember in a Reform congregation, the Torah portions were chanted in the special cantillation for High Holidays. And, they were done by post b'nei mitzvah young adults. It was truly awesome...

                Secondly, we had a study session on Yom Kippur led by the rabbi and discussed God. But afterwards we had a half hour of musical reflection in the sanctuary with a piano and cello that was really beautiful and moving. It added much to the quiet reflection of the  day.

  22. Sept 2007 Digest 184

                [A moving HHD moment:] The inclusion of so many more people receiving the Mi Shebeirach blessing after each aliyah. For instance, one person receiving an aliyah was a grandmother--so all the grandparents at the service were asked to stand and receive the blessing. Another was a very active member of the Bikkur Cholim, so all members of that committee present were asked to stand. Another was in charge of the d'var Torah tutors, so all those who were or are d'var Torah tutors were asked to stand. It was very moving and very inclusive.

  23. Sept 2007 Digest 184

                After attending the Mifgash Musicale this summer, I was able to add new music and "fix" some "wrong" nusach. I sang the Hineni at the beginning of the Erev Rosh HaShanah service, and it definitely set the right mood for the rest of the evening. We sang the correct nusach for morning and evening "Yitgadal" s, as well as for the Mi Chamochas. In a few instances I was able to add the High Holy Day chatimah to the end of some pieces. All in all, it made for a musically cohesive service package. For the last several years we have been singing the Lisa Levine Mi Shebeirach. As I look at the congregants I am always amazed at how this piece moves so many of them.

                I was personally moved this year as the Torahs were handed to so many of the participants who came up to the bimah and held them while I sang the Kol Nidrei. It is a powerful moment in the life of someone who tries to send out the message of the prayers through the music.

                For Yom Kippur morning service I sang the Horvitz I Have Taken an Oath as the anthem. I know that I am always moved by the words combined with the music, and from the feedback I have gotten, it moves the congregants as well. Any of you who are not familiar with this piece, should consider it for next year's services. It sits high, but I am sure lower versions could be available.

  24. Sept 2007 Digest 184

                For the first time this year, our ark was left open during the afternoon service and the congregation was invited to approach it and offer their own private prayers while the Torah and haftarah were being read. Though I often have the good fortune to stand at the open ark, both publicly when I am on the bimah for a Shabbat service, or in a small group preparing for a lay-led service, or privately when taking out the Torah to practice for a reading, and almost always say my own private prayer, this time it felt different. I was aware that it was Yom Kippur, I was feeling both the physical strain of the observance choices I had made (fasting, standing and ushering most of the day) as well as the stress of a major health challenge in my family, and for a brief moment I had a very intense, very moving conversation with God. I left trembling, knowing that I faced a difficult year ahead but feeling comforted, supported and forgiven. I was the first of the 400 or so congregants present to approach the ark--I did it partly because I knew that others may be too uncomfortable to be first but that they would follow--and sure enough, we ran out of time before we ran out of people who wanted their private moment. I hope that the opportunity will be repeated in the future.


    1200 Families
  25. Sept 2007 Digest 184

                I…found our High Holidays very moving, as  the "children" of our congregation led us  in worship.

                Our cantorial soloist this year was a 19-year-old temple member who has studied voice for a number of years. In past years she sang during children's services (having studied with our then soloist) and this year did a beautiful job singing solo and with the adult choir.

                Additionally, our B'aal Tekiyah and Children's Service songleader is a 17-year-old member of our temple as well. Both…grew up singing in our congregation's junior choir that sings once a month during family services.

                [One] is now the Junior Choir Director and Music Director for our Religious School.


    220 member units
  26. Sept 2007 Digest 185

                A very meaningful announcement by the rabbi, made before each HHD service so it would not be lost, was that anyone who felt unable to stand with the congregation on cue should feel free to remain seated.

                This would appear obvious, but I know now from first-hand experience following back surgery that it is indescribably embarrassing to stay seated when one appears healthy from the outside.

                Conversing with elders, I learn that even the toughest among them, impervious to social criticism, feels badly not to stand as they once did (or may yet again someday). Instead, some struggle to stand but hurt later. Others find it so difficult they claim they're not attending services for this reason alone.

                There must be something in the hardwiring of the human brain, as we are social beings, that we want to do what others do physically when in a group. Nobody wants to appear lazy or be embarrassed that they're not sincerely participating.

                Therefore, the repeated "release" from the bimah by the rabbi gave permission to choose, including varying it through the service as needed.

                If you might read this and think, "What's the big deal, just don't stand if you can't, why announce it..." perhaps you've not been there.

                I'd encourage Ritual Committees to encourage rabbis to make this announcement at every service throughout the year. I do not think it will lead to anyone "dogging" it, as most welcome the chance to stretch and stand.


    510 families
  27. Sept 2007 Digest 185

                We held our services in the auditorium of a local college, having out-grown our temple for the HHD crowd. The weather on YK was unusual for us--heavy rain and thunderstorms on and off all day. So not a lot of people were present for the beginning of the family service in the afternoon. The rabbi asked individual children to come up and read--it was marvelous to see 8?year?olds read without error and with such presence. And as the crowd gradually grew the intimacy and warmth of the service did not diminish one bit. I only wish I had had such experiences as a kid.

                At the end of the service when we were about to do Havdalah, the rabbi invited everyone to come to the bimah and most did--we crowded together and sang and performed the rituals as a close (both literally and figuratively) community! A lovely moment.

  28. Sept 2007 Digest 185

                We have an amazing congregational volunteer choir of about 65 voices. This year on Rosh HaShanah morning and Yom Kippur morning, the choir was dispersed throughout the congregation. We still sang in parts and had a choral solo after the sermon, however, we all had the chance as choir members to sit as worshipers with our families and friends. The music enveloped the entire room. While we are always a singing congregation, the power of song from throughout the large, old concert hall we gathered in for the Holy Days this year was uplifting…

                For the third year, our "Generations After" group conducted a special service within the Afternoon Yom Kippur service with reflections based on their family experiences during the Holocaust. This is an amazingly moving service which brings many of us to tears in the very best way as children, parents and grandparents tell their stories.


    700 member units
  29. Sept 2007 Digest 186

                Something else that was new this year and very poignant--On YK day, our rabbi often performs special blessings. This year, she spoke of the "behind-the-scenes," often unacknowledged members who do great work--the non-Jewish spouses that help and encourage the raising of Jewish children--driving kids to classes, volunteering, participating in activities, learning Hebrew, etc. They were asked to come to the bimah for a special blessing. (Almost half of our congregation is non-Jewish). It was very moving and meaningful for many of our congregants.

    1200+ families

  30. Sept 2007 Digest 186

                Last year the congregation made a "Blessing Chuppah" by creating fabric squares of what the word blessing means to them. It was sewn together and we used it throughout the year to offer different blessings. For the four major services of HH, Both Erevs and both Mornings, we invited a different group of people under the Blessing Chuppah to honor them. Rabbi and cantor did the Birchat HaCohanim--Priestly Benediction for them. Based upon the Talmudic phrase--"The world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah and G'milut Hasadim." We called up the following groups: Those who participated in Adult Ed during the year at the temple, those who are regular service attenders (at least monthly), and those who volunteered their time for the temple during the past year. For the fourth service we called up all the Jews-By Choice and their families as a source of inspiration to those born Jewish who sometimes take Judaism for granted. Each group called up appreciated being recognized, and hopefully it was a source of inspiration for those still sitting in their seats. You don't need a Blessing Chuppah to do this.

  31. Oct 2007 Digest 191

                [Our congregation] had a special ceremony just before the end of the N'ilah service: [the rabbi] called up to the bimah all the babies (and their parents) who were born during the last year. Of course, everyone oohed and ahhed over the adorable additions to our congregation as he blessed and kissed them all.

                Then those who are 83 and older were asked to stand (83 being 70 years--a lifetime--plus 13), and they were serenaded by the religious school  children, led by [the cantor], with Doug Cotler's "Standing on the  Shoulders... of the ones who stood before me." It was a lovely ceremony.

                Additionally, as the congregation needed two services this year, the early services (both for RH and YK) were somewhat less formal, or perhaps one might say less Classical Reform, and the choir was seated amongst the congregants instead of being hidden or off to the side of the sanctuary. The result was a congregation that sang, often with harmonies, and unafraid. The cantor did the Kol Nidrei with and without accompaniment at the expected time at the opening of the service, but then, toward the end of the service, a cellist played the Kol Nidrei again. It was a  little bit anti-climactic, but it served to bring everyone back "down" to a  thoughtful, prayerful place, re-iterating the theme of the evening, so it  was fine.

                Finally, I would report that the reader/response, wordy/boring Afternoon Service in Gates of Repentance was replaced by [the rabbi’s] own rendition of "the history of the Jewish people" interspersed with appropriate melodies for the time period. I was grateful to hear our history in an hour without suffering with poor readers, or ones who did not practice, or those who did not know what they were reading. In what may have been the most moving moment of my many YK services, when our history recitation reached the end of the Holocaust we heard a recording of survivors of Bergen-Belsen singing Hatikvah for a reporter from the BBC. One by one, members of the congregation rose until all were standing and tears were on every cheek. And, when they finished, we sang it with our own voices. No YK Afternoon service will ever top this one in my book!


    800 families

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