Our services have always been held on site. Until this year we had a service for adults in our original synagogue building, which is now used as the functions hall during the year. The children had their own service and activities in the new synagogue and house. This year, due to the unfortunate closure of one of our synagogues, we have gained over 100 new members and so we held three services on site--our traditional service in the hall, an alternative service with an additional Rabbi, in the synagogue and the children?s service in a marquee sited between the two buildings--they also used the house for activities.
This seemed to work well for Rosh Hashanah with about 550 people in the hall, 160 children (plus service leaders and helpers) in the marquee and 150 in the synagogue. Together with the security team there were over 900 people on site. We will use the same arrangement for Yom Kippur morning.
There is at least one synagogue in London which hires a marquee to house all their members in one site and others which use other synagogues, community halls and other venues. We have always felt fortunate that, even if everyone is not "together" for the services, at least they are on one site.
We are a small congregation whose sanctuary is too small to accommodate the entire turnout for HHD. For many years we have rented the local community theater for our HHD services. Harvey 180+/-
For many, many years our congregation has been having double-shift services for the High Holy Days. Erev services are at 6:30 and 9:30pm and the daytimes are 9:00am and 12:00pm. We have only one family service held during the early afternoon of both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, geared for under Hebrew School age, as well as one Yizkor/N?ilah service on Yom Kippur. For these, tickets are not required and they are open to the community. At one time, the congregation was "divided" alphabetically, with accommodations made for families whose siblings' and/or married children's names may not fall within the same group. Also, the office tried to oblige by matching those who wished to switch times with another. We changed that plan some years back and now fill service time requests on a first-come, first-serve basis and it does seem to work. The services are, of course shortened, and the burden on the rabbi(s), cantor, and choir challenging to say the least. But we do it. The exiting and of the early shift-goers from the parking lot while the late shifters wait to enter from the busy main street on which we are located is a wonderful way for people to apply all the lessons learned during the Yamim Norim and is facilitated by hired off-duty, good-natured police officers.
Last year we held an additional, off-site alternative service which was designed for those congregants who wanted to worship at a more leisurely pace. The same service was conducted, led by one of our rabbis, with our religious school music director serving as cantor and with no choir. This was limited to 200 persons and was so very well received that we did it again this year.
The most frequently expressed concerns are the rushing to get to the early service and the rushing to exit the parking lot so as not to block others. (We are accommodated by the neighboring bank and school so long as they are not using their parking lots.) The other is the loss of total community, notwithstanding the fact that no one knows everyone anyway!
[W]e know from past experience what our expected attendance will be and what our capacity is. Years ago, when we had a larger membership, we had duplicate consecutive services for the evenings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We now have a single service for all but the night of Yom Kippir/Kol Nidrei when we have 6:30 PM and 9:00 PM services. All are held in our main sanctuary except for services for the hearing impaired, which are held in our smaller chapel at the same time as our main service. David 1200 units
Our medium-size (now about 450 member units) has always had this situation. For years, we held our evening and morning HHDay services in the sanctuary of the Catholic church next door, with the YK afternoon, Yizkor and N'ilah services in our own congregation's sanctuaries. A morning service aimed for pre-schoolers and their families took place in our own building. Some years ago, we had to split the morning services as we could not fit everyone into the church sanctuary, so we now have two a.m. services each HHDay in the church sanctuary?first a "Family Service", followed by the "Adult Service". Our sole rabbi leads both of these services, while the pre-school service is lay-led. This year, we moved to another church for our evening and a.m. services as, among other reasons, the next-door church's sanctuary was getting too small for the a.m. adult services due to the growth of our congregation.
While we appreciated the larger size of the "new" church sanctuary which accommodates our HHDay services, I wonder if the size of both the space and number of congregants attending takes away some sense of intimacy in creating a sense of spirituality. I'd guess that a 1000+ member unit congregation would have at least 2,500 congregants attending a HHDay service together. I wonder if a service for that many becomes more of a performance than a spiritual worship service. (Not to take away anything from the special spirituality generated by a large gathering of Jews praying together, such as at Union for Reform Judaism Biennials, but it is a different feeling than worshiping with a smaller group.) Personally, if I were in a large congregation with two or more rabbis, I'd consider taking advantage of this situation by holding multiple services, at least for the morning, to create a more intimate setting for prayer than what might be if the entire large congregation were together.
For many years we held double services on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur in our old and much-loved sanctuary (built in 1913). But a few years ago we decided to move. This year, for the second time, we have the main services Holy Day (evenings and mornings) at a movie palace (built in 1931) about ten blocks away.
Last year it was a bit tough walking into the gaudy atmosphere of the gilded lobby. But having all the voices and all the bodies together was a wonderful experience. Not to mention the fact that the rabbis and the cantor only had to lead a single service. The biggest problem was that the lighting was inadequate for many people to read the machzor.
We're doing it again this year, and there have only been a few negative comments. We have signed on for several more years, and it seems now to be a fixture. (We have a bit of a scheduling difficulty with the local ballet, but we're managing that as well.) We go back to the synagogue for the Children's services, and for the afternoon of Yom Kippur, so those who want to be in the Sanctuary don't really have to leave it.
My thought is: If you have too many people, make the move to an adequate space. It will be a problem for maybe the first year or two, but the benefits are enormous, and the excitement will be palpable. It will be worth the difficulties.
Fred 900 member units
We have two services for the Rosh Hashanah eve & morning plus one service for the morning of the second day and on the morning of the first day a third service. The congregation is split into two groups A-L and M-Z.
We alternate each year having the early service for Rosh Hashanah.
On Yom Kippur we do the same and add an additional Yizkor service. For the afternoon services to the end of the concluding services and Havdalah we have one service.
We also have a children's service in the afternoon. Children's services are for non-readers or those who cannot sit for an hour plus service.
The family service is for children under 12 and families. It has become very popular and helped ease the crowding for the other services.
Bill 1100+ families
Our congregation, about 300 households, rents the facilities of a larger nearby Reform congregation (about 700 members). The larger congregation stays together in an enormous hotel ballroom. Members of that congregation tell me that from their perspective, what is lost through lack of intimacy is compensated by the joy of being so many together, the sheer intensity of 2000 people praying and singing at the same time.
By the way, our temple rents our space to a smaller group for the holidays.
It's very common for Los Angeles congregations to rent outside space ?churches, movie theaters, ballrooms, even UCLA's Pauley Pavilion ? for HHD services. This also permits the selling of tickets to nonmembers, to my mind an important way to attract potential members and raise funds, if only to cover the costs of the larger space.
Our sanctuary seats 1400, and combines with the social hall to add 800 more seats. We used to have two shifts, with the identical service for each. For the last decade or thereabouts, we have changed the nature of the first shift on the two holiday mornings, making it a relatively brief family service (about an hour), followed by what we call the congregational service, which is about 2-1/2 hours. We have a single service Erev Rosh Hashanah, but still maintain two shifts for Kol Nidrei. The system works so well, it's hard to believe how hard it was to get to it.
There were two main obstacles: First, combining the two congregational services meant giving up reserved seats, and that was traumatic. Second, although we had a count on how many tickets were issued, nobody really knew how many people came to each service. Attempts were made to get a count by collecting ticket stubs, by giving the ushers clickers, and even one year by stationing a photographer in the balcony so we could count heads in the resulting pictures (I kid you not!). It continues to amaze me how many years it took to arrive at the present system--fifteen minutes after services start, one of the security personnel unobtrusively counts the number of people sitting in the seats. Please don't ask why it took so long to reach that day.
It all goes to show, there's no business like shul business!
For many years at our temple we had identical Early and Late Services on both HHD evenings and mornings. Our one cantor lost her voice every year on Rosh HaShanah, and then had to do it again on Yom Kippur. And before we had a second rabbi (only in the late '90s), the rabbi too was "on" all the time.
In September 2001 (a few days after 9/11, as we all remember), we gathered at a local theater (a 1930s movie palace, in fact) for the first time in many years as a single congregation. That event was moving to all of those present, not only because of what had happened only a few days before. Having 1500 people in the hall was a singular occurrence, and even with some difficulties the event was important. We have made the Paramount Theater (only ten blocks from the synagogue) our new High Holiday Home for the past three years, and despite the issues (packing and transferring the Mahzorim, lighting problems, union wages, and other hall costs), we expect to do so for the foreseeable future.
So while I understand the desire for families to have a less formal service with more participation, and the issues of prep-time for dinner, etc., I suggest that having the whole "family" together has significant benefits that should not be overlooked.