Skip Navigation
October 6, 2015 | 23rd Tishrei 5776

  1. Through this year, we've had a program/discussion, followed by an oneg, then a service with participation by our choir (some 25-30 singers strong and a major part of our High Holy Day services, so in a sense, the service has also been sort a warm-up for our choir). In recent years, the program began at 9:30 after a Havdalah service, the service at 11 or 11:30 and concluding shortly after midnight. We now feature a Torah-cover changing (from the"normal"to the white HHDay covers) as part of the service.

    At one time, this program was relatively well attended, with a nice dessert spread for the oneg. My wife and I thought it to be one of the highlights of the Temple calendar. In more recent years, however, attendance has dropped off, so that this year, there were few people there who weren't either a choir member or choir family member--and the oneg selection has also dwindled.

    Our rabbi and worship committee are looking into what we can do differently to increase congregational participation. In our initial round of feedback, we are finding congregants--even Board members--who have little or no understanding of the significance of S'lichot. Another--and perhaps obvious--item mentioned is that the service runs too late.

    David (450 member units)

  2. With respect to requests for S'lichot programming ideas, everyone should be aware of (or reminded of) the wonderful materials produced by the Union's Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living?"Reaching For Holiness: A Study Guide for S'lichot, the High Holy Days, and Sukkot" []. As in years past, this year's booklet was filled with creative programming ideas and suggestions.

  3. We start ours at 7:30 and have had growing attendance since we moved it earlier. One could discuss the appropriateness of 7:30 vs. 8:00 vs. 8:30, but getting much later pushes it back to too late for many of our congregants to be able to attend. This affects the young families and the senior members most. Young families are very critical in our congregation as the whole concept of having a S'lichot service is recent (last ten years or so) and most of the old timers do not have any understanding of why we would have such a service.

  4. Each year we hold a S'lichot service, commencing at 11pm, which normally attracts about 40+ people. I have been asked to organise this year's service and, one of the changes I would like to instigate, is changing the coloured sifrei Torah mantles to white at the beginning of the service. (In the past this has been carried out following the Shabbat morning service). I feel it would be relevant to have a small ceremony which links this changing of the mantles with the High Holy Days and I wonder whether anyone has any liturgy which could be used.

  5. Our congregation has a long tradition of changing the Torah mantles to white at the beginning of the S'lichot service. We don't use a particular ritual. Our attendance is usually small enough that the rabbi just invites anyone who wants to participate to come up to the bimah. As I recall we don't even have music, but if you wanted it, music related to the ritual of reading Torah would be appropriate. It's a lovely custom and really makes a solemn beginning to the service.
    1200 families

  6. We do not have special liturgy, however our five Torahs are held by individuals throughout the congregation, with a mantle on the seat next to them. The rabbi invites anyone who wishes to help to step up and do so. Someone removes the colored vestments and others place the white ones and the accoutrements. We then have a hakafahwith singing. It is most impressive and moving.

  7. S'lichot is fast approaching. For the past twenty-plus years we have tried many ways to get congregants to attend this beautiful service, never attracting more than about fifty people. Does anyone have ideas or suggestions that have proved successful?
    480 Family Units

  8. ...I have broaden[ed] the question since we want to get people to come to our Saturday morning service, Feastival Service, Yitzker Service. We offer an oneg (free food) after the service or in the case of S'lichot before the service. That doesn't seem to work. I'm not sure people believe. I confess I have not taken a survey and I'm just [not] getting [it]. We plan wonder services with great program and people are not attending. Why?

    We ask each other (the believers that would attend services no matter what) why, and we try a lot of different things with varying degrees of success. I don't know the answers but put out the question to discussion. Have we asked the synagogue membership why they don't show? What are they saying?

    The answer may be that we cannot get people to shul no matter what we do. That is not my favorite conclusion, but that might be the situation...


  9. To attract more attendees to S'lichot services, many temples in our region make the service the culmination of an evening of study and socializing at the temple. A coffee hour, followed by a period of discussion of a relevant text leads naturally into the almost-mystical service where we begin to adjust ourselves into High Holiday mode. Other synagogues offer a cultural program--music, dramatic readings, movies, etc.--to create a mood of holiness. Each year the Union?s Worship Department releases Reaching For Holiness, a study guide for S'lichot, the High Holy Days and Sukkot; this publication offers a wide range of topics and processes for preparing for S'lichot. This is available on line (, and also each temple is entitled to a complimentary copy. A number of our region's temples include the ritual for changing the Torah mantles to their Holiday White as part of the S'lichot ceremony--this also attracts much interest. Finally, I know of some synagogues that have an early, family S'lichot observance so that families with young children can experience at least some form of the specialness of the evening.
    Union for Reform Judaism, New Jersey--West Hudson Valley Council

  10. We do an evening's worth of activities, beginning around 9pm. Sometimes there's a performance, or a speaker. This year there?s a movie. There is a dessert reception in between the performance and the service. The service begins around 11:15 and ends at midnight, with everyone asked to leave in silence.
    approx. 1,050 families

  11. Because S'lichot fell on Labor Day weekend last year, we tried something new, which was a barbecue! It began at 6:00, and the temple provided the burgers and dogs, condiments, etc., and people brought side dishes and desserts. People ate and socialized.

    Then we continued with our regular program: a storyteller (she has been coming for a number of years). We take a short break for dessert and coffee, and then have the service, at which time we change the Torah covers. The evening ended about 10 or 10:30.

    Because the barbecue was a success, we are trying it again this year. We will follow the same program as last year, with one addition: I (the cantor) am going to take some time between dinner and the storyteller to review/teach High Holiday melodies, that will be used during that night's service.


  12. Materials for S'lichot, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot are on the Union's Web Site at: There are several years' worth of guide books with readings (especially the guide for 2000), study programs, film guides, etc. They do include interfaith program for 9/11. There is also a subject index available as a Word document.
    Rabbi Sue Ann Wasserman, Director
    Department of Worship, Music and Religious Living
    Union for Reform Judaism

  13. I can attest to the usefulness of [the Union's HHD study guides (]. On at least two occasions when I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, and leading very small HHD services, they were excellent YK afternoon service materials.

  14. Our congregation hosts a Pot Luck Supper for S'lichot and follows it with some sort of educational program that is usually at least somewhat family-oriented. Dessert is usually eaten during or immediately after the program. Because we want to encourage our families to remain for the S'lichot service, we begin it at 9 P.M., and it usually lasts no more than forty to forty-five minutes.

    Over the years, the programs have included opportunities to learn or review the prayer-songs used during our High Holy Days' services and Jewish Jewpardy. One year I made an oversized balance-type scale (reminiscent of the scales of justice), with clean Cool Whip bowls at the ends of the lines (rather than a flat surface) and hung it from the ceiling. One bowl was labeled "The Good I've / We've Done" and the other was labeled "The Not So Good I've Done" (or words to that effect). Slips of blank paper were made available to all the participants who were asked to write on a separate slip of paper, all the things they'd done or said, or not done or not said, during the past year of which they were proud, about which they felt good, and also those of which they were less proud, those things for which they were sorry. After folding the slips of paper, the participants were to place them in the appropriate bowl. When everyone had written and added to the 'scale' as many things as they each chose to include, we looked at the scale, and then talked about what we thought it meant. Discussion that evening centered around how our tradition teaches that in deciding "who shall live" through the coming year, God weighs the good we have done during the past year vs the not-so-good, improvements we could make as individuals, as families, and as a congregation, and how to go about making those changes. We also remembered and shared those things of which we were proud, again looking at each of the categories--self, family, congregation--and discussed the importance of continuing and perhaps even improving upon those things--and how. We concluded the program with a reminder that the "gates of heaven" are always open to those who truly repent of their wrongs and how we are given the opportunity each year to begin again with a clean slate--an even balance.

    Another year we did a similar activity and discussion using the concept of al cheit--missing the mark. That year we learned how challenging it can be to always be "on target" with our behavior and our words when dealing with others. Participants had several opportunities to try to get beanbags into buckets (or boxes) that were not very large or necessarily very close. Another activity involved a rather large bulls-eye target that was hung on the wall. Each participant was given two pre-cut paper arrows (with extras available for those who wanted them). On one, they were to write something they'd done or said during the course of the past year--or not done or said (because sometimes refraining is the better choice)--that they felt had been "on target"--just the right thing at the right time. On the other, was written something they felt had "missed the mark" and had resulted in misunderstandings, hurt feelings, etc. These arrows (with or without names) were then placed on the big bulls-eye according to how close to the bulls-eye each participant felt was appropriate. We talked about the "bulls-eye" as possibly representing God. The closer we come to fulfilling our destiny of being role models for the way God wants people everywhere to behave and to treat one another, the closer to God we are able to be. We talked about some good "targets" (behaviors, mitzvot, values) towards which Judaism teaches we should "aim" during the coming year. At the end of the program, each person was given a small bulls-eye target to take home as a reminder.

    Still other times, we have done some text study, usually using one of the programs available from the Union for Reform Judaism.


  15. We have used the Union's materials for both S'lichot and for YK afternoon study for many years. Typically we run a S'lichot adult study program from 7:30--9:15 P.M. or so, prior to the 10 P.M. service. The time between is a coffee and dessert reception.

    This year we are actually hosting a lecture (with admission fee) by Sam Gruber, author of American Synagogues.

    For the S'lichot service we use the paperback CCAR publication.

    680 member units

  16. We usually start the program at 7:30 P.M. with Havdalah, then we either have a discussion in the sanctuary or sometimes break up in to small discussion groups, refreshments (coffee/cake, bagels/cream cheese) are served around 9 P.M. and the S'lichot service is at 10 P.M.

    The S'lichot service is held in the darkened sanctuary. The rabbi leads us through a guided meditation. We have our own prayer book, but I don't think it is copyrighted, so I can't share it.

    We have, on occasion, invited other smaller congregations to join us (Reform and Conservative).

    Last year's program, led by our new assistant cantor, was on music for the High Holidays; the year before a psychologist discussed forgiveness.

    We have 100 to 150 people attend.

    1,000+ member units

  17. We have a late start that evening. There's a Bagels, etc. table and meditation session from 8:30 to 9:30 P. M. After that we begin the more traditional evening with Havdalah. We then have a 2- or 3-part study session in our chapel, led by Rabbis and Cantor. They have taught on a wide variety of topics, including the wording of prayers, the nusach (tunes) of the Holy Days, and other aspects of the liturgy. We then do the service, and leave at about 12:30 A. M.

    We don't have a huge crowd, but there is a regular group of thirty or so. Our adult choir also takes part and leads the chants during the service itself. It's quite a moving experience.


  18. You might find it useful to take a look at I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, edited by Judea and Ruth Pearl, published by Jewish Lights Publishing, which contains responses from 147 famous and not-so-famous Jews in 12 countries, from across the spectrum of Jewish thought and life, adults (including our own Eric Yoffie, Naamah Kelman, Uri Regev) and even some kids from our Union for Reform Judaism summer camps.

    Quite a few congregations have told us that they are (1) using readings from this book as part of S?lichot and other HH Day services and (2) they are also inviting selected members of their congregation to write their own statements of what they mean when they say the words "I Am Jewish" to read to the congregation. For example, one major Union congregation is making this the theme of its S'lichot service. Another is making it the theme of its discussion Yom Kippur afternoon.

    100 households
    (And editor-in-chief and publisher of Jewish Lights)

  19. June 2007 Digest 118

                At [our congregation]…we--after years of experimenting--finally found a formula that works. We start in the early evening and have wine and nibbles for an hour or so. We then have a dinner, followed by a learning/discussion post-dinner, clergy-led. We then end with a candlelit Havdalah and service. We get 75-100 people. It is not a kid-event.


    1200 families
  20. June 2007 Digest 118

                ...The best one I have attended started out as a "learn HHD melodies" program after a potluck dinner, then we all gathered in the sanctuary as Rabbi turned to the Akedah in the Torah, and then covered the Torah in its HHD cover. We then commenced our S’lichot service. People who didn't want to stay left, but many people who had planned on leaving stayed! I want to do that at my shul this year.

  21. June 2007 Digest 118

                For S’lichot we have a social hour from 8:30p-9:30p--small collation and musical presentation by our soloist if he is available, followed by services at 9:30p which usually ends at 10:30 or 11:00p.

                Our turnout has been approximately forty people each year. We have the collation so that people who have not seen each other over the summer can get together and “catch up.”

                Our service includes not only the liturgy, but also the symbolic changing from year-round Torah covers and parochet to white ones (I say symbolic because it takes too long for us to change all eight Torahs during the service); this is done with participation from those in attendance.


    120 member families
  22. June 2007 Digest 118

                We have a dessert social sponsored by the Board of Directors at 9 pm, followed by a "candlelight" (…low light) service at 10 pm. It’s always lovely. I'd say we get a decent turnout. Maybe 100?


    approx 450 family units
  23. June 2007 Digest 118

                We have had a S’lichot service as long as I can remember. Starting at 7:30-8:00 with some kind of a program; last year we showed Ushpizin, introduced by and follow-up discussion with the director of the…JCC Jewish Film Festival, who happens to be a member. We then move on to coffee and sweets in the 9:30 range (or during the discussion), ending with Havdalah, then the service starts at 10:00. This year we are considering A Cantor's Tale for the program. Some years there has been a more scholarly program. It varies depending on who is doing the planning and who has an inspiration. We usually have fifty or so people.


    400 member units
  24. June 2007 Digest 118

                At [our congregation], we begin around 6:00 or 6:30 with a pot-luck supper. After that, we have a text study. We then go to the sanctuary, where congregants are asked to help change the Torah covers from their every-day covers to white. When all are back in their seats, we conduct the liturgy from Gates of Forgiveness (Havdalah and S'lichos).

                I don't have exact attendance numbers, but I'd guess we get about 30 for supper, maybe a dozen more for study, and about 50-60 for the service.


    ~500 families
  25. June 2007 Digest 118

                We have services starting at 9:30, however we start with a dessert reception, group activities (several seminars on a variety of subjects) and also have Havdalah before S’lichot. Attendance is pretty good.

                Check out the URJ publication[s] on [Tikkun Leil Shavuot --].

  26. June 2007 Digest 119

                We've held a service every year for the fifteen I've been a member. It starts with a gathering in our lobby. We then do Havdalah in a small outdoor courtyard (too small some years, just right others).

                We then go up to the Chapel (which holds about 100). There is a program or series of teaching sessions, including our rabbis, cantor, and sometimes laypeople. One year we did a mock trial of God. Last year it was a film and discussion. We've explored the liturgy itself, the music and text of the Yomim, and our own personal experiences.

                We then change the Torah covers, and do the service. One of the best things is that many members of our adult volunteer choir (we have about twenty-five at this point) come and sing the liturgy. It's one of the highlights of the year for some who come.

                We used to start at 9 or so, and get out at 12:30am. But last year we started and ended earlier, at the request of some congregants. But it's still a wonderful treat.


    975 units
  27. June 2007 Digest 119

                At [our congregation] we were having S’lichot services when I joined in the late 60's and we had some sort of program--the service began at midnight. Over the years this has been modified, and we have some sort of program--light refreshments, Havdalah, change Torah covers, and begin service at 11 p.m. Congregation size is modest at best, but this can be a great spiritual experience.


URJ logo

Donate Now



Multimedia Icon Multimedia:  Photos  |  Videos  |  Podcasts  |  Webinars
Bookmark and Share About Us  |  Careers  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright Union for Reform Judaism 2015.  All Rights Reserved