It’s a dilemma familiar to many a not-so-observant Jew as late September rolls around: fork over hundreds of dollars for High Holiday services or scandalize bubbe by skipping out altogether. Fortunately, in NYC some synagogues are opening their doors to wandering Jews during the High Holidays. Other organizations have sprung up specifically provide free and affordable festivities. With the Forward’s guide to this year’s offerings, you can expunge the sins of 5779 for less than you’d spend on a Broadway show.
Rabbi Judith Hauptman founded Ohel Ayalah in 2003 after a streetside encounter with a young Jewish couple who had been turned away from services at two synagogues. She envisioned an organization that would give any Jew a welcoming place to celebrate the new year. Ohel Ayalah now provides a full slate of High Holidays programming that has resonated with many young, unaffiliated Jews. One website commenter wrote that the free services kept her from “wallowing in self-punishing regret” on Rosh Hashanah, while another praised the festivities as “reminiscent of ancient traditions and relevant to the modern day.” Services are held in locations in Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn. Reservations are closed, but walk-in seats are still available.
It’s not your grandma’s JCC! This Jewish organization arrived in Harlem three years ago and strives to serve various communities in the historic neighborhood. They offer a wide array of Rosh Hashanah activities from “Sit + Sorry,” a Zen Buddhist take on repentance and forgiveness, to an outdoor brunch and a DIY Rosh Hashanah dinner workshop. Of course, they also offer a standard, no-frills service ($18).
Congregation Beth Elohim/Brooklyn Jews
An offshoot of Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim, Brooklyn Jews is an outreach program directed at young Jews who want to combine “progressive, egalitarian Judaism” and secular life. Jews of all stripes are welcome at Rosh Hashanah services; the organization’s leaders stress that familiarity with synagogue ritual is not necessary. If you want to ring 5780 alongside your peers at a modern, upbeat service, this is the shul for you. Tickets are $40.
Free Synagogue in Flushing
As you may have gleaned, this synagogue is entirely free - including, wonder of wonders, its High Holiday services! Founded in 1917, the synagogue is deeply rooted in the Queens community, and services in the light-filled, historic sanctuary are reminiscent of the Jewish community’s deep roots in the borough. Visit their website to register for family and adult High Holiday services and even a communal Break the Fast ($10). Registration is required for all events.
Jewish Learning Center in New York
Even when services are free or affordable, they often require registration or fill up in advance. But if you wake up on Rosh Hashanah morning with no plans at all, not to worry—head down to the East Village for services at the Jewish Learning Center, which are free and ticketless. The JLC focuses on providing resources to interfaith couples, so if you’re attending services with a goyish friend or a significant other, this is a welcoming environment for you. The website promises singing, dancing, and mysterious “surprises”—the Schmooze is intrigued.
Stanton St. Shul
Immigrant Jews from Galicia, Poland first tooted the shofar on Stanton Street in 1913. Today, this synagogue in the historically Jewish Lower East Side welcomes Jews of all backgrounds to free High Holiday services. Stanton St. Shul is known for its “Mazalot:” zodiac paintings rendered in a two-thousand-year-old Eastern European tradition. Celebrating the new year surrounded by this ancient folk art is sure to be a moving experience. Register here before attending.
Founded in 1886, Greenpoint Shul has become a haven for young Brooklynites who want to combine traditional services with a modern way of life and community service—in true Brooklyn fashion, the synagogue even has a community garden that grows produce for a local food bank. Greenpoint offers Rosh Hashanah services, as well as a kiddush lunch and community dinner. Babysitting is available during most services. Register online and pay what you wish (Greenpoint suggests $30 for non-members).
This Brooklyn congregation has a long history of open doors: they haven’t sold tickets since they opened twenty-five years ago. This year, Kolot Chayeinu will host services at City Tech’s NAC theater in Brooklyn, a fully accessible space. Sign language interpreters will be present at some services. If you need any kind of accommodation during the holidays, this is a space for you.
Irene Katz Connelly is an intern at the Forward. You can contact her at email@example.com
Free (And Free-ish) Rosh Hashanah Services In New York