There are many reasons to offer free or low-cost High Holy Day services.
First, Jews are commanded to hear the shofar sounded on Rosh Hashanah. That is, in fact, the central mitzvah of the day. So providing a way for more Jews to fulfill this mitzvah is a mitzvah itself.
Second, free or low-cost services can be a way to reach out to Jews who don’t belong to a synagogue, in the hopes that they will return, bringing their children and checkbooks.
But most of all, the Jewish community opens its doors in this holy season to echo the opening of the divine doors of forgiveness and inclusion, bringing Jews together to reflect, repent and return to our best selves before those doors shut again on Yom Kippur.
One of the biggest Rosh Hashanah events this year is Chabad’s “Pre–Jew Year’s Eve Party” on Wednesday, Sept. 24 at the Concordia Club in San Francisco. Kicking off at 5 p.m. with music by Joel Nelson and libations at the Blue Angel Vodka bar, the evening continues with a traditional Erev Rosh Hashanah service and concludes with a kosher dinner by Epic Bites. It’s presented by Chabad of S.F., SoMa Shul and Chabad of Pacific Heights.
“A lot of Jews are intimidated by synagogue, so I try to find an uplifting environment,” says Rabbi Yosef Langer, who has been putting on these dinner-and-davening events for years. “You’re supposed to feast after the services, so why not a little vorspeise [appetizer] as well?”
He used to hold court at the Fairmont Hotel, but difficulties with kosher dietary laws led Langer to move to the city’s historic Jewish club, the Concordia, in the spring for Passover. That seder went so well — more than 250 people showed up — he decided to return to the Concordia for Rosh Hashanah (Yom Kippur services will still be held at the Fairmont). It was a fortuitous move, as the building has been sold and escrow is expected to close in a few months, so this will be the last big public Jewish event scheduled for this piece of San Francisco Jewish history.
Langer promises a rollicking good time, with plenty of music, food and drink. “It’s a time for thoughtfulness as we go into the new year, but with a golden lining,” he says. “That’s the Chabad way.”
The Chabad services are free, but an RSVP is required for dinner at www.chabadsf.org. Morning services will be held Thursday, Sept. 25 at 9:30 a.m. at the Concordia, followed by a public sounding of the shofar, Kiddush and honey cake at 1 p.m. at Union Square.
In addition to the Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services listed here, Chabad houses around the Bay Area will host free High Holy Day services (www.chabad.org). For other holiday-related events, see the calendar on page 51. Donations are welcome at all services.
Berkeley Community. Indoor-outdoor egalitarian community service, serving the East Bay since the 1970s. At JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., Sept. 25 at 10 a.m., Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. (with cello performance by Nancy Allen), Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. Free, no tickets required, donations accepted. www.highholydayservices.org
Chabad of North Peninsula. Children’s services available. At Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School, 800 Foster City Blvd., Foster City. Sept. 24 at 6 p.m., Sept. 25 and 26 at 8:30 a.m., Oct. 3 at 6:15 p.m., Oct. 4 at 9 a.m. Free. www.chabadnp.com
Chabad of Oakland & Piedmont. At Chabad of Oakland & Piedmont, 3008 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland. Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. (holiday meal follows), Sept. 25 and 26 at 10:30 a.m., Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., Oct. 4 at 10:30 a.m. (break-the-fast buffet at 7:30 p.m.). Free, RSVP requested. www.jewishoakland.org
Chabad of S.F. At the Concordia Club, 1142 Van Ness Ave., S.F. Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. (preceded by dinner and drinks at 5 p.m.; RSVP required), Sept. 25 and 26 at 9:30 a.m. Yom Kippur services at the Fairmont Hotel, 950 Mason St., S.F. Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., Oct. 4 at 9:30 a.m. Free, no tickets or RSVP required. www.chabadsf.org
Chabad of Solano County. Programs for children and teens. At Hampton Inn and Suites, 800 Mason St., Vacaville. Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. (holiday meal follows), Sept. 25 and 26 at 10 a.m., Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. (break-the-fast at 8 p.m.), Free, RSVP requested. www.jewishsolano.com
Chabad of Sunnyvale. Programs for children. Sept. 24 at 6:45 p.m. at Chabad of Sunnyvale, 540 Utica Drive, Sunnyvale. Sept. 25 at 9:30 a.m. at Las Palmas Park Building, 850 Russet Drive, Sunnyvale. Sept. 26 at 9:30 a.m. at Chabad of Sunnyvale. Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 4 at 9:30 a.m. at Hilton Garden Inn, 840 E. El Camino Real, Mountain View. Free, RSVP welcome. www.chabadsunnyvale.com
Congregation Beth David. At Beth David, 19700 Prospect Road, Saratoga. Sept. 24 at 6 and 8 p.m., Sept. 25 and 26 at 8:30 a.m., Oct. 3 at 6 p.m., Oct. 4 at 9 a.m. Free tickets available with RSVP. www.beth-david.org
Congregation Shir Hadash. Family service geared for children ages 2 to 6 and their families. At Shir Hadash, 20 Cherry Blossom Lane, Los Gatos. Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. www.shirhadash.org
Congregation Sinai. Traditional Conservative services and children’s services. At Congregation Sinai, 1532 Willowbrae Ave., San Jose. Sept. 24 at 6:45 p.m., Sept. 25 and 26 at 8:30 a.m., Oct. 3 at 6 p.m., Oct. 4 at 8:30 a.m. Free tickets available for unaffiliated Bay Area residents who have not attended Sinai’s High Holy Days services before. www.sinai-sj.org
East Bay Minyan. Traditional, spirited and participatory prayer. At Finnish Hall, 1970 Chestnut St., Berkeley. Oct. 3 at 6 p.m. Suggested donation $36. www.eastbayminyan.org
Jewish Gateways. Inclusive, independent community services held under an open canopy. Services primarily in English. Early family services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. At JCC East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., Sept. 25 at 10:30 a.m., Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., Oct. 4 at 10:30 a.m. Free, no tickets required, donations accepted. www.jewishgateways.org
Jewish Study Network. Independent, explanatory services for Rosh Hashanah. At Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Sept. 25 at 8:45 a.m. $36, RSVP requested. www.jsn.info/roshhashanahservices.html
Keddem Congregation. Participatory Reconstructionist services open to all. No fees, no tickets. Reservations appreciated. Children’s services available. At Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto, on Sept. 24 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 25 at 9:30 a.m. At Congregation Etz Chayim, 4161 Alma St., Palo Alto, on Sept. 26 at 9:30 a.m. At Oshman Family JCC on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. and Oct. 4 at 9:15 a.m. www.keddem.org
Keneset HaLev. Non-denominational indoor-outdoor services in Golden Gate Park. Instruments welcome at Rosh Hashanah services. At the San Francisco County Fair Building, Ninth Avenue and Lincoln Way, S.F. Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m., Sept. 25 at 10 a.m., Oct. 3 at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 4 at 10 a.m. with break-the-fast at 7 p.m. Free, walk-ins welcome. www.kenesethalev.org
Kolaynu: The Progressive Voice of Jewish Santa Cruz. Egalitarian community service. At Pacific Cultural Center, 1307 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. Sept. 24 at 6:45 p.m. Free, no tickets required, donations accepted. www.tinyurl.com/kolaynuRH2014
Tri-Valley Cultural Jews. Secular humanist holiday program of music and readings. Children welcome. Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. at Unitarian Universalist Church, 1893 N. Vasco Road, Livermore. Oct. 4 from 2 to 5 p.m. at Bothwell Arts Center, 2466 Eighth St., Livermore. Suggested donation $15 (adults). www.trivalleyculturaljews.wordpress.com