A High Holiday service at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. (Photo/From file)
A High Holiday service at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. (Photo/From file)

How to find free and accessible High Holiday services during the pandemic

In normal years, most synagogues charge nonmembers for tickets to High Holiday services. It’s a big help to their bottom line, and makes perfect sense. And in normal years, this publication provides readers with a list of free and low-cost High Holiday services around the Bay Area as an aid to those who cannot afford the price of tickets. 

But this year, when nothing is normal, most High Holiday services in the Bay Area are free to everyone, including nonmembers.

Some synagogues are saying so explicitly. Others are not, but as one rabbi put it, “We send out the Zoom link to our members, and it’s fine if they send it to their friends and relatives.” 

All Conservative and Reform synagogues in the region, as well as many other non-Orthodox synagogues, are offering either livestreams of their own services or streaming recorded services. And virtually all are offering those for free.

Orthodox synagogues, however, cannot use technology on the holidays, so they must hold their services in person (except for several that are livestreaming the Kol Nidre service before sundown on Sunday, Sept. 27).

In order to keep worshippers safe, Bay Area Chabads and Modern Orthodox and Orthodox synagogues are, in general, offering these services outside, and with limited attendance. Chabad High Holiday services are free every year; check with one near you to see how they’re limiting attendance this year. Modern Orthodox and Orthodox synagogues are generally restricting attendance to members because there will be limited seating at their outdoor services, but nonmembers wishing to attend should contact congregations to inquire about special arrangements.

Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of Friday, Sept. 18 this year, and Yom Kippur starts the evening of Sept. 27.

Synagogues of all stripes in the area are offering in-person tashlich and opportunities to hear the shofar blown in person.

In all cases, we recommend taking a look through our list of Northern California synagogues and double-checking their High Holiday policies: Jewish Resource Guide

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the digital editor of J. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.