Synagogues gear services to young professionals

Young professional groups are hoping to draw 20- and 30-something Jews to shul during Rosh Hashanah with offerings that include a game show-style trivia contest, shorter, more musical services and apple martinis.

Organizers with Valley Ruach, a young professionals group at Adat Ari El, a Conservative synagogue in Valley Village, have turned the second-day Rosh Hashanah service into a trivia-based game show: RH2 — The Game. Attendees can win prizes by correctly answering questions about the holiday’s Torah portion.

“We’re offering something completely different,” said Ben Vorspan, Valley Ruach’s director. Rosh Hashanah, he added, “lends itself to the idea of trivia. Learning about the Torah portion on the High Holy Days in a fun way isn’t so radical that it couldn’t be accepted.”

A rabbinical student from American Jewish University will lead the Valley Ruach services. And, Vorspan said, there won’t be any sermons.

“I think that a lot of people, my age especially … they remember from their childhood that they were sitting through these long, boring services with 30-minute sermons,” said Vorspan, the son of Rabbi David Vorspan and grandson of Rabbi Max Vorspan.

Vorspan said the other “nontraditional” Valley Ruach services will be “shorter, guitar-accompanied [and] just more enjoyable.”

“[Attendees] are actually smiling while they’re sitting there, not counting pages, not leaving early,” he said.

Other congregations, such as Sinai Temple, Stephen S. Wise Temple and University Synagogue, will hold services that similarly cater to a young adult crowd.

Stacey Zackin, director of ATID, a young professionals group at Sinai Temple, said that musical services with the Upstairs Minyan, led by Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer and singer-songwriter Craig Taubman, are “designed specifically for young professionals.”

“I think Craig Taubman is a big draw,” Zackin said, for “the spirit and energy he brings … the mixture of alternative innovation while still being grounded in tradition.”

Zackin said she expects approximately 600 people to attend the services in Sinai Temple’s Weinberg Gymnasium.

At University Synagogue in Los Angeles, the recently formed young professionals group, Brentwood Havurah, hopes cocktails will attract people in their 20s and 30s. In a twist on the holiday tradition of apples and honey, attendees can enjoy apple martinis and honey cake after services.

Likewise, the W Group at Stephen S. Wise Temple will hold an appletini party following services on Sept. 8.