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Community Prepares for High Holy Days

Synagogues are turning to creative ways to attract community members to its High Holy Days services. 
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September 7, 2023
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Synagogues are turning to creative ways to attract community members to its High Holy Days services. 

The Reform congregation, Temple Judea, recently published a video that successfully parodies the infamous AMC promotional clip featuring actor Nicole Kidman discussing the merits of returning to in-person moviegoing.

In the approximately one-minute video, available for viewing on YouTube as well as the synagogue’s Instagram page, the congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Joshua Aaronson, walks into the temple’s sanctuary, sits down at one of the many empty pews. A screen is lowered from the bimah, and clips of vibrant synagogue life are shown before his widening eyes. There’s dancing in the synagogue courtyard, a bar mitzvah reading from the Torah, a rabbi delivering a sermon, children in a religious school setting, a Purim spiel.

“Rituals [here] feel perfect and powerful,” the rabbi says. Then, looking into the camera, he adds, “because here—they are.”

While the Temple Judea video parodying the AMC video is intended to be playful, it conveys a serious message, Aaronson said.

“After the pandemic, we noticed that our synagogue had entered a period of growth. We realized that the impact of the pandemic had presented us with a unique opportunity: People who might not otherwise have sought out a synagogue have come to us looking for connection, for fellowship—for the kind of support you can only find in an established spiritual community.”

Synagogues across Los Angeles are busy with preparations for the High Holy Days, and, with the pandemic behind us, shul leaders are excited to welcome people back to in person services.

“After the pandemic and all the turbulence, we’ve been making moves to reinvigorate and shake off the dust of the past and shine in a productive way for the community and the synagogue,” Mishkon Tephilo Rabbi Joshua Katzan told the Journal in a recent phone interview. “We’re investing in our future by upgrading and updating, and we’re excited about trying to be more aligned with the 21st century, addressing the evolving needs of the Jewish community.”

Mishkon Tephilo is a Conservative congregation, based out of a 75-year-old, mid-century building in Venice, CA. Katzan was hired two-and-a-half years ago, during the pandemic, and he’s experienced the challenge of keeping people engaged in their spiritual communities with much competition vying for their attention. 

While he supports a person’s decision to tune in virtually to services, particularly if they have medical reasons for doing so, he believes there’s no replacement to connecting with others in person.

“Being in touch with people in person is more healing than being in touch with people over social media.” – Rabbi Joshua Katzan 

“Being in touch with people in person is more healing than being in touch with people over social media,” he said. “While online platforms certainly have their benefits and help us feel more connected, the goal ought to be moderating how much we turn to the app, the Instagram feed or TikTok video.”

“That’s the essence of Judaism, learning to self-regulate so we spiritually, ethically and emotionally flourish,” Katzan said.

Temple of the Arts was one of the few non-Orthodox congregations to continue holding in-person services during the pandemic. This year, in a continued effort to make its services accessible to as many as possible, the synagogue is providing complimentary entry to its High Holy Days services for members of Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. Many of the people involved with congregation work in the entertainment industry, so it was important to consider financial challenges industry professionals are facing as they continue to be on strike, Temple of the Arts Rabbi David Baron told the Journal.

Additionally, as it does each year, the synagogue will be welcoming special in-person guests to its Yom Kippur services to share inspiring stories of heroism. This year’s speakers include Cristiano Zeledón, a former U.S. marine wounded in Ukraine while providing humanitarian aid, and 96-year-old Aron Bell, who was involved with an armed partisan detachment that rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

“I try to bring people who demonstrated in small and big ways acts of personal heroism in a dark hour,” Baron said. “To me they’re exemplars of the best of our selves.”

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