February 22, 2020

7 nontraditional ways to celebrate the High Holy Days

Rabbi Mendel Simons stated the problem as bluntly as he could.

“Let’s face it — shul is boring,” he said.

As the founder and director of Young Jewish Professionals (YJP) of Los Angeles, Simons is one of the Jewish leaders battling boredom, seeking to engage young people over the High Holy Days in ways that go beyond typical services.

If you get lost in the Hebrew while trying to follow along with the cantor, if your attention span doesn’t let you sit still for an entire service, or if praying just isn’t your thing, then maybe you will want to consider alternatives.

Here are seven ways to celebrate the High Holy Days without sitting through traditional services. More information about these events can be found by visiting this story at jewishjournal.com.

Do yoga with goats (Sept. 30)

Open Temple (opentemple.org) seeks to weave performance and innovative spiritualism into its services each week, and Yom Kippur is no different, said Rabbi Lori Shapiro.

Over the years, Shapiro said, she became “very frustrated going to shul and feeling it was becoming a passive performance, that people were just sitting there.” Her answer to traditional Yom Kippur services is Open Temple’s “Yom Kippur Urban Retreat,” a 25-hour experience that kicks off with Kol Nidre.

After the evening service, guests are invited to the parking lot to enter a maze designed to lead to about a half hour of contemplative walking. The next day begins with a guided imagery meditation, followed by prayers. It costs $36.

Finally, guests can join in goat yoga, a nod to the sacrificial service performed by the High Priest in the Second Temple period. An exploding national craze, goat yoga is exactly what it sounds like: Goats wander through a yoga class, brushing against people or climbing on top of them as they perform the poses. Shapiro said she first heard about the practice from a news report.

“The moment I saw it in The New York Times,” she said, “I was like, ‘Done!’ ”

Check out a humanist Jewish service (Sept. 24)

A recent study found that half of young American Jews identify as “cultural Jews” and “Jews of no religion.” For Jewish atheists or agnostics in Los Angeles who nonetheless long for spiritual community, Adat Chaverim (humanisticjudaismla.org) is the place to be.

Convening at the Tarzana Community and Cultural Center, Adat Chaverim is a “Humanistic Jewish Congregation offering a nontheistic supportive community,” according to its website. Services are heavy on music, culture and spiritualism and light on strict traditionalism and references to the divine.

If you want to commemorate the High Holy Days without the bits about God, Adat Chaverim, where services for nonmembers cost $50 for adults and $15 for kids, is a good bet. Plus, you’ll save time: the Sept. 24 service rolls Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and tashlich into one convenient two-hour session.

Sip appletinis at the Jeremy Hotel (Sept 21.)

At YJP, Simons’ mission is to shift people’s framework from “You’ve got to go to the High Holy Days” to “You get to go to the High Holy Days.”

Referring to himself as “not your typical rabbi,” Simons said he alters normal holiday services by adding an a cappella group and mindfulness meditations to help people get in the zone for prayer.

After services at the newly opened Jeremy Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, YJP (yjplosangeles.com) will host a mixer featuring appletinis, a nod to the tradition of eating apples and honey on the Jewish New Year. Tickets are $75; $50 for those younger than 35.

Watch a Yom Kippur improv show (Sept. 23)

Each year, Jonny Svarzbein takes Yom Kippur into his own hands. At his annual “Yom Kippur Show of Atonement,” Svarzbein plays the Crabbi — half crab, half rabbi — who passes judgment as a procession of bit characters and celebrities, played by Upright Citizens Brigade actors, confess their sins from the past year.

Svarzbein and a panel of (fictional) judges will decide at the UCB Franklin theater (franklin.ucbtheatre.com) whether contestants in the fourth-annual improv show will be absolved or condemned. The redeemed get to eat a corned beef sandwich at a Jewish deli, while the doomed are sentenced to watercooler talk with Gerald the Gentile, a mind-numbingly boring conversationalist played by the “straightest, whitest, male-est guy” Svarzbein can find.

Svarzbein wouldn’t reveal who would be up for judgment this year at the $5 event, but said in the past the persons on trial have included the price-gouging pharmaceutical baron Martin Shkreli and first son Eric Trump.

Cast your sins into the L.A. River (Sept. 23)

The Los Angeles River may not be much of a river, but it’s enough of a waterway, apparently, to carry away our sins.

That’s the idea behind the tashlich service, where pieces of bread are thrown into a body of water to symbolize one’s sins. On Sept. 23, East Side Jews will host “Down to the River,” a tashlich service in Frogtown at Marsh Park, which borders the river. Tickets cost $40.

The ceremony will include elements unique to the innovative East L.A. group, an offshoot of the Silverlake Independent Jewish Community Center (sijcc.net).

After a food and wine reception, members of East Side Jews will host an interactive installation on water conservation and a demonstration of shofar sounds on the kazoo. Another community member, award-winning storyteller Michael Kass, will entertain the crowd with a story, followed by the ceremonial unburdening of sins.

Sing Rosh Hashanah tunes at Temescal (Sept. 22)

For those whose only true temple is nature, Rosh Hashanah in Los Angeles is perhaps best spent with the roving congregation Nashuva, which gathers in Temescal Gateway Park on the second day of the Jewish New Year.

Services begin with a contemplative hike at 9 a.m., led by Nashuva member Andy Lipkis, founder of the conservation nonprofit TreePeople. Afterward, congregants gather for a musical service led by Rabbi Naomi Levy and the Nashuva Band in a grove of sycamore trees.

Dress is casual, but guests are encouraged to wear white. Services are free, with a suggested donation of $350.

Party at a Hollywood nightclub (Sept. 21)

Revelers from “Celebrate Rosh Hashanah 2016”


There are those who come to Jewish events only to check out the other young Hebrews and Shebrews in attendance. If that sounds like you, you might consider skipping services altogether and heading to “Celebrate Rosh Hashanah 2017,” a late-night Rosh Hashanah party at the Boulevard3 nightclub on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, beginning at 9:30 p.m. and going until 2:15 a.m. Admission is free for the first 400 to RSVP (to arrive before 10:30 p.m.) and $20 otherwise (roshhashanah2017.eventbrite.com).

The event is hosted by TLV Productions, a Van Nuys events company headed by Israeli-born Aviel Altit, who sets out to re-create all-out Tel Aviv-style parties in Los Angeles.

Altit said last year’s event drew more than 1,000 people, and he expects the same this year. In addition to the party essentials — music and booze — the event will feature Rosh Hashanah decorations, apples and honey and a sprinkling of Israeli music.