How to Find a Synagogue
If you’re trying for the first time to find a place to attend services during these holidays, depending on where you live (and the size of the Jewish community), you may have many or few options. If you know people (especially other interfaith families) who’ve gone to High Holy Days services in your area, they can be a good resource for deciding where to attend services.
Looking up your local Jewish Federation can also be a good way to research options for attending services in your area. Jewish Federations are non-profit social service and community resource centers located in hundreds of cities across North America. You can visit their main website here, and then click on the “Find Your Federation” tab on their homepage to search for your local Federation’s website. Also, in larger cities, there is often a Jewish newspaper or monthly magazine, which will generally provide listings of congregations offering High Holy Days services in their summer issues. If you’re not sure how to get a copy, calling your local Federation is a good way to find out how.
Why Do So Many Non-Synagogue-Goers Attend High Holy Day Services?
The High Holy Days tend to bring Jews and people of other identities who are in interfaith households into synagogues in droves. Congregations may be filled beyond capacity. Many congregations aren’t able to use their own buildings, at least for the heavily attended evening services of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), so they may rent space in a larger auditorium.
Why do so many people who aren’t members of a synagogue, or who may not even be personally religious, come to High Holy Days services? There are several reasons. First, there’s comfort and familiarity. For people who’ve lived in a community for a long time, friends and acquaintances that they haven’t seen in a while are likely to be there. There are also people who take comfort in “touching base” with a synagogue once a year, possibly because they like to hear what a certain rabbi has to say during a sermon, or because they value the continuity of Jewish institutions even if they aren’t highly involved in them. For people who are new residents of a community, part of the draw is that these services offer an opportunity to check out part of the local Jewish scene.
A useful thing to keep in mind is that congregations that are in the midst of making High Holy Days services happen are functioning in a situation that is different from the ways in which they normally operate. A lot of volunteers are taking on different pieces of the single biggest project that synagogues undertake each year, so the energy and feel of the community for newcomers may be different than what they’d find coming to synagogue services or events during the much calmer rest of the year.