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High Holiday FAQ

  1. Do I need to buy tickets?
    Definitely not. The founders of our congregation believed that no one should have to pay to attend holiday services, and we continue to uphold this principle. Our services are open to anyone wishing to attend.

    That being said, High Holy Day services create a significant financial burden on our small congregation. We incur substantial costs to use the beautiful space at the First Unitarian Society, and countless hours of volunteer time go into organizing the services and potlucks. High Holy Day preparations also take up a large portion of our rabbi's time.

    If you are not a member of our congregation, we hope you will make a tax-deductible contribution after the holidays. We suggest a donation of $250 for all the services, or $100 for a single day. We understand that people have varying resources, so please contribute what you can. It's important that everyone chips in to sustain our community.

    We also hope that you will join our community and support progressive Jewish life in Madison.
  2. What are the services like?
    Our services generate a sense of community. They are located at the First Unitarian Society. This year we will be in the Atrium Auditorium.

    We use the Reconstructionist machzor (prayer book) and insert several contemporary readings throughout the service. We have hired a Reconstructionist cantor, Shira Stanford-Asiyo, to lead the music throughout the service. She is quite talented and will be traveling from Vancouver, Canada. Members of our community sing with her in a group called High Holiday Song. The liturgy is a combination of traditional and contemporary melodies. We are very participatory and encourage everyone to sing along. Our members also lead various parts of the service, share English readings, chant Torah and Haftarah, and blow shofar.

    Our services last several hours; we encourage you to take breaks and sit outside on the lawn or chat with a friend in the lobby. Many people come and go throughout these days. We hope you make our space your home during this time.
  1. Do people generally arrive on time and stay until the end of the service?
    For our evening services people do usually arrive on time and stay until the end. Erev Rosh Hashanah lasts about an hour and a half and Kol Nidrei lasts a little over two hours. Our services on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur morning run about four hours each. The second day of Rosh Hashanah is about htree hours and is smaller and less formal. Many people arrive late for morning services, and they come and go throughout the day of Yom Kippur. They also take breaks and sit and chat outside.
  2. What is your policy on using electronic devices? Writing? Handling money? Taking photographs? Using microphones?
    We strive to create a spiritually moving, comfortable, and inclusive atmosphere at our services. Our members have a variety of Jewish practices and adhere to Jewish tradition in different ways. We have thought carefully about the boundaries we set and in what ways we uphold them. In that vein, we ask that you:
  • Help us create holy space by moving and conversing quietly in the sanctuary.
  • Refrain from using electronic devices such as cell phones, iPads, pagers, etc. in the sanctuary and adjacent hallways. If you bring a cell phone, please make sure to stow it away and turn it off or set it to silent. If you need to make a call or send a text, please go outside the building. It is distracting to many of our members when someone is making a phone call or even scrolling through their phone.
  • Not pay your childcare and potluck fees or make a donation on the holidays. Please register online or send a check to the office.
  • Refrain from taking photographs and videos.

We do ask that visitors sign in when they walk into the building, and children are welcome to color. We will also be using microphones for the services. 

  1. I’m hard of hearing – do you have listening assistance devices?
    Yes, and we welcome people to use them. There are also looping devices for people's hearing aids. Please speak with a greeter when you come in and that person will assist you.
  2. Will there be musical instruments?
    Our members are from diverse Jewish backgrounds, and we strive to create services that appeal to as many people as possible. One or two of our members typically play a small drum at different parts of the services. To learn more about our policy on drumming, please contact our office. Aviv Kammay also plays guitar in our children’s services.
  3. Is there anything special I should know about Kol Nidrei?
    Yes. We strongly encourage you to arrive as early as possible on Kol Nidrei, both to reduce the congestion of parking and because we will be chanting Kol Nidrei before sundown. While we try to start all services on time, we will especially begin Kol Nidrei promptly. If you would like to light a yahrtzeit candle before the service, please arrive 15-30 minutes early.
  4. Should I bring my children? Won’t they be bored?
    You should definitely bring your children! We have a variety of children’s programming – a Tot service for children ages 0-5, a Kindergarten through 5th grade service, and youth discussions for 6th-8th graders and 9th-12th graders. We also provide childcare, offer space for 9-12 year-olds, and welcome children of all ages in the service. They can bring quiet toys, coloring pages, or books inside the sanctuary – though we ask that you not use electronic devices like iPads. Highlights include the shofar service on Rosh Hashanah and a special blessing for children on Yom Kippur. The only times we ask that young children are really quiet is when one person is speaking and others are trying to listen. *In the Atrium Auditorium there is a "quiet room" adjacent to the sanctuary where children can make lots of noise and parents can still hear and see the service.
  5. What’s tashlich?
    Tashlich is an old ritual done on Rosh Hashanah. We walk to a river or lake and throw bread into the water, symbolizing the casting off of our sins. We will hold a tashlich gathering on the first day of Rosh Hashanah – feel free to join us. Bring some bread crumbs and a snack if you’d like, and spend some time with others doing this lovely ritual. Please consult our calendar for the exact time and location.
  6. Is the second day of Rosh Hashanah the same as the first day of Rosh Hashanah?
    The service is largely the same, but we do not have a formal Torah service. Instead we ask a member to give a dvar Torah and lead a discussion about themes of the day. It's also a smaller service. Several of our members gather after the service for a picnic lunch. (This is not a potluck – please bring your own lunch.)
  7. What policies have you established regarding safety?
    Keeping our members safe is a priority for us. The chairs of our safety committee, Josh Sulman and Lisi Shrimpf, are happy to speak to anyone who would like to discuss our plans. Please contact the office and we will put you in touch with them.
  8. What happens during the day of Yom Kippur?
    We encourage you to stay throughout the day of Yom Kippur. The First Unitarian Society has a beautiful campus, and we are welcome to spend time outside.
  • Our Yizkor service begins at 1:30 p.m. This is an opportunity to remember loved ones, especially parents, who have died. We recite much of the traditional service but also leave time for individuals to say the name of the person who has died and to place a stone in a bowl of water in remembrance.
  • Avodah is held at 3:00 p.m. This is a unique gathering at Shaarei Shamayim, and we invite you to bring poetry, songs, and stories to share. These can be pieces you have written or the pieces of others. We ask that you not read off an iPad or cell phone.
  • At 4:30 we will have a special presentation by a speaker from the larger Madison community.
  • Neilah is our final service, this year held at 6:00 p.m. We begin with twenty minutes of meditation and chanting. Our service will continue after that. We mark the end of Yom Kippur with the final shofar and havdalah.
  • Following Neilah all are welcome to stay for our break fast potluck at 7:30 p.m. You are welcome to join us even if you have not been fasting. (Please bring enough food to feed ten people!)
  1. It’s not my custom to fast. Is that okay?
    Sure, not everyone fasts on Yom Kippur. Some people fast part of the day. Others not at all. We just ask that you not bring food into the building on Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur. (If you are bringing food for the break fast, however, just put it in the Commons Kitchen adjacent to the Atrium lobby.
  2. What should I wear?
    Wear whatever you would like! Some people dress formally in a suit and tie or dress while others wear comfortable, informal clothing. Many of our members wear something special for the holidays.

    There are certain customs on Yom Kippur that you might like to observe: wearing all white, not wearing leather, and wearing a tallit to the evening service.
  3. Do your members generally wear kippot and tallitot?
    Some do and some don’t. We encourage you to do what feels comfortable. Typically we ask people who come up for a blessing at the Torah to wear a kippah and tallit.
  4. Are you a fragrance-free environment?
    Yes. In consideration of people with allergies and sensitivities, please refrain from wearing perfumes or scented products to services. We will have a fragrance-free section as well. Please read more here about our fragance-free policy.
Tue, May 26 2020 3 Sivan 5780