This article appeared in the September 11, 2015 Jewish Advocate

High Holy Days offer options for unaffiliated

By Susie Davidson

Advocate correspondent


Havurah on the Hill is one of many options for the unaffiliated.


For young unaffiliated Jews who haven’t yet made plans for Rosh Hashanah, it’s not too late. Even if you’re not a joiner, or if you haven’t set foot in a synagogue in who knows how long, or if you have never found the right service or setting, there’s a place for you. The High Holy Days may be right around the corner, but there is still the time and the opportunity to get yourself – even without a ticket – into a seat with a prayerbook.

Around the holidays, many of us feel that undeniable twinge, that sentimental link to the past, that shared consciousness of our history. In addition to a number of synagogues offering free or discounted tickets, there are other alternatives.

A place to start is, an online resource for all things Jewish. A quick click on its master link to High Holiday services reveals a geographic plethora of choices throughout the Greater Boston area, and even New Hampshire and Connecticut. They range from traditional to non-traditional, reasonably priced to free.

Options include chavurot and minyanim and services for any type of community, level of observance, or even style of attire that you may prefer. Food, always the great equalizer and ice-breaker, is well-represented in kiddushes, onegs and break-fasts.

Try something different this year – commune with nature in the woods with Ma’yan Tikvah in Waltham, pray with the famed Maccabeats a cappella group in Onset on the Cape, experience a soulful Renewal service at B’nai Or in Brookline, join the intimate Shir Hadash Reconstructionist havurah in Newton, or go one of the more traditional routes,” advised Shalom- Boston President Jamie Stolper. “There are currently well over 30 synagogues and organizations that are welcoming you to join their communities for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur,” she said. The site features recipes and menus, videos, articles, and holiday programs.

Does “A central location for Jewish people of all ages and all denominations, who may not want to invest too much” ring a bell? If so, then “The Chapel Service: A High Holiday Community” may be for you. Led by Rabbi Cherie Koller- Fox, it meets at 1845 Commonwealth Ave., First Floor Chapel, near Cleveland Circle in Brighton, and is billed as an “Independent High Holidays community for those who don’t necessarily want to belong to a synagogue year round.”

Koller-Fox, who is the Rabbi Emeritus at Congregation Eitz Chayim in Cambridge and currently President of NewCAJE, a national organization for Jewish educators, leads the services along with her husband, Cantor and Clark University Professor Everett Fox, who has translated the Five Books of Moses and the Early Prophets. “The Chapel Service began in 2004 when I became aware that many Jews left their synagogue affiliations when they became empty nesters, or when ‘their’ rabbi left the congregation,” Koller-Fox told The Advocate. “We wanted to provide a High Holiday option for adults in the Greater Boston community who no longer belong to synagogues, but are looking to join the Jewish community for the holidays.”

The group uses a prayerbook/ machzor by Jules Harlow and a supplement with transliterations, readings and songs. Koller-Fox said the service would be recognizable to those used to a Conservative or Reform service. Options include five different choices for the silent Amidahs, including one for those who don’t define their belief as a belief in G-d. Koller-Fox explains what prayers mean, and encourages congregants to lead readings, participate in discussions, and share thoughts, or to just sit back quietly if they wish.

I really enjoyed the services. They caused me to reflect and think, to become spiritually engaged, and to learn, all in a warm and inviting atmosphere where we were made to feel welcome,” wrote a first-time participant.

We have welcomed college students and visitors to Boston to our services,” said Koller-Fox, who also provides other holiday and study opportunities throughout the year. Register at

You may have heard of Havurah on the Hill (HOH), but have you gone? Located at the historic Vilna Shul in Beacon Hill, HOH holds a nondenominational Shabbat service one Friday each month geared toward those in their 20s and 30s. Led by members of the community, the service features a community speaker and a catered kosher dinner.

But the full slate of High Holiday services beginning on Erev Rosh Hashanah (and including a Yom Kippur text study session instead of Minchah, and a closing Ne’ilah service) is for all ages. “At the High Holidays, HOH organizes services that are open to the wider Vilna Shul and Beacon Hill community, so you will see people of all ages as well as a core of 20s/30s folks,” said Melissa Galvez, Chair of the Council of Havurah on the Hill.

A donation of $125 for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, or $75 for one service, is suggested, but attendees who cannot afford these amounts are welcome to donate whatever they can.

Each year we have nearly 200 people registered,” said Galvez. “Our services are generally lay-led by members of our community with an interest in or some training in Jewish liturgy, and a good singing voice or stage presence.” This year’s chazzanim will be Deborah Melkin, a longtime lay leader of HOH services, and Sarah Bolts, a fourth year cantorial student at Hebrew College.

We are an egalitarian, nondenominational havurah,” said Galvez, whose day job is in communications for an educational nonprofit.

The Vilna Shul supports HOH through use of their space, and their staff, but Galvez explained that the HOH Council, a group of about six volunteers in their 20s and 30s, organizes all HOH programming, from Shabbat services, to sukkah building, to its annual Purim party.

HOH has been up and running for a little over 13 years now, when four young guys ‘refound’ the Vilna Shul on Phillips Street, and decided to start holding services there,” said Galvez.

It’s a welcoming and open community made up of people who don’t have an ‘all the time’synagogue home, from other young people to older people from the community,” she said. “No one will feel ‘out of place’ or like they don’t belong,” she said, adding that volunteers are always needed to help keep services running, so if they can’t pay a lot to attend, they can pay back with their time as well.

The Vilna Shul is also an inspiring place to worship, as it’s got the feel of the old country, from the architecture of the building, to the stained glass windows, to the murals (sometimes hidden under peeling paint) of Jerusalem,” Galvez said.

Also opening their doors is the Chai Center in Brookline.“Whether you’re bored every year and go for family…or nostalgia…or guilt…or just haven’t gone for years…give it one more chance,” wrote Rabbi Mayshe Schwartz of the Chai Center, which offers free Rosh Hashanah (followed by a “Young Adult New Years Party”) and Yom Kippur services, in English. You can RSVP

Yet another possibility is the Riverway Project’s Open Door Ticketless High Holy Day services.

For more information on these and other options, check