High Holy Days



Commonly translated as repentance but derived from the Hebrew verb “lashuv,” which means “to turn”, teshuva is perhaps the most important of many themes that dominate the High Holy Days (“Yamim Nora’im” or “Days of Awe”). Turning into the self is a critical first step in this annual heshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) but we also turn outward to evaluate and realign our role as stewards of the world. Through prayer, study, self-scrutiny, and repairing our relationships with each other, we seek to inspire a rebirth within ourselves and a recommitment to the sacred path that will ensure a better future for our people and for the world.

Elul Preparations

The spiritual work of the High Holy Days begins in the month of Elul. The shofar blast at the end morning minyan and a daily email blast with Elul Reflections shake us out of our complacency and call us to reflect on our behavior over the past year. Click here for this year’s Elul Reflections (Kavannot).

Rosh Hashanah

During Rosh Hashanah, a two-day festival that celebrates the birth of the world, we reflect on God’s call to just and righteous behavior and acknowledge that our response to that call will determine our individual and collective fate for the year to come.

Tashlikh by the River

During the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, BJ members gather in Riverside Park for tashlikh, a spiritual practice in which we symbolically let go of the harmful behaviors that have impeded our growth over the past year by casting pieces of bread, representing those behaviors, into the Hudson River.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) begins at sundown on the 10th of Tishrei. Before evening services, families gather for a se’udah mafseket, a final meal, before the 25 hour fast to come. By refraining from eating and drinking, wearing leather shoes, washing or anointing one’s body and physical intimacy we fulfill the biblical commandment to “afflict one’s soul” so that we may focus solely on the intense spiritual work. Many choose to wear white clothing, an external symbol of our internal desire to purify our souls. As we embrace with joy and celebration at the prospect of a New Year in Yerusalyim shel matah (on earth) and a Yerushalim shel malah (a heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem), we emerge from the High Holy Days uplifted and inspired, emboldened with new spiritual fervor, daring to dream again for redemption for ourselves, for our people and for the world.

The Words and Music of the BJ Service

Words. Mahzor Lev Shalem, the special prayer book we use for the High Holy Days, is both uplifting and challenging. It’s soaring language, commentary and transliteration make it possible for everyone to fully participate in our services.

Music. The traditional and powerful melodies of BJ’s renowned music of the High Holy Days open our hearts to the possibility that prayer, acts of charity, and repentance can transform us and inspire us.

Sermons The Rabbis’ collaborate on essential themes for the holidays, and each deliver their own unique and inspiring Divrei Torah over the course of the hagim.  All of the Divrei Torah are available online here.

What’s different. A service in memory of the victims of the Holocaust which features BJ member’s personal stories takes the place of the Eleh Ezkerah (“These I Recall”) traditional martyrology service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Ne’ilah service concludes with a Procession of the Children carrying candles to the bimah where they join with the community in Havdalah and a final blast of the Shofar.

High Holy Days 5778

Connect with Community Members: Volunteer as a Yamim Nora'im Usher and Pledge Collector

Got a great smile? Like making people feel good? Sign up to volunteer as an usher or greeter, and be the warm and welcoming face of BJ for over 3,500 people who come to High Holy Days services. Ushers help by handing out mahzorim, directing members to open seats, and making sure services run smoothly.

Want to be part of the effort that sustains this community? Volunteer to collect Kol Nidre pledge cards on Erev Yom Kippur. Help make the High Holy Days happen! To sign up, click here.

Selihot: Tuning the Soul for the Yamim Nora'im

Mondays, September 11, September 18 and September 25 | 7:00PM | 89th Street Chapel
We yearn for the divine just as the divine yearns to find us – simultaneous quests guided by the soulful, plaintive music of piyut. For the past 1,000 years, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews have gathered for the forty days from the beginning of the month of Elul through Rosh Hashanah, and up to Yom Kippur, rising at dawn to sing and to prepare the soul for repentance and renewal. Led by Rabbi Roly Matalon and music director Dan Nadel, our three-part series will engage us in that spiritual journey and get us ready for the upcoming sublime days of soul-searching and prayer through haunting melodies of ancient Jewish communities as well as modern Israeli poetry and song. The series is free of charge and open to the public.

Join us for Selihot

Saturday, September 16 | 9:00PM | 89th Street Community House and 88th Street Sanctuary
Enter Yamim Nora’im through the Gate of Selihot, beginning with Havdalah at 9:00PM, followed by breakout sessions for learning and exploration with Rabbi Shuli Passow, Rabbi Michael Boino, Rabbi Adina Lewittes, and Cantor David Mintz.

  • Havdalah and breakout sessions | 9:00PM | 89th Street Reception Room
  • Coffee break | 10:30PM | 88th Street Frankel Hall
  • Selihot service | 11:00PM | 88th Street Sanctuary