Waze to the Light High Holy Days 5781

A Guided Journey through the Yamim Nora’im

At BJ, social and spiritual connection transcends physical distance. Throughout this unprecedented High Holy Days season, our spiritual leadership is guiding our community on a meaningful, enlightening, and very personal journey.

Through the virtual prayer services, communal gatherings, and innovative programs and resources you will find here, we invite you to explore the themes and liturgy of the High Holy Days with us, as individuals and as families, each from your own homes.

The Waze to the Light Journey

We begin on Rosh Hodesh Elul (the 1st of Elul, August 20), the final month of the Hebrew year, and we will together mark each moment of the High Holy Days calendar, from the sacred traditions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur through the celebrations of Sukkot and Simhat Torah.

Stay tuned as we unveil each new “stop” on the journey, where new windows of understanding and opportunities for connection will open through music, sacred texts, art, poetry, and literature.

 Where are we in the Journey?


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First Week of Elul

Love Me Again

Our tradition teaches that Elul can be seen as an acronym for the phrase from Shir Hashirim, ani ledodi vedodi li (I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine). Holding this to heart, we enter this month with love, seeking to get closer to the Divine as though we are reunited with a beloved. May we open our hearts with love, creating space for transformation as we welcome in the Yamim Nora’im.


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Second Week of Elul

One Thing I Ask: A Psalm for Elul

In Psalm 27—the psalm that accompanies us during this season—the psalmist asks only one thing: “to dwell in God’s house all the days of my life.” In a season of deep yearning, what does it mean to seek God’s presence? In these particularly challenging times, how can we orient ourselves toward trust and faith? Join us as we go deeper into the exploration of this psalm.


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Third Week of Elul


Our tradition teaches that our task in this season is not to transform into a brand new, better version of ourselves. It is, rather, to return to our essence, owning up to and seeking forgiveness for the ways we have missed the mark, and returning home to the point of goodness that already lies inside each one of us. Indeed, we are embarking on a spiritual homecoming in the deepest sense. As each of us engages in the process of teshuva, we invite you to explore the possibilities of personal and collective transformation, coming home to our purest essence and deepest potential.


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Fourth Week of Elul

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

The process of forgiveness is integral to the spiritual work that this season demands of us. While Sephardim move through the season with a daily practice of Selihot (literally meaning forgiveness), there is an Ashkenazic tradition of coming together on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah for this practice, using melody and poetry to open up our deepest yearnings to embody the person that we are called to be. Throughout the process of teshuvah more broadly, we ask those whom we have hurt to forgive us, and (perhaps even more difficult) we ourselves are called upon to forgive others. Join us as we explore the complexities, limitations, and transformative power of forgiveness during this season of return.


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Building a Mikdash Me’at

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The Rabbis of the Talmud remind us that after the destruction of the Temple, Jews were called upon to create a mikdash me’at (small sanctuary), extending God’s presence in the world through the building of synagogues and houses of study, and even welcoming the Divine into our homes. In this moment of isolation for so many, in which we are disconnected from the physical spaces most closely identified with holiness, we are again called upon to establish small sanctuaries in our homes. How can we prepare physically, mentally, and spiritually for this transformation? How does this inform the ways in which we think about sacred space more broadly? Join us as we dive deeper.


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Rosh Hashanah

Waze to the Light

We emerge from Elul with a sense of love and desire to be closer to God, inspired by the possibility of change, and with honesty and vulnerability, eager to do the work of returning to our purest essence. As we prepare to enter Rosh Hashanah with prayer, melody, ritual, and poetry, we invite you to go deeper. We hope that this extraordinary collection of resources might transform these holy days, allowing the power of the liturgy and ritual to crack open our hearts and souls.


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Ten Days of Teshuva

Open the Gates

The time between the First Day of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur has particular spiritual weight. Indeed, while we’ve been engaging in the process of teshuvah throughout the month of Elul, it’s this week and a half that are known as the Ten Days of Teshuvah, a period where we have the chance to dig harder and go deeper into the spiritual work of the season while the gates are open. Join us as we explore the depth of these days in spiritual preparation for Yom Kippur.


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Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur

For the 25 hours of Yom Kippur, we embark on a transformative spiritual journey. We abstain from food and drink, we wear white, and we take an honest look inside to reflect on who we have become and who we could be. We search our souls and immerse ourselves in prayer, affirmed by Divine forgiveness and the holy possibility of change. Before these 25 hours begin, we invite you to add greater depth and meaning to your journey with the wisdom, insights, and illumination provided by this extraordinary collection of resources.


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Days after the deep introspection of Yom Kippur, our tradition tells us to get out of our homes and dwell in temporary outdoor structures, shake the lulav and etrog, sing Hallel, and engage in the embodied ritual experience of Sukkot. In doing so, we come face to face with the realities of our fragility and vulnerability while acknowledging the profound blessings of safety, security, and the abundance of our literal or symbolic harvests. We invite you to explore these resources to add greater meaning and delight to this season of joy.

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Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah

Hoshanah Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah

Our tradition teaches that the season of teshuvah does not end with Yom Kippur; rather, it continues through Sukkot all the way to the end of Hoshanah Rabbah. In these final days, we are presented with one last chance to return—repairing what’s broken and immersing ourselves in prayer and introspection. Shemini Atzeret arrives as we take a moment of pause before the exhilarating celebration of Simhat Torah. Through our curated resources, we invite you to discover the many ways that we might prepare for the final days of this transformative season.

Seek inspiration. Invite transformation.
Join us! Find your Waze to the Light.

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Archive of Resources

While the resources for our guided journey are presented stop by stop, all of the materials — a dynamic array of resources exploring the themes and liturgy of the High Holy Days through music, sacred texts, art, poetry, and literature — will be added to the archive as they are shared.

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Prayer Service Livestream Schedule

All High Holy Day services will be live-streamed via VirtuShul, our virtual shul—a living, connected, loving, virtual community.

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Exclusive Experiences for BJ Members

As a companion to BJ’s livestreamed services and curated, publicly available resources guiding us through the High Holy Days season, BJ members in good standing have access to Zoom-enabled learning and social programs, as well as socially distanced, in-person, outdoor programs. Programs include drop-in opportunities to discuss, process, and explore the themes of the season, rich text-based learning with our rabbis, our ELULmination High Holy Days study group meeting weekly, and even classes to craft the perfect Rosh Hashanah cocktail or round challah.

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Renew Your Membership or Join Our Sacred Community

The bonds of the BJ community are far more than merely physical. Please click here to renew your membership for 2020-21. As always, finances are never a barrier to participating in our sacred community.

If you are new to BJ, we hope you will consider making B’nai Jeshurun your spiritual home for the High Holy Days and beyond. We invite you to explore our membership options at our membership page or feel free to reach out, we’d love to talk. Email us, or call Matthew Davey, Membership Services Manager, at 212-787-7600 x302.

Frequently Asked Questions

Coming together as a community for the High Holy Days this year will be like nothing we have experienced before. As we approach this most sacred time of year and reimagine our collective experience, the health and safety of our community lives in tension with our deep desire to pray together. Please find a FAQ below for more information about our virtual prayer services, resources, and programming.

Q: What is BJ’s stance on using technology to enhance the experience of Shabbat and the High Holy Days in this unprecedented time?

A: Our BJ community encompasses a variety of approaches to Jewish law and to Jewish practice.  While we have established standards of practice for those times when we gather together in community, regarding kashrut and Shabbat practice for example, we make every effort to respect each other’s personal choices in a non-judgmental way.

Since the start of the pandemic, many members of our community, as well as staff, have adjusted their personal practice with regard to the use of technology on Shabbat and Jewish holidays. We honor these personal choices in the face of the present unprecedented health crisis. BJ’s institutional practices have evolved, as well: While our spiritual leaders do not personally engage with technology on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, some of our staff do, thus enabling the functioning of VirtuShul.

During the High Holy Days, livestream will remain the main conveyor of BJ’s prayer services. Some of our programming will be enabled by Zoom, YouTube, or Facebook in order to provide members who will use those technologies with the deep social connections that are part of the season. At the same time, our rabbis are available for guidance and support to those in our community who do not use technology at all on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Q: How is BJ modifying the service for the online setting?

A: We will follow our community’s regular High Holy Days traditions, including prayer services for adults, families, and young children, as well as mindfulness services. Among the silver linings this year, Roly and Felicia will be leading services together throughout the Yamim Nora’im with Hazzan Ari Priven, for the first time in the history of the High Holy Days at BJ. We are very much looking forward to this special experience together.

To ensure our prayer services are maximized for the livestream setting via VirtuShul, Rabbis Roly Matalon and Felicia Sol have curated each service in terms of content and length, to focus on the essential prayers and music. Through enhanced livestream production, and select use of Zoom, our services will provide a sense of intimacy and community connection that bridge the physical distance between us. The longer morning services will include short scheduled breaks.

Throughout the holidays, our Waze to the Light programming and resources will provide an array of thematic options to complement prayer and invite a variety of means through which to engage in and with the holidays.

Q: How can I participate in High Holy Day services this year?

A: All services will be livestreamed via VirtuShul, our virtual shul, and publicly accessible to all who would like to participate.

Q: Will there be services specific to families and children?

A: As always, we will offer services for families and young children throughout the season, which will be publicly available via livestream and Facebook Live. We will be updating our Waze to the Light page with current prayer and programming opportunities curated for families and children.

Q: With all services happening online, will music still be a significant part of BJ’s prayer services?

A: BJ would not be BJ without the live music so integral to our prayer experience. We will continue our tradition of including vibrant music as a significant component of our services. Since the beginning of the pandemic, when we began holding our Kabbalat Shabbat service on Friday evenings online, the BJ musicians have guided our community through the service with great joy, harmony, and connectedness from their own homes. During the holidays, our musicians will join our spiritual leadership at BJ, remaining at a safe physical distance from each other as together they produce the music so essential to our community.

Q: Will anyone be permitted to attend services in person?

A: Due to health and safety concerns and physical limitations, BJ is planning for only service leaders and Torah and Haftarah readers to be in the sanctuary, remaining at a safe physical distance from each other, and for the musicians to play from the Rabbi Rachel Cowan Chapel. All services will be livestreamed so that everyone who wants to participate can do so virtually in a safe environment.

Q: What additional online opportunities is BJ offering this year through “Waze to the Light”?

A: Our rabbis and the BJ team have developed a dynamic array of virtual programs and curated online resources designed to guide us as a community and nourish each of us as individuals. We’re calling this experience Waze to the Light. Our hope is that this journey through the season and into the new year will facilitate all members of our diverse community – both those new and returning – in reflection, learning, and connection. Keep an eye on our Waze to the Light page for the most up-to-date list of opportunities and resources, including our special Zoom programs and gatherings and ELULmination study groups, exclusively for BJ members in good standing.

Q: How do I participate in the online programs BJ has put together for the Yamim Nora’im? Is advance sign-up required?

A: All are invited to embark upon BJ’s Waze to the Light journey by accessing the diverse array of special virtual resources we have curated. As we unveil new themes and content starting at the beginning of Elul (the month before Rosh Hashanah) and continuing through Simhat Torah, we invite you to connect and find meaning not only through livestreamed prayer services, but also through curated resources exploring music, sacred texts, art, poetry, and literature.

BJ members in good standing are invited to participate in a variety of online gatherings conducted live in real time. Programs exclusively for members include drop-in opportunities as well as our ELULmination High Holy Days study groups meeting weekly. Advance sign-up is required for these study groups; we will be capping participation in order to create an intimate setting for processing and discussing the holiday themes and liturgy. Members can register online by clicking on individual events listed at our members Waze to the Light content page.

Please click here if you are new to Zoom or are experiencing any trouble with setting up Zoom on your computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Q: Is BJ planning any in-person programming?

A: While all High Holy Days services and most programming will be online, we are exploring the possibility of convening a handful of socially distanced, outdoor, in-person programs, available exclusively to members. As with all High Holy Days programs, we will share updates regarding such programs on a rolling basis as part of our highlighted upcoming events and new resources. Given the current public health environment, we will move forward with such gatherings as it is safe to do so and modify plans as needed.

Q: What offerings are available to the public?

A: Livestreaming of all services and a rich array of High Holy Days themed resources is publicly accessible on our Waze to the Light page. Additional communal programming and experiences are available exclusively for BJ members.

BJ membership is open throughout the year. If you are new to BJ, we invite you to consider making BJ your spiritual home. We offer a range of membership options with sliding-scale dues. Please find more information on our membership page, email us at membership@bj.org, or call us at 212-787-7600 x302.

Q: How are health and safety concerns being taken into consideration during this process?

A: As our community began to adjust this spring to an entirely virtual learning and prayer environment, we started thinking about what the pandemic might mean for the High Holy Days at BJ. Our board members Alan Mantel and Suzanne Schecter convened a task force of BJ board members and other members with relevant professional expertise to monitor the latest public health guidance and work closely with us as we began developing plans for the months to come. We were guided in our decision to go completely online this High Holy Days season in part thanks to important input from the committed members of this task force. We are grateful for their engagement and expertise, and as we develop our plans, we are paying careful attention to local and national public health recommendations and authorities.

We continue to urge the community to stay informed and practice physical distancing as much as possible — for our own health and safety, that of our families, the BJ community, and the larger community around us.

Q: How can I help sustain and strengthen the BJ community during this time?

A: If you haven’t already, please renew your membership by emailing us at membership@bj.org, or calling us at 212-787-7600 x302. If you have already renewed, thank you for continuing your commitment to BJ.

If you are interested in volunteering your time by making phone calls to new and continuing members, or safely assisting home-bound members to facilitate their celebration of the Yamim Nora’im, or in any other way during the High Holy Days season, please fill out this form to let us know! A BJ team member will be in touch.

Q: What options are available for requesting a mahzor?

A: As the BJ community prepares for the Yamim Nora’im, we want to ensure that all are able to participate in virtual High Holy Day services from your homes with a Mahzor Lev Shalem (our High Holy Days prayer book). A number of options are available to borrow a mahzor from BJ, or to purchase your own.

Q: My mailing address has temporarily changed due to COVID-19. How can I let you know where to send my care package and other relevant materials?

A: We will be sending a High Holy Days care package to all households that have joined or renewed their membership prior to August 16, with materials that will enrich your at-home celebration.

If you are residing at the address we have on file, it is not necessary to do anything; your High Holy Days care package will be delivered (or mailed) to you. If you are not currently residing at the address we have on file, please send an email to info@bj.org by Tuesday, August 25 and supply the address at which you will be located for the Yamim Nora’im so that your delivery will arrive in time for Rosh Hashanah. If we didn’t hear from you by August 25, we will send the care package to the address we have on file.

Q: How can I invite guests to the High Holy Days experience?

A: In years past, we have been honored to welcome your friends and extended family for in-person High Holy Days services at BJ. Of course, that will not be possible this year, but we would like to send a special greeting to those you might wish to include in your celebration and keep them informed about the High Holy Days, as well as other developments at BJ. Please click here to supply us with the names and email addresses of any “guests” you would like to include.

Q: How can I remember my loved ones during Yizkor this year?

A: BJ’s Virtual Book of Remembrance will launch on the occasion of the Yamim Nora’im and will be live on the BJ website all year. The suggested contribution per listing including name, date of death, and a few words about your deceased loved one is $54. Please reach out to Nicholas Arroyo at narroyo@bj.org with any questions or to request a form for your submission.