Perspectives on the 2020 High Holy Days – Part 1

This post is part of our series: Perspectives on the 2020 High Holy Days. (Click here to see a list of all the posts in this series.)

In this post, we hear from members of the AJRCA community about how their synagogue approached the High Holy Days this year as compared to previous years.

As you might imagine, we received responses that run the gamut, from fully recorded online, to livestreamed online to live, socially-distanced in-person services. Here is a sampling:


The “regular congregational” services were done livestreamed. We used a producer who was in the background who integrated slides and some pre-recorded elements and helped everything go smoothly. We livestreamed to our website (via Shulcloud) and also to our YouTube channel.  To see what they were like, visit here.  You can see how many views there were for each service. This was more than we expected. Some were completely pre-recorded services (healing service, family services, afternoon Torah/Haftarah).  Some Zoom meeting services (Remembering Our Loved Ones between RH and YK, and the Tot services).

Abby Gostein, Cantorial Student
Temple Beth Shalom, Austin Texas

Online, live streamed with Rabbi and production crew only in sanctuary. Choir music prerecorded, segments with congregants and children inserted into live stream . No separate family services this year, but teachings and some music featuring segments with students prerecorded inserted into livestream. Selichot was held via Zoom. Congregants received videos in advance with Haftarah commentary, etc for viewing/learning during the YK afternoon break in lieu of our usual activity for those who wanted to remain in synagogue. Held a ‘break-fast’ via Zoom for socializing 30 minutes after YK services ended.

Rabbi Bonnie Sharfman (’05)
Congregation Kehillah, Phoenix, Arizona

We had more options this year, and certainly more creative than in previous years. We had a combination/hybrid of live and pre-recorded services. We held creative, musical services which the Rabbi and I led outdoors, socially distanced, with a minyan — and then livestreamed that to the broader community (it was available to the public). We had a number of pre-recorded videos that we cut away to during the service. We also offered traditional, live, outdoor socially-distanced services (capped at a certain number), and also allowed people to Zoom into those traditional services. A few of our services were entirely pre-recorded. Additionally, we offered a multitude of classes, meditation sessions, Torah study, and youth programs on Zoom. I also co-led a 20s and 30s Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Experience on Zoom.

Jacqueline Rafii, Cantorial Student
Shomrei Torah Synagogue, West Hills, California

Torah of Awakening/Urban Adamah had a number of live, online gatherings: a short introductory service on Erev Rosh Hashanah, short introductory pre-services on Rosh Hashanah morning and Yom Kippur morning, a live hour-long Kol Nidre service, three workshops and Yizkor on Yom Kippur afternoon, and a community break-the-fast. These were Zoom events with live streaming also available. All the of the other services (Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh HaShanah day, Yom Kippur Day, and N’eilah were offered as podcasts which could be downloaded and listened to when and where people desired. This community is know for its amazing ecstatic music, and the only way to bring the full musical experience with instruments and singing was to intersperse recordings of last year’s services with new recorded teachings. In addition, we prepared text packets—“Treasure Maps” for RH and YK with experiential exercises and meditations, as well as supplementary readings—for people to download and print out in advance, to use throughout the High Holy Days.

Rabbi Diane Elliot (’06)
Torah of Awakening/Urban Adamah Berkeley, California

Our congregation has just under 200 member units, including Associate Members who live far away but want to support the synagogue community… and our board decided to keep the sanctuary building closed. We have been livestreaming Friday night services from the (empty) sanctuary since March. They voted to prerecord all the High Holy Day services and send the link out to members and their invitees.  The links were not posted on the website.  People watched the services which included congregants having honors, doing readings, and having aliyot… but all of that was edited in, not done live. The links stayed active until the next service, so some people watched the services later than the scheduled time. We counted about 180 to 200 views, and some of those were probably couples who watched, so the number of people was higher.

Rabbi Alicia Magal (’03)
Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley, Sedona, Arizona

We were 100% live for Tisha b’Av, First of Elul, Selichot, Rosh HaShanah (Erev and Day and Family Services), the night before Yom Kippur, Kol Nidre and all of Yom Kippur (our services on Day ran from 8 am – 8 pm).  Sukkot live events and Simchat Torah.  All Live.  We also simulcast these to our website, the Jewish Journal’s site and on social media (Facebook and Insta).

Rabbi Lori Shapiro (’10)
The Open Temple, Venice, California

WBT decided to pre-record all of our HHD services this year, so that we could include the high level of music and congregant participation that our community is accustomed to. On Yom Kippur day we had a series of live learning sessions with the clergy, as well as live children’s programming.

Cantor Lisa Peicott (’18)
Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Los Angeles, California


Thanks so much to all who shared their reflections. Please share your own HHD experiences in the comments area below!

Click here to read the next post in the series — focused on attendance, and a full list of the posts in this Series can be found here.

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