Once upon a time, a world ago, people would leave their homes at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning and head for the local synagogue to hear a cantor chant the penitential prayers that opened the High Holy Days season. They needed no more inducement to attend a S’lichot service than the knowledge that Rosh Hashanah was only days away.
That was then and this is now. People still turn out for the opening S’lichot service of the penitential season, but not at 2 a.m., and as synagogues have discovered, a little entertainment as a lead-in does not hurt attendance.
This year, on Saturday evening, Sept. 8, before the chazan chants the opening strains of Ashrei, synagogues will offer musical diversions, films and discussions of those films, workshops, topical speakers, a little meditation and some yoga throw in, a taste of Leonard Cohen, and food (of course, food; well, dessert, anyway).
What follows – for your viewing and listening pleasure, and to your gastronomical delight – are some of the highlights of this year’s S’lichot offerings.
Temple Israel Community Center / Congregation Heichal Yisrael (207 Edgewater Road) poses the question – when the saints go marchin’ in, do our sins go marchin’ out? – as it presents “All That Jazz: The Centennial Jazz Band Live!” The Dixieland concert begins at 9:30 p.m. in the shul’s social hall. It will be followed at 10:45 by a dessert reception. A S’lichot service at around 11 concludes the evening, led by Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer and a congregant, Cantor Peter Savitt.
Temple Beth El of Northern Valley (221 Schraalenburgh Road) will show the film “Stranger than Fiction” as part of its S’lichot program. The evening also will feature a candlelight S’lichot service with shofar-sounding, designed to encourage contemplation and reflection.
“Stranger Than Fiction” is a 2006 PG-13 film, starring Will Ferrell, that explores themes of the High Holy Days. A discussion will follow the screening, which begins at 8 p.m.
The Fair Lawn Jewish Center / Congregation B’nai Israel (10-10 Norma Ave.) will have an interactive learning and singing session for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at 8 p.m. It will be followed by refreshment and S’lichot.
At Temple Beth Sholom (40-25 Fair Lawn Ave.), a S’lichot workshop begins at 8:15 p.m., as Rabbi Baruch Zeilicovich leads a discussion on “Repentance: A Source of Power.” Following coffee and cake, Cantor Stephen Barr and Zeilicovich will lead S’lichot. This service will also provide a taste of the prayers and music of the upcoming season.
Temple Emanuel of North Jersey will screen the rare 1933 film “The Dream of My People,” a travelogue of Palestine featuring many Jewish sites as they were in 1933. The film is narrated in English by Zvee Scooler, who for many years was a Yiddish language broadcaster on WEVD radio in New York. It includes several recordings of the great cantor, Yossele Rosenblatt.
The film will be shown at 9 p.m. S’lichot services will follow at 10:30.
The Glen Rock Jewish Center (682 Harristown Road) begins its S’lichot program at 8 p.m. with a yoga and meditation program led by instructor Ellyne Petty. No previous experience or special dress is required. Light dessert and schmoozing follows. After 9, there will be an in-the-round reflective program with music.
Congregation B’nai Jacob (176 West Side Ave.) presents Saturday night at the movies at 8 p.m., with Chaim Potok’s “The Chosen,” starring Rod Steiger and Maximillian Schell. The film will be followed by a discussion led by the congregation’s spiritual leader, Cantor Marsha Dubrow. Popcorn and other refreshments will be served. A S’lichot service ends the evening.
An evening of tribute and prayer at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus (E-304 Midland Ave.) will begin at 8:30 p.m., honoring Elana and Eugene Heitlinger and Wendy and Barry Salkin for their service to the synagogue. The ceremony will be followed by a reception. S’lichot services will begin at 10:30.
Congregation Beth Shalom (21 Passaic Ave.) and the Jewish Congregation of Kinnelon (91 Kinnelon Road) will celebrate havdalah at 8:30 p.m, followed by a High Holy Days workshop to acquaint members of both congregations with melodies they will be using for their joint services. S’lichot services begin at 10.
Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center (475 Grove St.) will share reflections and pictures from the synagogue’s trip to Israel in June, starting at 9:30 p.m. S’lichot follows.
Temple Avodat Shalom (385 Howland Ave.) presents a talk, “Living as a Jew in Contemporary Ukraine,” from Jeremy Borovitz at 8:30 p.m. Borovitz, son of the shul’s rabbi, Neal Borovitz, will discuss his recent 27-month tour in the Peace Corps. There will be a dessert collation. S’lichot will follow at 9:30.
Congregation Beth Sholom (354 Maitland Ave.) presents “Between God and Human, Between Human and Human – Jewish Themes in Leonard Cohen’s Poetry, Books, and Music.” The program starts at 9 p.m., and will explore those complex relationships, using Cohen’s music as a starting point for reflection and introspections. (His “Who by Fire” is a classic High Holy Days-themed piece of music.) The S’lichot service will follow.
The Jewish Center of Teaneck (70 Sterling Place) will hold its annual “Issues in Society” pre-S’lichot program at 9 p.m. This year’s topic is “The Great American Gun Debate” and it will be addressed by Fordham University Prof. Saul Cornell, an expert on Second Amendment issues. He is author of Whose Right to Bear Arms Did the Second Amendment Protect? His talk will be followed by a collation and S’lichot at midnight.
Netivot Shalom (811 Palisade Ave.) will hear a presentation on “Awesome Psalms: On the Tehillim of This Period of the Year” by Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, at 10 p.m., followed by S’lichot at 11.
Rinat Yisrael (389 W. Englewood Ave.), in conjunction with the Migdal Oz beit midrash for women of Yeshivat Har Etzion, is sponsoring an “Erev Shira v’Hitorerut” – an evening of song and inspiration. The program will take place at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School and will feature Rinat’s former yoetzet halachah, Shayna Goldberg. Women are invited to come at 10:15 p.m. for song and music. Both men and women are welcome at the lecture at 11:30: “Just one in a crowd? Individual vs. Community Repentance.” S’lichot follows.
Temple Emeth (1666 Windsor Road) will present a staged reading of Merle Feld’s play, “The Gates are Closing,” at 7:30 p.m., followed by a discussion. The play takes place in a synagogue on Yom Kippur, and follows 10 main characters who span a wide range of ages, backgrounds, and professions as they grapple with issues of identity, meaning, loyalty, betrayal, repentance, and forgiveness. S’lichot services will begin at 10.
Temple Sinai of Bergen County (1 Engle St.) will begin the evening with a dessert reception at 8, followed at 8:30 by a series of ceremonies: the dedication of memorial plaques that were put up in the sanctuary in the past year; a brief havdalah service led by its youth group; the ceremonial changing of the Torah mantles from their regular covers to the special white ones used on the High Holy Days; a brief reflection on the theme, “This is My God,” by Rabbi Harvey Rosenfeld; and then a creative S’lichot service ending with the sounding of the shofar.
Shomrei Torah (30 Hinchman Ave.) will screen the film “A Torah Tale” at 9 p.m. “A Torah Tale” documents the journey of a single Torah scroll from a small Czech town, through the blazing fires of the Shoah, into the cold, damp cellars of the communist state, and eventually to its current home in a New Zealand synagogue. In 2008, members of the Wellington congregation took their scroll back for a poignant visit to the Czech town from which it was saved. The film will be followed by a discussion and dessert reception. The S’lichot service will begin at 11.
Temple Beth Or (56 Ridgewood Road) will share its S’lichot program with Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake, beginning at 8 p.m.
Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley (87 Overlook Drive) will have a joint program with Temple Beth Or of Washington Township, beginning at 8 p.m. with havdalah and refreshments. “Reel S’lichot” will be at 8:30: a cinematic exploration of the themes of the High Holy Days with clips from “Frisco Kid,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” and “Keeping the Faith.” S’lichot will begin at 10.
Temple Beth Rishon (585 Russell Ave.) will join Temple Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah (280 Ramapo Valley Road) for a pre-S’lichot program, “God in a Box,” at 8 p.m., followed by S’lichot at 10.