a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

High Holiday Guide

Posted on: August 30, 2013

Ask Erika IIIAfter writing the piece on The Sisterhood about the sometimes woes that new Jews sometimes feel on the High Holidays, I decided to compile a list of welcoming, inclusive synagogues in and around the NY Area. I hoped to have a mightier list, but alas, this is what happens when you plan something at the last minute.

Thankfully,  quite a few of you reached out to me singing the praises of your communities or communities you have visited so without further adieu, and in no particular order, here are some welcoming, open, diverse and sometimes free or low cost options for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.


Kol Tzedek Synagogue, West Philadelphia (born and raised)

Erika (not me) had this to say about this synagogue in the Philly Area:

My favorite place for High Holidays is Kol Tzedek Synagogue in West Philadelphia. Services are open to all, no tickets required, and extremely inclusive, welcoming, and meaningful.”

 Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco, CA

Nina on Facebook had this to say about Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco:

“I don’t think the tix are free, but if someone NEEDED them, I think they would figure it out. They are free to members. The whole synagogue is great. It’s very diverse, racially, culturally, and gay and straight. Also age-wise. Older people and many children. They try to do something creative on Yom Kippur, often involving dance and theater and multi-media. (Or maybe that’s on Rosh Hashanah–sorry I forget!)

It’s amazing, though, with kids and adults working together.

In terms of denomination, I think it’s considered reform with a conservative feel to it. In other words, a lot of Hebrew, but also a lot of flexibility. Rabbi and Cantor, but lots of lay leadership. I could go on.

Both my sons were Bar Mitzvah there, and it was a great experience for them and the whole family.”

Chevra Ahavas Yisroel Brooklyn, NY

Here in NYC the Crown Heights shul, Chevra Ahavas Yisroel gets rave reviews.

Miriam says, “If you’re willing to consider an Orthodox shul (by definition non-egalitarian), I suggest Chevra Ahavas Yisroel in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Yes, it’s Chassidic and women can’t lead services, but the rabbi is adamant about including us in every area that is sanctioned by halacha, even in things that are considered radical in the neighborhood. The Sefer Torah is brought through the women’s section, women speak at shul functions such as (non-segregated) kiddushim, etc. Nobody shoots the women down if they join in the singing. I think the men take it as a challenge – if they can hear the women, it means they aren’t singing loud enough!

Everyone is made to feel welcome here. I have seen a woman in a tallit and men in colorful tallitot. There are often women wearing pants or even dressed in an androgynous style, as well as men wearing imaginative hippie garb. Nobody says an unkind word if you arrive on Shabbat with a backpack. Last Friday night a woman came with a service dog. A friend who is well known (especially locally) as a gay activist comes here whenever he is in town, and I have seen the rabbi give him a big hug at a shul function. We have Black Jews, Asian Jews, and even a Black Asian Jew.

And we know how to make some noise! We don’t need no stinkin’ choir. The whole congregation joins in, harmonizing to traditional Chassidic nigunim (Chabad as well as others), the nigunim of R’Carlebach, even a song composed by a Reconstructionist rabbi. The shul is known for its enthusiastic singing and beautiful harmonies. We’ve got a lot of criticism from local people, of course, some of whose own kids might not be involved in Judaism if not for our shul. But we also enjoy the support of several prestigious local families.”

Central Reform Congregation in Saint Louis, MO

Dena says, “Temple Sholom in Cincinnati does not charge for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. We have room every year for more guests. Also, the services are streamed online for people who cannot leave home.”

Don’t worry, friends in Canada! I haven’t forgotten about you, well John on Facebook hasn’t 🙂

“Shalom. Here are three Queer Positive/Feminist Synagogues in Toronto. Narayever and Darchei Noam specifically offer reduced rates or flex playment.




 StorahTelling/Lab Shul, NYC

Storahtelling has a free service here in NYC. I work with the team at Storahtelling and know that their services are engaging, opening and welcoming. If you’re in NYC be sure to check it out.

Kolot Chayeinu, Brooklyn NY

Alana from Brooklyn sings Kolot’s praises:

We invite you to join Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives for progressive High Holiday services in Brooklyn. No tickets, just come, and bring family and friends!

Services led by:
Rabbi Ellen Lippmann Cantor Lisa Segal
Family Services led by Aram Rubenstein-Gillis and Franny Silverman

Kolot Chayeinu comes together in song, prayer, food and Torah for the High Holy Days and all other Jewish holidays.  Kolot Chayeinu’s doors are open all year long to everyone, as are these High Holy Days services and celebrations.

We will be meeting at the Walt Whitman Theater of Brooklyn College, which is a spacious, air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible space with a child-friendly lounge. Accessible by the 2 & 5 trains & public buses, with parking on campus and shuttles running to and from Park Slope.

Learn more about Kolot Chayeinu, our High Holiday services schedule please see their website.


Do you have a synagogue that’s not included on this list? Send it to me and I’ll be sure to add it!

Shana Tovah!

2 Responses to "High Holiday Guide"

This is such a great list!I live in NY but have a ton of friends (who aren’t Jewish) that live in Phili, so sometimes it’s difficult to find a synagogue that will feel welcoming and that I can look forward to attending, knowing that they are open to everyone. As well it can be difficult to search for one if they don’t explicitly give details about their services. Thanks so much for posting this!

You’re welcome!

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