NOTE: While this list is from 2011, many of these venues are still offering free and cheap holiday services. Please check with each one individually and add updates in the comments. Thanks and Happy New Year! Shanah Tovah! 5772 is almost here. Since they can’t pass a plate, most NYC synagogues pay their bills in part by charging non-members for High Holiday tickets — to the tune of $150-250 in NYC. If you don’t have the dough to davin, here’s our annual list of places where you can pray freely for free, whether your pleasure is reform, orthodox or some kind of New Age hybrid. This year, heaven’s gates open the evening of September 28 for Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur begins sundown of October 8. Note, this article first ran in 2009 and has been updated for 2011.
Free for all
Brooklyn Jews, Prospect Park
Services in Prospect Park sound delightful. This Judaism-is-cool group have other worship events like “Indie Minyans” (think of it as a Pop-Up Shul) and holiday block parties. Although they’ve reached capacity for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (Day 1) this year, you can still reserve a spot for evening services or Rosh Hashanah (Day 2) at Beth Elohim‘s temple.
Kolot Chayeinu, 1012 Eighth Ave. at 10th St., 718-390-7493
Kolot’s motto is “building a progressive Jewish community,” and they’re serious about the progressive part. The congregation is led by a lesbian rabbi, and the members are “individuals of varying sexual orientations, gender identities, races, family arrangements, and Jewish identities and backgrounds.” High holiday services are free and open to all, but get there early, because there are no reserved seats; doors open 45 minutes before services.
Ohel Ayalah, at the Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 Fourth Ave. at President St.
Ohel Ayalah is a self-proclaimed place for young people (or any people, really) who don’t have a place to go for the high holidays. Their services are free and open to walk-ins (although you can still reserve a Yom Kippur spot). According to the web site, the services will be egalitarian (both men and women will lead), and they’ll be mostly in Hebrew, but with some interspersed English “explanations, comments, and readings.”
Chabad-Lubavitch centers (various locations)
Chabad is a Hasidic movement, so services are right out of the schtetl. They’ll be chanted in Hebrew, with separate sections for men and women. Since Chabad as a whole is about getting Jews to be more religious, go into this with your eyes open. If you’re a spiritual seeker, you could wind up on the road to black hatsville. The good news is, these wine-loving, mystic Lubovitchers usually hate to see someone go hungry on a feast day, and consider it a mitzvah to feed a strange Brokelynite. According to one rabbi we spoke to, some Chabad synagogues require reservations and some don’t. So, check out the list at the above link, and see what’s what in your neighborhood (BTW – we know Fort Greene’s shul is bilingual and has grub if you RSVP; Prospect Park‘s feeds you if you don’t mind ignoring a donation suggestion)
Bay Ridge Jewish Center, 405 81st St. at Fourth Ave., 718-836-3103
BRJC is a Conservative egalitarian congregation that seems, from its web site anyway, like a big, family-friendly place. There’ll be Rosh Hashanah apples, honey and challah, and a break-fast meal after Yom Kippur. And the picture on the web site makes the sanctuary look bright and airy. Services are free, but tickets are required, so print and mail the reservation form here or call the number above. New this year, there’s a free kids’ service so you can get some peace when seeking for inner peace.
The Greenpoint Shul, 108 Noble Street, (347) 788-1280
We got word of a shul in Greenpoint where the events are free, where they want you to know they’re young and groovy and don’t care if you wear jeans. Get an eticket for free services, and on the site you can sign up for a $26 post-service dinner. Babysitting provided.
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, 131 Remsen St. at Clinton St., 718-522-2070
This Reform congregation is another biggie, with over 300 members including some even from Manhattan. High holiday services are held at a couple of locations—the synagogue itself and at the larger, nearby Plymouth church. Services on Remsen Street are free and clear – Plymouth Church offers “modest fee” childcare with reservations.
Congregation Beth Elohim, 274 Garfield Pl. at Eighth Ave., 718-768-3814
CBE claims to be the largest Reform synagogue in Brooklyn, with over 1000 members led by Andy Bachman—a hipstery sort, at least as far as rabbis go, with a cult following among Slopers. The way to get in here for free is through the Brooklyn Jews service, CBE’s “20s and 30s Initiative” designed to get young people and families involved in Judaism. Go to the Brooklyn Jews web site, join for free, and you can get tickets to their services. Although geared toward the younger crowd, it looks like anyone can join.
B’nai Israel of Midwood, 4815 Avenue I, (718) 377-1146
This Orthodox congregation is a real, old-Brooklyn Jewish experience. With borough-accented bubbes, lots of traditional service, and ample street parking, chances are this temple sees Williamsburg as a Hasidic neighborhood. Their seats are free, without RSVP – and if you go, you could be the first person to check into their foursquare. It’s the place to go and get a good pray, followed by a snack and quite probably a little Shadchen action.
Free for some
Union Temple, 17 Eastern Parkway, between Underhill Ave. & Plaza St. E., 718-638-7600
Founded in 1848, this Reform congregation is the oldest Jewish organization in Brooklyn. The great deal here is for young people. If you’re under 30, you can can get your free high holiday tickets just by joining the temple for one year (also for free).
Free off the books
Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek, 83 Marlborough Rd. at Church Ave., 718-282-1596
This long-named congregation is the last Reform synagogue in Flatbush. Not the largest in the list, Beth Emeth, as it’s more commonly known, has a mixture of young local families and older long-time members. English is prevalent at services here, and there’s always something for the kids. First-time visitors can buy an all-inclusive high holiday ticket for $18. But if you show up and can’t afford the $18, you won’t be turned away.
The East Midwood Jewish Center, 1625 Ocean Ave. between Ave. K and Ave. L, 718-338-3800
Officially, tickets to this Conservative egalitarian synagogue are a prohibitive $150. Officially unofficially, show up and a seat in the spacious balcony will be all yours. East Midwood’s cantor Sam Levine leads an especially musical service.
RAJE at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach, 2915 Ocean Pkwy. between Neptune and Ocean View, 800-407-6020
The Russian American Jewish Experience is an organization devoted to “sparking Jewish life in Russian American society.” RAJE runs a variety of services and programs at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach. The organization’s supported by requested donations, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
Or try the hotline…
The UJA (“J-1-1″) shows us up in the customer service area, by referring Brooklyn Jews to local synagogues open to non-members. You can call them at 877-852-6951 or email at J11@ujafedny.org. Get to them before 3:30 if you want a same-day response and they are, of course, closed on the holidays (open ’til 1 p.m. on the “day before”)