Shanah Tovah! The year 5777 is almost here, and Rosh Hashana — the Jewish new year, for the unfamiliar — marks the beginning of not only a new year but also an entire series of Jewish high holidays that give the “Chosen People” ample excuses to drink Manischevitz.
Since they can’t pass a plate around, most NYC synagogues pay their bills in part by charging non-members for High Holiday tickets — to the tune of $150-250 in NYC.
But paying for services is so 5776. 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 modern Grindr Shabbat-only. This year, Heaven’s gates open the evening of October 2 for Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur begins sundown of October 11. Note, this article first ran in 2009 and has been updated for 2016.
Free for all
Kolot Chayeinu, Park Slope
1012 Eighth Ave. at 10th St.
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, Carroll Gardens
342 Smith St. at 2nd St.
Ohel Ayalah is a self-proclaimed place for 20 and 30-somethings who don’t have a place to go for the high holidays. Once held at the Brooklyn Lyceum, these services now take place at Hannah Senesh Community Day School. Heads up: Erev Rosh Hashanah services are in Manhattan only, but you can attend Brooklyn morning services on Monday, Oct. 3 at 9am. Check out their schedule and location rundown for similar details on other holidays.
Their services are free and open to walk-ins, although you can still reserve one of the first 100 spots to be guaranteed. According to their website, the services will be egalitarian (both men and women will lead) and mostly in Hebrew, but with some interspersed English “explanations, comments, and readings.”
Chabad-Lubavitch centers (various locations in Brooklyn)
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. 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 their list and see what’s what in your neighborhood. We know that Fort Greene’s shul is free, bilingual and has grub if you RSVP! Prospect Park‘s feeds you if you don’t mind ignoring a donation suggestion.
The Greenpoint Shul, Greenpoint
108 Noble St. at Franklin St.
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 e-ticket for free services, and on the site you can sign up for a $26 post-service dinner. Babysitting provided!
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).
Brooklyn Jews / Congregation Beth Elohim, Park Slope
274 Garfield Pl., at Eighth Ave.
Brooklyn Jews are everywhere, but specifically in this Judaism-is-cool group, a 20s and 30s-type initiative designed to get young folks in the door with events like “Indie Minyans” (think of it as a Pop-Up Shul) and holiday block parties. Alas, since we first posted about the holidays, Brooklyn Jews have started offering services in conjunction with Congregation Beth Elohim for the High Holidays. It’s free for CBE members only, otherwise it’s $30 per ticket per service which, while not free, is still cheaper than most synagogues.
Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Brooklyn Heights
131 Remsen St. at Clinton St.
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 St. are free for members only.
Free off the books
Temple Beth Emeth v’Ohr Progressive Shaari Zedek, Ditmas Park
83 Marlborough Rd. at Church Ave.
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, Midwood
1625 Ocean Ave. between Ave. K and Ave. L
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. [UPDATE: As of 2016, the site read “everyone must have a ticket.” But you should still try this if it’s your only option in the area.]
RAJE at the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach
2915 Ocean Pkwy. between Neptune and Ocean View
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[at]ujafedny.org. Get to them before 3:30pm if you want a same-day response! And they are, of course, closed on the holidays (open ’til 1pm on the “day before”)
Heard about a free service you don’t see on here? Let us know at tips[at]brokelyn.com!