Bay Area High Holy Days services outside the box

A number of High Holy Days observances will be free and open to the public, from Chabad services to secular humanistic celebrations, reflecting the diversity of Bay Area Jewish life.

The Berkeley community High Holy Days services have been a popular option since the late 1970s. Free services will be offered on Rosh Hashanah (which begins Sept. 16) and Yom Kippur (which begins Sept. 25). Volunteer coordinator Craig Harrison described the nondenominational, egalitarian services as a “catch-all” for people who might not attend a synagogue. Harrison estimates that more than 300 people attend Kol Nidre every year.

“We get the elderly; we get students; we get people for whom this is it” and who don’t go to services the rest of the year, he said. Rabbi Jay Krause and cantorial soloist Sandra Lipsman have led the services together for 13 years. The services are in Hebrew and English and are funded by donations.

Cantorial soloist Sandy Lipsman, Rabbi Jay Krause (center) and coordinator Craig Harrison at last year’s Berkeley community High Holy Days services.

Erev Rosh Hashanah services begin at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 and 10 a.m. Sept. 17. Kol Nidre begins at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 and Yom Kippur services begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 26. All services are at the JCC of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. or (510) 604-0664.

Congregation Beth El of Berkeley will hold free Rosh Hashanah services in Tilden Park for the first time this year on Sept. 17. Hazon Bay Area director Deborah Newbrun will lead the services, which will open with singing and then break into separate adults’ and kids’ services.

Newbrun said the goal is to offer a more informal and accessible approach, since “so many Jews connect to the divine or the spiritual when they’re outdoors.” Services will conclude with tashlich and singing. Meet at 3:15 p.m. at Lake Anza at Tilden Park, Berkeley.

Bay Area Chabad houses will hold several free or lower-cost High Holy Days services, some in unconventional locations. Napa Valley Chabad Jewish Center will offer free Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at Touro University on Mare Island in Vallejo. Chabad of the North Peninsula will hold services at the San Mateo Marriott, and Chabad of the Tri-Valley will meet at the Four Points by Sheraton, Pleasanton.

The Santa Cruz community-led group Kolaynu: The Progressive Jewish Voice of Santa Cruz will host an Erev Rosh Hashanah service “Santa Cruz style — warm, spiritual, participatory, egalitarian, progressive, creative, joyful and peace-oriented,” according to the group’s event description. Services begin at 6:45 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Pacific Cultural Center, 1307 Seabright Ave., Santa Cruz. Services are free with donations accepted. (831) 475-3313.

The community group Jewish Gateways will meet at the JCC of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut St., Berkeley. Rosh Hashanah services will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 16 and 10:30 a.m. Sept. 17, with a special service for families with young children at 9:30 a.m. Yom Kippur services begin at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 26 for young children and 10:30 a.m. for the public. Services are free, but people are advised to reserve a spot at

The progressive secular humanistic community Tri-Valley Cultural Jews will hold a Rosh Hashanah celebration on Sunday, Sept. 16 at the Bothwell Arts Center, 2466 Eighth St., Livermore. A walk to a nearby creek for tashlich at 4 p.m. will be followed by a potluck dinner at 5 p.m. A secular humanistic ceremony begins at 6 p.m. with music, readings and poetry, followed by a reception with apples and honey. A $15 donation for nonmembers is requested.

The Nistar Jewish community will offer free services in San Francisco. Rabbi Daniel Lev describes the community as “Renewal-ish” and stressed the inclusive nature of the services, which will be held at the San Francisco Baha’i Center, 170 Valencia St., S.F.

Rosh Hashanah services begin at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 and continue at 10 a.m. the next day; Kol Nidre services are 7 p.m. Sept. 25, and Yom Kippur morning services begin at 10 a.m. Sept. 26. For information, including about a Yom Kippur break-the-fast meal: (510) 684-4950 or [email protected].

The Workmen’s Circle of Northern California will present a secular Rosh Hashanah celebration with readings in English at San Francisco Humanities building, 1185 Vicente St., S.F. Services will begin at 3 p.m. Sept. 16. They are free to members, with a small suggested donation at the door. (415) 566-7235.

George Altshuler
George Altshuler

George Altshuler is the rabbinic intern at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco. He is on track to be ordained from Hebrew Union College in 2023. In 2012 and 2013, he worked as a calendar editor and staff writer in J.’s newsroom.