The New High Holy Days

What happens when, once a year, the urge to accommodate every consumer fashion meets massive Jewish cultural illiteracy?

Congregants outside Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

Congregants outside Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Anne Cusack/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

Essay
Sept. 4 2018
About the author

Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is the author of The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice their Religion Today, newly published by Princeton University Press.


It’s long been a given that American Jews who rarely if ever attend religious services throughout the year come to synagogues in droves on the High Holy Days. To enlarge their sanctuaries, synagogues open movable partitions; to accommodate even greater throngs, they may hold “overflow” services in their social halls, in rented theaters or, when necessary, in large tents. When even these prove insufficient, enterprising rabbis open “mushroom synagogues” that like their namesakes pop up briefly in the early fall and disappear just as quickly.

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More about: American Judaism, High Holidays, Religion & Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur