August 26, 2004
When You Can’t Go Home Again
Ah, the High Holidays. Time to gather, celebrate, eat, fast, repent and eat some more. But before you can get to any of that, there's another, perhaps less-ancient tradition that takes place a few weeks prior. It's the High Holiday scramble, and anyone without deeply planted roots knows how the dance goes. Jewish New Year works much like Dec. 31: You don't want to be alone; there's pressure to have someplace to go; and for transplants, singles and others, the options are less obvious than a meal with the family and services at the synagogue where you grew up. A little originality is called for, and the industrious don't miss a beat.
Witness the "orphan party." The wandering Jew's answer to family dinner involves the gathering of "orphans," a.k.a., friends, brothers, sisters, cousins and anyone else who doesn't have anywhere to go for the holiday.
"As a single person, I rally all my friends together," longtime New York transplant Amy Levy said. "I want to make sure my friends have someplace to go.... For years I've had people to my home. I make fantastic pot roast, everybody brings something. I've created a new tradition with my friends. We celebrate the holidays together."
Since taking on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur can be a big commitment, this year, when the repenting is done, "I'll go to my friend, Joana's Aunt Sandy's," Levy said. "My boyfriend and I are going there for break the fast."
Services, too, can be a stress-inducing dilemma. At around $300 a head, standard synagogue membership can become a much less appealing consideration for those without families close by, and many synagogues don't offer discounts for adults older than 25.
Some synagogues and Jewish organizations, like Sinai Temple (www.sinaitemple.org) and Aish (www.aish.com), offer reduced fees for those in their 20s and early 30s, and Jewish Singles Meet! (whose reservation line is (818) 780-4809) welcomes singles in their 30s and 40s to their services. A few other synagogues, like Temple Beth Zion-Sinai in Lakewood (www.tbzs.org), charge for tickets but will not turn people away because of an inability to pay. And then there's always Chabad (www.chabad.com), the Chai Center (www.chaicenter.org) and the Laugh Factory (323) 656-1336), that offer completely free services and meals for the masses.
"We joined a temple because they had youth fees, so if you were under 34 it was like $100 for the year, and that got you tickets to the High Holidays," said Karen Gilman, who moved to Los Angeles with her sister nearly five years ago. "But, I wasn't wowed by their services, and when I turned 34 they were going to up my fees a lot. So I didn't go to services last year."
This year, Gilman will spend the holidays with her parents in New York. Financially, however, that's not always an option. She and her sister have hosted Passover orphan parties for the last few years, with their penchant for hosting so acclaimed, that one friend nicknamed her sister the Pesach Queen.
Levy, on the other hand, will attend services at various synagogues around Los Angeles. She has said she likes to "explore the opportunities available to me on an a la carte basis."
And while she admitted that the researching of prices, and the prices of services themselves, can seem overwhelming, she was equally quick to emphasize the value of it, at least to her.
"I really enjoy the holidays and as a person not married and without children, I don't have a temple membership, but I've never missed a year of going to temple on the holidays," Levy said. -- Keren Engelberg,, Contributing Writer