Rosh Hashanah’s coming, so it’s time for a public service announcement.
Things here in Israel are NOT the same as they are wherever you come from. That includes shul on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
You probably won’t need tickets, and I don’t know of any shul in Israel that will kick you out if you haven’t signed up ahead of time, but depending on the shul, they might not have a lot of space for you.
Also, check around your neighbourhood carefully – the davening (prayer services) is very different in different types of shuls. And I’m not just talking about Ashkenazi and Sefardi (Mizrachi) shuls.
Yeshivas, for example, may have a longer, more drawn-out davening that’s enjoyable if you like something more spiritual, while “stam” Israeli shuls may have more of a “get in, get out, get home” type of approach. Most shuls start at 8 am on yom tov, but the ending time really varies, from 10:30ish across the street from me to as late as 1 or 2 in some places.
(So if you’re expected somewhere for either of the lunch meals, it’s extra important to co-ordinate with your hosts so you get there when they want to start.)
If you’re new to your area, ask around to find out which shul is more likely to offer you the best experience. That depends, of course, on what your criteria are. Such as whether you like singing or prefer to avoid it at all costs, like at the shul across the street from me, where any necessary musical touches are grudging at best.
Also, if you’re a woman, ask other women – your experience might be very different from what a man would encounter in the same shul.
One thing you won’t get here that you may or may not be used to – calling out page numbers. Most Orthodox shuls outside of Israel don’t do this either, but our shul in Toronto did because it had a kiruv (outreach) bent.
To someone who grew up in Israel and is as familiar with the siddur as he is with the back of his hand, calling out page numbers makes as much sense as calling out “spoon” when you’re serving soup. You don’t have to, because it’s just so obvious.
Finally, even if there is no visible “membership” or “ticket” system, there probably is a charge / donation to be there on the yamim noraim (high holidays).
It’s hard to know who to ask about this, especially if your Hebrew isn’t great. Try to connect with at least one other English speaker so you can find out who’s in charge and what the cost usually is. Unlike some shuls elsewhere, it probably won’t be prohibitive.
However, paying the donation / fee also won’t guarantee you a seat, so come early for popular moments like Yizkor and Kol Nidrei.
Whatever you do, remember the BYOM rule: Bring Your Own Machzor.
True, many shuls in North America provide them, but over here, very few of them do. And those that are provided probably have no English, so if you need that, it’s definitely best to bring your own.
Just to review the basics, here are the three most common types of Siddur / Machzor that most shuls use:
- Sefardi – this is known as edot hamizrach / mizrachi (eastern communities) here in Israel.
- Ashkenazi – this is the siddur most similar to the Conservative davening I grew up with. Very widely used around the world; not so much here.
- Sefard / nusach Sefard – this is actually an Ashkenaz siddur, and it is the one most commonly used here in Israel in Ashkenazi shuls and schools. If you’re not sure which one to get, this is your best bet.
Of course, if you already have a machzor and a nusach (prayer style) that you’re comfortable with, you should definitely stick with what you’re used to. I still daven Ashkenazi, but that means I have to flip back and forth into my daughter’s Sefard siddur for certain bits (like kedusha) that aren’t the same.
“Bring Your Own” is actually good advice even on a regular Shabbos or weekday.
Most shuls will have lots of siddurs, but even if you don’t NEED the English, technically speaking, it’s sometimes nice to have it there. Nobody will think any less of you if you bring one that’s more familiar. Ditto for a chumash.
It may weigh you down on your way to and from shul, but hopefully having it there will help you settle in, get comfortable and have a great davening experience in your new “home shul.”
May it be a שנה טובה ומבורכת / shanah tovah umevorechet / א גוט געבענטשט יאהר / a gut gebentscht yohr (as my Bubby would say) … all of which means: “a good, blessed year.”