That’s Not the Ticket: Some Synagogues Offer Free Worship for the High Holidays

The High Holidays are one hot ticket at synagogues — both literally and figuratively.
Most synagogues require tickets to gain entry for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There even have been reports nationwide of scalped tickets being sold, a phenomenon that became part of a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode several years ago.
But there are still places that allow non-congregants to worship for free.
“Our philosophy is that you don’t have to pay to pray,” said Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham in Old City. “There should be no barriers, financial or otherwise.”
The synagogue does ask nonmembers to register for the services in advance on its website ( so it will know what to expect for security purposes.
Goldman said about two-thirds of those worshipping at B’nai Abraham during the High Holidays are not formal members — and he’s OK with that. He’s been a rabbi there for nearly 17 years and said the policy predates him.
He noted that while the synagogue is happy to attract new members taken in by the impressive sanctuary and historic nature of the building, the main goal of free worship is to provide a service.
That said, opening up the High Holidays services for all does impact the synagogue’s finances.
“We do have to fundraise throughout the year to make it possible,” Goldman said.
Rabbi Elyse Seidner-Joseph of Makom Kadosh: The Jewish Fellowship of Chester County (JFCC) noted that many synagogues have financial obligations that preclude them from offering free High Holidays Services.
“It’s probably easier for us than some others,” she said, adding that Makom Kadosh rents space and has fewer financial obligations.
Seidner-Joseph said Makom Kadosh ( is less formal than many synagogues and places notices on Craigslist to inform people about their services. It even offers free child care.
“We want to welcome people whose Jewish connection is once a year, twice a year, whatever,” she said. “We want to have absolutely no impediments for people making a Jewish connection.”
About half of those who attend Makom Kadosh High Holiday services are regulars, with the rest being guests. About a quarter of those guests — some of whom have come for High Holiday services for several years — will make financial contributions, Seidner-Joseph said. And a few do become full-fledged members.
Those guests who attend Makom Kadosh High Holiday services are a mix of West Chester University students, some multigenerational families and other community members.
Rabbi Michelle Pearlman at Beth Chaim Reform Congregation ( in Malvern said the synagogue has offered free High Holidays tickets since its inception. The synagogue does ask that those who wish to attend register in advance.
“Beth Chaim was a congregation without a home for a long time,” she said, noting that services were held at a nearby church until the synagogue built its own home. “We want people to come find a place to worship.”
The synagogue has about 200 families, and they were joined by about 250 nonmembers during the High Holidays a year ago, Pearlman said. Family services were especially well attended.
“The people are very generous,” she said, adding, “They make donations when they come.”
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