The Jewish Sabbath traditionally is a time for synagogue services, neighborly hospitality, and staying close to home. For those who follow the restrictions on musical instruments and travel, it can be hard to party like it’s 1999, 2011, or any other year when the eve of its start falls on Shabbat.
So what’s a shul to do when New Year’s Eve and erev Shabbat coincide? Marking the secular occasion in a religious setting (which, after all, had its own New Year months before) is a challenge, but some synagogues are finding ways to combine a little “Auld Lang Syne” with “L’cha Dodi.”
Congregation Beth El in South Orange, for example, is one of a number of area synagogues that will offer a “Champagne Kiddush” in addition to its traditional Friday evening service.
“Yes, it is the new year on the secular calendar, but I don’t mind promoting it as a way of reconciling our place in American society and the additional opportunity to reflect and do teshuva in the middle of the Jewish year,” said Beth El’s Rabbi Francine Roston.
Mount Freedom Jewish Center in Randolph and Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield will also mark the occasion with Champagne at Kiddush.
MFJC will also ring in 2011 on Shabbat afternoon with a cholent cook-off, with at least five different cooks and five different crockpots (technically, it’s a taste-off, since the stews will be prepared, as per Jewish law, before Shabbat).
“We’re celebrating the new year with meat and kishke. How else would we do it?” quipped Rabbi Menashe East. As for the choice of Saturday afternoon for the event, he added, “We follow the solar calendar.”
Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills and Temple Emanu-El of West Essex in Livingston will hold regular services Friday, but at a time slightly earlier than usual.
That evening at Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit, program chair Steven Wetter will lead a brief service followed by the screening of a film that was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
According to an e-mail sent to NJJN by Wetter, the synagogue regularly holds a “meditative” Shabbat service when there is a fifth Friday of the month. Instead, on Dec. 31, Koyanisqaatsi, which, in the Hopi language, means “crazy life, life out of balance,” will be shown.
With music composed by Philip Glass, the film offers “scenes of high-tech American cities, frenzied factories, and empty canyons unfolding in dreamlike motion.” Glass’s music generates “a ritualistic, vaguely ancient air.” Wine, cheese, and popcorn will be served.
Other synagogues will follow the example of the Summit Jewish Community Center, whose Rabbi Avi Friedman said, “We’re pretty much ignoring it.”
Temple B’nai Or in Morristown isn’t acknowledging the occasion, but instead will mark the first yahrtzeit of rabbi emeritus Z. David Levy. Services will include a tribute to Levy, who led the congregation for almost 30 years before he retired in 1990.
Shomrei Emunah in Montclair isn’t planning anything unusual for Dec. 31, but the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day will be special nonetheless: The congregation will host four homeless families through the area Interfaith Hospitality Network
On Friday, Dec. 24, early kabalat Shabbat services were followed by a joint dinner at the synagogue. Because it was Christmas Eve, the congregation made a special effort to create a holiday atmosphere for their guests.
“We joyfully — as Jewish hosts performing the mitzva of true hospitality — set up a Christmas tree for the families who observe this holiday,” Rabbi David Greenstein wrote in a message to congregants. “For them it will be Christmas Eve. For us it will be Shabbat.”
He views Jewish hospitality at this time of year as particularly appropriate. “Taking care of the needy — at any time — is a Jewish value,” he said. “We have developed a strong tradition of helping our Christian neighbors precisely at times of their holidays, so that they can be free to celebrate their holidays. We are very pleased to be able to offer Shomrei as the home for the IHN families precisely at the season when our Christian institutions are otherwise occupied with their holiday services, celebrations, and programs.”
Some synagogues, like Temple Beth Shalom in Livingston, had plans dashed because of the convergence. “We were going to do a kosher Chinese kiddush for New Year’s, but oddly enough, the custodians are off, so no one can heat the food,” said Rabbi Mark Biller. He added, “Only in America!”