We know that folks have a whole range of familiarity and comfort with Jewish ritual. Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about the holidays; we hope these help you get your bearings.
Is this a traditional/Reform/Conservative/Reconstructionist service?
We’ve done our best to create a full and meaningful service that is also accessible and familiar to many. We’re using a Reconstructionist prayer book, some familiar Reform and Conservative Ashkenazi tunes, and most of the same words you’d hear in services around the world. That said, we recognize it’s hard not to be in a familiar place, and we’re always looking to improve! Please feel free to come tell us what would help this space be inclusive and meaningful for you!
I have class. Is it okay to come and go?
Please do! We’d rather have you come and leave than not come at all! No judgment here. Just be mindful of not interrupting others as you come and go.
It is important to me to not to be in class during the holidays. How do I set that up with my professor?
It is Vassar College policy for students to allow excused absences for students whose religious practice creates a conflict with their academic obligations. Students who will miss class in order to observe a holiday must notify their instructors in advance of their absence and arrange to make up any work missed. If you need any support in arranging this, Liz can help (firstname.lastname@example.org).
What if I don’t really know the words, or the melodies? What if I can’t read Hebrew?
Most of us don’t either! Follow along as best you can, hum or sing the melody, butcher the words, and you’ll help others feel comfortable doing the same.
I want to be at services, but I can’t focus for that long. Can I bring a book?
Great idea ‐ a Jewish book that might be good for the season are This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Feel free to also sit silently, zone out, or read some of the reflections and meditations in this packet. This is your time, so use it however is meaningful for you. But please leave the electronics ‐ phones, kindles, ipads, etc ‐ off -- or at home.
What if I’m not Jewish? (or... what if my friend/parent/partner/pet chihuahua isn’t Jewish?)
Let’s put it this way ‐ you can be a direct descendent of Moses, but if you aren’t interested in trying anything Jewish, the ride is pretty much over. By the same token, you could be Santa Claus himself, and if you want to jump on the Jewish train and see where it takes you, all aboard! We define “Jewish” expansively, and want everyone to feel comfortable participating. What really matters is if you want to do Jewish stuff.
What if I don’t believe in God?
A‐ok with us. Important Jewish thinkers and everyday people have always had wildly diverse opinions about God, from big man in the sky to Divine Mother to ineffable force to no God at all. If you want to talk about what you mean by “believe” and “God,” that’s cool, and if you don’t, that’s cool too. If you’re interested in thinking more about this, you might consider checking out our class later this semester “I (don’t) believe in God.”
I need accommodations in order to hear/see/access the service.
Your participation is important to us! Please contact Liz at and/or the Campus Activities Office at (845) 437-5370.
Can we eat?
We’ll have celebratory meals after evening and morning services on Rosh Hashanah. On Yom Kippur, we’ll have a light pre-fast meal before evening services and a break-the-fast meal after the sun has set. Many people will be fasting on Yom Kippur as a way to concentrate on the personal/spiritual work at hand. We also understand that for a variety of reasons (medical, emotional, logistical, etc.), others won’t. Please take care of yourself and your body!
Where can I learn more about this High Holy Day thing?
For a quick take, check out the animated videos on Bimbam. For a longer exploration, you might check out This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, by Rabbi Alan Lew.
This is great, but I think a synagogue service is more my jam.
We'd be happy to connect you to a variety of possibilities, including Vassar Temple (Reform), Congregation Shir Chadash (Reform), Temple Beth El (Conservative), or Congregation Schomre Israel (Orthodox). Professors Marc Epstein and Agi Veto also host traditional services in their home on campus. Email Liz at for more information.
Thanks to Beacon Hebrew Alliance for their Sources for Reflection and Renewal, which we've borrowed from here.