The Coastal Star

Finding Faith: East Delray opens arms for High Holidays

By Janis Fontaine

To Rabbi Shmuel “Shmuli” Biston of Chabad of East Delray Beach, offering free services this month for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest days of the year in Judaism, is the right thing to do.

“Unfortunately, the world revolves around money,” Biston said, “but we’ve found sponsors and people to help defray the cost of renting the hotel.”

Biston said space at the Seagate Hotel in Delray Beach will accommodate up to 70 people. The Chabad continues to look for its own space in an effort to hold regular services.

Some Jews aren’t affiliated with a synagogue and others don’t feel comfortable in a synagogue setting. So Chabad of East Delray, a local branch of one of the largest Jewish outreach organizations in the world, offers the hotel as a relaxed alternative for worshippers.

“Even if you’ve never picked up a prayer book in your life, you’ll feel comfortable,” Biston said. “Our goal is to lower the barriers of entry and encourage everyone to actively participate in these most holy and introspective days.”

Rabbi Josh Broide of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County cites two important messages to the High Holidays: “One is sweet, apples and honey, and the other dark — Judgment Day.”

For a rabbi, the High Holidays are the Super Bowl, and getting into shape requires work. “We take it very seriously and start preparing months before, and delivering sermons dedicated to relationships — between family members, between people, and between us and God. But it all comes back to the person, the individual,” said Broide. 

Biston agrees: “The High Holidays are very personal. My goal is to make a connection, to offer a meaningful sermon, that will bring people closer to each other and God.”

Broide, who joined the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County as its first director of community engagement in 2014, is a bit like the shepherd out searching for his lost sheep while the rest of the flock grazes safely closer to home. Like Christmas Catholics and Easter Christians, some Jews come to the synagogue just twice a year.

It’s not ideal, said Broide, who also leads services at Boca Raton Synagogue, “but we’ll take what we can get.”

Attending synagogue is important, but “you don’t become a better person by attending a service,” Broide said. It takes work. “I try to find ordinary people whose example can inspire others to believe that change is possible, that show you can become a better person.”

A week after Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Jews will have spent the week looking back at their behavior, repenting and making amends. On Yom Kippur, Jews atone for their individual and communal sins and God “closes the book,” sealing their fate for the coming year.

All this talk of judgment is terrifying, but Yom Kippur also is a time of hope, compassion and love, Biston says.

Taking responsibility in today’s society is hard. Apologizing is agony. Admitting you’re wrong, gut-wrenching. So even though using technology during the holidays is generally discouraged, Biston says you can text your apology if you must. But you must!

“Man up!” Biston says. “You have a choice! How do you want this next year to be? Filled with anger or with love?” 

If you go

Chabad of East Delray will hold free services for Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 10-11 and Yom Kippur on Sept. 18-19 at the Seagate Hotel, 1000 E. Atlantic Ave. To register, go to jewisheastdelray.com/high-holidays or call 954-283-7261.

Janis Fontaine writes about people of faith, their congregations, causes and community events. Contact her at janisfontaine@outlook.com.

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