High Holiday Celebrations at Temple Israel Center and Congregation Kol Ami

By Stephen E. Lipken

Rabbi Annie Tucker of Temple Israel Center and Cantor Danny Mendelson of Congregation Kol Ami, both in White Plains discussed their congregations’ plans for the High Holy Days.

In outlining Temple Israel’s plans for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Rabbi Tucker stated that for “a really wonderful and joyful High Holiday season,” the temple “will have services for all different ages and speakers, from Tot Shabbat, teen, youth, to adult services.” One service will be in their main sanctuary; another will be in a tent on their property. According to Rabbi Tucker, that service is “very participatory with a lot of lay involvement and is a great kick-off for our Calendar Year as we welcome everyone back to the synagogue.”

Rabbi Tucker observed that the last year “has been challenging for all kinds of reasons” and thinks that the holiday season “gives us the possibility to start again, with sweetness, hope, and possibilities. We are more and more aware that many people feel isolated and disconnected, and the holiday season is a wonderful time to reconnect to the community and feel a part of something bigger than oneself.”

She believes that “Rosh Hashanah is about new beginnings, personally, as we take stock of our behavior, our goals, and our relationships from the past year.  It is about optimism and hope, the possibility of  starting fresh and I think that both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are about introspection, repair, and trying to do a little bit better in the year to come.” 

Rabbi Tucker concluded, “According to the Talmud, Yom Kippur is one of the most joyful days of the year because even though it is serious and introspective that there is also a joy from being in the community, wiping the slate of the past year clean and starting fresh, re-committing to our relationships.” 

Cantor Danny Mendelson remarked that Congregation Kol Ami was saying goodbye to their Senior Rabbis, Shira Milgrom and Tom Weiner, who are both retiring, and transitioning to a new Senior Rabbi, Jason Fenster. Cantor Mendelson stated, “Services will be similar to what they have been before with some new elements, a new Rabbi, little adjustments to what we have done before.” 

For him, the High Holy Days are about renewal, rebirth, and reflection, and he wants the music to mirror those feelings. “Once a year we come together and think about what we’ve done in the previous year, what we want to do in the year ahead.  Most importantly it’s a moment to pause and be grateful for reaching the New Year.”

Regarding the liturgical music, Cantor Mendelson said, “There is a balance that I try to walk between offering beautiful liturgical music that has a classical feel but also brings the congregation musical settings that take them back to their childhood, traditional Eastern European cantorial sound that many older congregants grew up with.  Our younger congregants are used to a more modern folk type of sound. Both sounds are equally important.” He wants “all of our music to have a seat at the table.”