Temple Beth Israel is preparing for Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement, which beings at sundown on Sept. 18.
On the morning of Sept. 17, music wafted through the halls of Temple Beth Israel.
The choir was holding rehearsal, but there was some extra care and purpose. They were preparing for the daylong services that will take place Sept. 19 as the temple celebrates Yom Kippur.
At sundown Sept. 18, Temple Beth Israel congregants will gather for the first service of Yom Kippur, one of two Jewish High Holy Days and the Day of Atonement for Jewish faithful.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Sept. 18 and ends at sundown on Sept. 19. The dates vary based on the Jewish religious calendar, a lunisolar calendar.
“It is a fast day,” Rabbi Stephen Sniderman said. “We are supposed to re-evaluate the way we have lived our lives in the past year, see how we have failed, make amends for any mistakes we have made and make a solemn resolve to live a better life in the year ahead.”
Sniderman said this time of year is when the temple sees its largest attendance at services. Last week, on Sept. 9, the temple celebrated Rosh Hashanah, which marked the start of a new year. The following day, on Sept. 10, nearly 70 people gathered at Cafe L’Europe for a Rosh Hashanah luncheon.
Sniderman said he found attendance is slightly down this year because the holidays are a few weeks earlier than normal and some members have postponed their return to Longboat Key because of red tide.
Temple members will use the day to reflect on how “decent” they were to the world and do a basic confession of sin Sniderman said.
Sniderman said he is focusing on growing the temple’s membership and getting to know more people. Sniderman joined the temple in August 2016 as its rabbi, so his effort to get to know members better is a continuation of what he’s been doing for the past two years.
“I want to follow up and get to know new people,” he said, making “a special effort to spend a few extra minutes with new people.”
At a recent Friday night Shabbat service, Sniderman said he spoke with a new family with an interesting background. He spent a few minutes learning about them and they learned a bit about him. He said that type of informal conversation is what he hopes to continue.
As for the temple, Sniderman said a new year goal is to increase membership, which has stayed steady over the past few years.
“As a community, we feel we do a wonderful job,” he said. “But we wish we could reach out to more people. I think most congregations would say that, too.”
Last spring, a few members hosted social events at their condominium complexes and in their communities to engage potential new members.
Sniderman said the temple is getting new members, but they want more.
“We have some unbelievably accomplished people who have decided to retire here, and they bring their expertise and their skills to bear,” Sniderman said.
And the members are the ones who drive the temple and its community, he said.
For example, during the High Holy Days, the temple is hosting a food drive for All Faiths Food Bank. Temple members broke a record last year with donations — 100 bags filled to the brim.
“We’ve got a fantastic staff and members who bring experiences from other congregations and ideas from other places, which is certainly a fantastic source,” Sniderman said. “They’ll tell us about something that worked so well elsewhere that maybe we’ll say, ‘Oh my gosh, I never thought of that, but now that they mention it, it makes perfect sense.’”