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Sign up for one of our email newsletters. Keshira haLev Fife used to belong to a conservative synagogue in Squirrel Hill, but in recent years, she found herself drawn to the havurah movement — a group of people, many of whom don't belong to a synagogue,...

Non-traditional Rosh Hashanah services draw young worshippers

Sign up for one of our email newsletters. Keshira haLev Fife used to belong to a conservative synagogue in Squirrel Hill, but in recent years, she found herself drawn to the havurah movement — a group of people, many of whom don't belong to a synagogue,...

Non-traditional Rosh Hashanah services draw young worshippers

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Keshira haLev Fife used to belong to a conservative synagogue in Squirrel Hill, but in recent years, she found herself drawn to the havurah movement — a group of people, many of whom don't belong to a synagogue, who get together to pray.

Fife, 38, will celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year, by leading a non-denominational service Monday at Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside.

The gathering, which begins at 10 a.m., will include traditional prayers and other customs such as the blowing of a shofar, or ram's horn. But the atmosphere will be more laid-back, with many worshippers arriving in blue jeans.

“Anyone who wants to come, I want them to feel welcome,” said Fife, who lives in Sydney but returns to Pittsburgh two to three times a year.

The gathering is part of an increasing trend of non-traditional Rosh Hashanah events aimed at young adults. The holiday, which began Sunday at sundown, kicks off a 10-day period of self-examination, culminating in Yom Kippur, a period of atonement.

Jennifer Ferris-Glick, owner of Exhale yoga studio Downtown, will lead a Rosh Hashanah-themed meditation session at 10 a.m. Monday at Congregation Beth Shalom in Squirrel Hill. In years past, the session has drawn several dozen people.

“People are trying to connect to their Judaism in different and novel ways,” Ferris-Glick said, “and that really appeals to individuals who are trying to do that.”

Traditionally, congregants empty their pockets of crumbs during Rosh Hashanah and toss them into a moving body of water to get rid of one's sins from the past year. Meditation is the same concept but a different method, Ferris-Glick said.

“We do it in a way where we think about the things that we want to get rid of moving into a new year,” she said. “It's the process of casting off.”

Another popular Rosh Hashanah tradition is dipping apples in honey. The holiday celebrates the creation story, and the apple symbolizes the Garden of Eden. The honey is to make a sweet new year.

On Sunday, dozens of people picked apples at Simmons Farm near McMurray. The program, called PJ Beyond, was geared toward Jewish families who are not affiliated with a synagogue, said Lauren Bartholomae, family life director of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, which hosted the event.

“A big part of Rosh Hashanah is the whole idea of apples,” said Bartholomae, who hoped the event would help families become more engaged in the Jewish community.

The main message of Rosh Hashanah is that “whatever synagogue or temple you go to, you pray for the welfare of the world, that the tragedies should stop and we want a sweet year,” said Rabbi Stanley J. Savage of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation in Uptown.

Aaron Bisno, a rabbi at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Shadyside, said the holiday is “an opportunity to begin again, to look at who I am, who we are … and commit to being better than I have been in the past.”

Tony Raap is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7827.

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