CORE Groups High Holy Days Experience

At Central Synagogue

About CORE Groups

What are CORE groups?

CORE groups are intentional, lay-led communities, whose members come together on a regular basis with the understanding that Jewish tradition and deep personal relationships add meaning to our lives.  CORE groups are defined by their members’ commitment to engage in a process of transformational learning, reflection and relationship-building.

Why CORE groups?

Central Synagogue’s CORE group strategy reflects our mission: to connect our members more deeply to one another, to our community, to Jewish tradition, and to God.

Participating in a CORE group encourages us to:

Connect more deeply to each other and to our community.
Open our hearts and minds to new ideas, experiences and stories.
Relate the wisdom, tradition and values of Judaism to our everyday lives.
Examine who we are, who we want to be, and how we want to live.

CORE Groups High Holy Days Experience

This fall, we invite you to experience the High Holy Days as you never have before. Over the course of seven weeks, small, lay-led groups of our congregants will together take a “deep dive” into the preparation for and meaning of the fall holidays.

This experience will include opportunities for personal reflection, deep discussion, and communal celebration. The schedule is tentatively as follows:

Kick-off event with Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
September 8 • 7:00-8:30pm • Pavilion

Drawing on Alan Lew’s book, This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, we will consider the preparatory month of Elul, and the importance of engaging in cheshbon nefesh – an accounting of our souls – prior to the High Holy Days. You will be encouraged to reflect on a series of personal traits between now and Rosh Hashanah, and to share these reflections with a partner.

Week of September 12: Individual group discussion concerning your personal reflections, and preparation for S’lichot, an evening service that acts as an overture to the High Holy Days.

September 24: Attend S’lichot study session and service with your group.

Week of October 3 or 10: Individual group discussion delving more deeply into one of our clergy’s High Holy Day sermons.

Week of October 17: Individual group discussion concerning the themes of Sukkot.

October 23: Celebrate the culmination of this experience at our Simchat Torah service.


This project is inspired by Rabbi Alan Lew’s book This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared. We will be asking participants to read selections from this book, and recommend that you buy or borrow a copy. (For those of you who have a Kindle, the electronic version is $12.99; electronic copies are also available to borrow at the New York Public Library).

You may also wish to take a look at this post by our President, Abby Pogrebin, from her series last year in The Jewish Daily Forward. In this post, Abby describes her own preparation for the High Holy Days last year, which is quite similar to the process your group will undertake together during the month of Elul.

Practice Guide for Month of Elul »

CORE Group Leaders Best Practices Guide »

Discussion 1: Calling Ourselves to Account

Facilitator’s Guide | Text Study for Participants

Discussion 2: Rosh HaShanah Sermon

Rabbi Buchdahl: Chosen to Be The Other (Rosh HaShanah 5777)
Facilitator’s Guide | Text Study for Participants

Discussion 3: The Season of Our Rejoicing (Sukkot)

Facilitator’s Guide | Text Study for Participants

Ways to Join

Be a Group Leader

In order to make this experience work, we need our members to volunteer to lead groups. Being a leader does not require any specialized knowledge of Jewish text or tradition. We will provide easy-to-follow materials to guide your discussions. Group leaders will:

  • Coordinate schedule and location for your group meetings. (These meetings may take place in members’ homes, or in any other comfortable location outside the synagogue).
  • Communicate with group members regarding meeting times and distribute materials.
  • Facilitate group conversations, or arrange for rotating facilitation by members of your group.
  • At the end, debrief with our Rabbi for Small Groups, Nicole Auerbach, regarding your group’s experience.
  • How to create a group…
    1. Bring together a pre-existing group: Do you have a group of people from a class or a congregational trip that would like to reconnect? Do you have a groups of friend who volunteer together? Is there someone you sit near during services but have not yet gotten to know in a meaningful way? Consider coming together for this experience.
    2. Create an open group: Would you like to create new connections with other members? You can volunteer to start an “open” group, which other members will be able to join.

Join a Group

It is our hope for there to be enough open groups for others to join a group based on meeting location and schedule.

Interested in joining or leading a group? Fill out this form »


How big should a group be?

In our experience, the ideal size for groups like these is 10-12 people. This size fosters deep connection between members and fosters robust discussion, in which everyone’s voice can be heard. But you may choose to create smaller or larger groups if you like. If you have a few people who are interested in doing this together, but would like to augment your numbers, you can form an open group with a set number of available spots.

When and where do we meet?

Aside from the communal experiences, your group will meet outside the synagogue building, either at a participant’s home, or in some other, comfortable space. We will leave it to each group to schedule their meetings. For simplicity, we recommend picking the same day and time for your 3 discussion sessions. But we leave those details up to you.

Is this open to non-members?

Our intent is that this will serve to deepen connections between our members, and with the broader congregation. Therefore, in order to participate, you must be: (a) a member of Central Synagogue; (b) a child of a member; or (c) a participant in Central Synagogue’s 20’s and 30’s programming. 

What if I can’t make all of the dates?

As with most things, what you get out of this experience will depend on your commitment to it. We urge you to commit to the full experience. That said, if you are unable to make one or two of the dates, we recommend that you sign up, and let your group know that you will be unable to attend those dates.

Will a staff-member attend our meetings?

These are lay-led groups, which means that there will not be a staff member present at your meetings. However, our Rabbi for Small Groups, Nicole Auerbach, will be available to support you and answer any questions you might have.

Is this the same as the “small groups” I’ve heard about?

This experience will draw on what we have learned from our pilot CORE Groups initiative, and will be similar in many respects. However, unlike our longer-term CORE Groups, this experience requires a short-term commitment, and will require less preparation by leaders. If your group wishes to continue to become a regular CORE Group, your leader or leaders would be required to receive additional training in the fall, after the holidays.

Interested in joining or leading a group? Fill out this form »