But in one big way, they will be very different — because the congregation's services on the first full days of Rosh Hashanah on Thursday and of Yom Kippur on Sept. 14 will be held in an active Christian church.
It is a highly unusual arrangement, and not one entered into casually. It took months of internal discussions on the part of both congregations and a healthy dose of goodwill all around.
But the bottom line is, on Thursday morning, Rabbi Josh Whinston and a number of lay leaders will remove several torahs from Temple Beth David and walk them a short distance to the First Congregational Church and into a sanctuary large enough to allow the temple's congregation to celebrate the Jewish New Year as one community, in one room.
The 2- to 2 1/2-hour Rosh Hashanah service will be traditional in most every other way. They are bringing in a mobile torah ark, a reading table big enough for a torah, and a bema, or platform, where people leading the services will stand.
Temple Beth David is a Reform congregation of 500 to 600 people. Its sanctuary fits 250. This isn't usually a problem. But during the well-attended High Holy Days services, Temple Beth David has had to have two separate, though simultaneous, services during both Rosh Hashanah and the more somber Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement.
Families with the last name starting with the letters A through L would worship in the social hall with two lay leaders, and the M-to-Z families would be in the sanctuary with the rabbi and a cantor. The next holy day service, the families would switch locations.
Not long after last year's High Holy Days, Whinston said, he went to the temple president and the chairman of the ritual committee with the idea of finding a location big enough for everyone. The holy days are a time of communal prayer, and communal confession, yet they could not worship as one community. They took the matter to the board of trustees, which agreed to try it for a year — maybe in a high school auditorium or a similar space — or maybe, Whinston suggested, a similar space in a similar building just down the road.
He had been friends with the Rev. Jeffrey D. Braun, senior minister at First Congregational, since they both arrived at their respective houses of worship about four years ago. Both are members of the Cheshire Clergy Association. And the two congregations already had some ties. "In the past, our congregation has parked in the church lot. And our baby-sitting has always been there as well," Whinston said.
The temple was once a Methodist church and, like the Congregational church, is more than 150 years old. They share certain architectural features. But the sanctuary at the congregational church, which has a membership of about 850 people, is much larger.
"So I spoke with Pastor Braun," Whinston said, "and he was excited at the prospects … the opportunities for welcoming, and what that says about both their community and our community."
"They have been just so warm and welcoming to us," Whinston said.
Said Braun: "The request came from Josh to me, and I brought it to my senior lay leadership ... might they use this worship space?"
They took the matter to their board of deacons, which oversees spiritual life, and the board of trustees, which oversees the buildings, and there were several extended conversations, Braun said.
The church sanctuary is in the tradition of the New England meetinghouses: spare, no stained-glass, no iconography. But there is a large cross above the pulpit. For the Jewish High Holy Days, that wasn't going to work.
Braun said he, Associate Minister Alison McCaffrey, and other church leaders were committed to making the Jewish congregation feel they could worship freely and be truly at home. But would they go so far as to remove the cross?
"Discussing the cross was done truly and openly," Braun said. "And where we came down was that, while of course that is the most central symbol of our Christian faith, that the symbol itself is a symbol … yes, instructive … but the cross is not God. God is God.
"If moving that symbol so it might not be a stumbling block for people who come to pray to that same God, might that not be what God wanted us to do?"
In the end, Braun said, there was a "broad consensus" vote to take it down for the Jewish services.
The church is eager to be welcoming but not intrusive, Braun said. Members will give a brief welcome at the start of the Thursday service and, afterward, hand out the traditional apples and honey sticks to help celebrate the sweetness of the new year. For Yom Kippur, in keeping with the more solemn observance, any welcoming will be pared back, Braun said.
In a note to his congregation, Braun put the arrangement this way:
"Welcoming our Jewish brothers and sisters in this fashion does not diminish our Christian faith. It deepens it. It does not dilute our Christian beliefs or values. It emboldens and embodies them. And the same is true for our neighbors at Temple Beth David, from whose faith tradition we rose. ... [I]t is something to celebrate! ... Something that moves us beyond false walls and divisions. Something that palpably testifies that God's love is the ultimate message, the ultimate truth, the ultimate invitation in our lives."