A video featuring on a South Florida Jewish center's Web site takes a light-hearted poke at the phenomenon of obtaining tickets to attend High Holiday services. In footage borrowed from a popular comedy show, "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David, who eventually buys tickets from a scalper, asks a friend: "Don't you think I should be in synagogue this Rosh Hashanah?"

Cutting to a plug for Chabad-Lubavitch of East Boca Raton, the clip – which appears in slightly different forms on other Chabad-Lubavitch center's Web sites – conveys the message that, as in years past, local Chabad Houses from Miami to Portland, Ore., to Bangkok and places in between, consider High Holiday seating to largely be a ticket-free affair. Beginning Friday night, hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children worldwide are expected to accept the invitation to attend services at more than 3,000 centers around the world.

In light of the current financial crisis, say rabbis, attendance at such free and reduced-fee services will likely dwarf that of previous years. The Larry David video notwithstanding, they emphasize, the high costs of the holidays – from food to clothing, and yes, tickets – are no laughing matter for many in the Jewish community.

"I got a call from an associate of mine who knew of a young woman planning on staying home this Rosh Hashanah because of the cost of High Holiday tickets," relates Levi Stein, a rabbinical student from Oak Park, Mich., who has worked with Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries for several years. "She had been looking to attend a synagogue near where she lives in New York," but every place she looked was too expensive.

“She was actually going to spend the holiday alone in her apartment,” says Stein, who after a quick call to a Chabad House nearby, assured the woman that a seat was waiting for her.

Open Doors

According to Rabbi Mendel Teldon, director of Chabad of Mid-Suffolk in Long Island, N.Y., such stories of financial straits leading Jews to consider home over synagogue are becoming more common. As communities continue to withstand the effects of the global recession, Chabad Houses that do solicit fees for educational programs like Hebrew school and suggested donations for everything from special workshops to members' dinners are finding a greater need for discounts and scholarships. In addition, many people find it extremely difficult to ask for help, he says.

"You try to meet people where they are," explains Teldon, "and if they can't pay, they can't pay. They're still a part of the community and we want them to come."

Teldon has rented space at the local Sheraton Hotel for Rosh Hashanah services, which begin Friday night and extend through Sunday. As with the Chabad House's other programs, the services will be open to everyone.

"We suggest a donation, for people who are able to pay," says the rabbi, "but no one will be turned away."

Rabbi Berl and Chanie Goldman, who direct the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student and Community Center serving the University of Florida in Gainesville, had a similar message for the more than 500 students they’re expecting for each day of services.

"Every Jew deserves a meaningful service, regardless of his or her financial wherewithal," says the rabbi.

Adds his wife and co-director Chanie Goldman: “According to tradition, at the New Year, the doors of heaven are open and G‑d accepts all prayers, from anyone. The least we can do is open our doors as well, to the entire community.”

To find a Chabad House offering free High Holiday services near you, click here.