Debatable: Should We Offer Free High Holy Days Tickets to Non-Members?

by Steve Friedman and Maxine Sukenik

One congregational leader says yes; another says no. Each shares their perspective on this age-old congregational debate. What do you think? What does your congregation do? Read Steve and Maxine’s views, below, and chime in with your own.

“YES! No Tickets = No Barriers”
by Steve Friedman, past president of Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, MO.

After I moved back to St. Louis from Houston 25 years ago, I knew I didn’t want to rejoin the synagogue I’d attended growing up. In the midst of visiting different temples, I learned that I could attend High Holy Days services at Central Reform Congregation (CRC) without worrying about tickets. I was glad there was a place open to someone like me who was searching for a new spiritual home… and after I attended CRC’s High Holiday services, which were so meaningful and spiritually ful­filling, I knew I’d found one. Many others have found a home at Central Reform the same way.

In 2009, Newsweek magazine listed CRC as one of the 25 most vibrant congregations in America. Indeed, in 25 years we have grown from 30 to 750 households, and key to our growth and vibrancy is our openness. We have always welcomed people who sometimes feel marginalized, such as the LGBT community and interfaith families. And, to make sure there are no barriers to anyone needing a place to pray – including the embarrassment barrier of having to ask for a free ticket because of personal circumstance –  our High Holiday services are open to all without tickets.

In order to accommodate up to 2,000 High Holy Day worshipers per service, we have had to rent large venues. To help offset this expense, we ask members and guests for donations but don’t come close to breaking even. Yet, even in these challenging economic times, we believe, on principle, that services should be open to all. Moreover, it turns out that the mitzvah of providing worship opportunities for anyone who wants to come home to Judaism has its rewards, bringing in people like me who get introduced to CRC on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, like what they see, join us, and may even become temple president.

“NO! Members keep congregations alive.”
by Maxine Sukenik, past president of Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL

The conundrum: At Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL, 1,000+ members can purchase High Holy Days tickets for their adult children and parents, but not for siblings, cousins, or childhood friends who want to pay to pray. While denying them this brief community participation may drive them further away from their spiritual roots, we must ask: Wouldn’t providing tickets for purchase encourage them to remain two-days-a-year Jews?

Living in a Jewish neighborhood, my first-generation American parents felt no need to join a synagogue. It was not until much later, when my husband, children, and I moved to a newly developing Chicago suburb and experienced anti-Semitism, that we sought out a Jewish community for my sons. Once they finished religious school, our family remained temple members; I couldn’t miss being with our community on the High Holidays.

Years later, in my retirement, I viewed a Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit and came away with questions that sent me to Torah study the very next Shabbat: “What words on these ancient pieces of parchment could be so powerful that they are still recited in Long Grove, Illinois, and what relevance could they possibly have to my life?” The more I studied, the more joy I found in my life. I gained purpose, the knowledge of why I am here. I fell in love with Jewish rituals, which offer us opportunities to reflect, renew, forgive, and celebrate the blessings that surround us. And the more I volunteered, the more I felt supported by community, in times of adversity and celebration.

Without dedicated members, Temple Chai would not exist. Even our reasonable dues are insufficient to maintain operating expenses. A High Holiday ticket program would be a disincentive to membership, threatening the very existence of our communal Jewish home. It would deprive me – who needed years before I was ready to begin my true Jewish journey – and many others of a full synagogue experience in all seasons.

This debate was originally published in Reform Judaism magazine and published on this blog in August of 2009. The original comments are included below. Please add your own and continue this ongoing conversation!

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34 Responses to “Debatable: Should We Offer Free High Holy Days Tickets to Non-Members?”

  1. avatar

    Opening the doors to your synagogue wide does nothing to hurt, and everything to help – whether you are talking about people who are disaffected, disenfranchised, or merely dysfunctional 😉
    If you need to find out who’s coming for logistical reasons (ie: fire codes and seating limits) then certainly implement an RSVP policy with tickets so as not to penalize those who planned ahead versus those who decided last minute, but got to the door early. But make every effort to welcome ALL.
    Ms. Sukenik I think you miss the point when you imply that without dues, members would have to pay for tickets. I submit that HH attendence is free to all. Period. Think of it as “inreach” as well as “outreach”.
    If someone is afraid that people will not have a reason to join (and support) the synagogue if they “give the good stuff away for free” then I respectfully submit that they have mis-identified “the good stuff”.
    In my (perhaps not so) humble opinion, a synagogue doesn’t attract and retain members because of High Holidays and Lifecycle events. It doesn’t encourage enthusiastic member participation that way either. Nor do those things inspire charitable giving and financial support.
    All those things happen when a synagogue is a worthwhile (and need I add holy?) community where individuals are welcomed, feel welcome and can see a place for themselves beyond a seat in the sanctuary twice a year.
    Leon Adato
    The Edible Torah

  2. avatar

    Who owns G_d and therefore has the right to charge rent from others for their use of Him/Her?

  3. avatar
    Reverend Rachel Hollander Reply August 14, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    The Haggadah reads that we are to welcome the strangers in our midst. Those who are not familiar with Judaism (and may therefore be afraid of it and violent towards it) are just those folks that we need to be welcoming. Even Jesus, the nice Jewish boy who lived with his mom until his early 30’s explained that whenever we did not feed, clothe, or care for ANYone, we were not Loving God (and, in turn, not Loving our Selves).
    Share the Words of God. Nicely. Sweetly. The way those words were meant to be shared.

  4. avatar

    I speak as a non-jew who is very interested in learning about the jewish faith. As interested as I am, hearing of people who will be charged to worship simply because they are not a part of the community feels very unwelcoming.
    at the very least,if Judaism is a positive force in the world (and I certainly think it is) I believe its only right to be as inviting as possible to those unfamiliar with the faith.

  5. avatar

    Why should anyone pay to pray?
    Separate the membership dues issue from the attendance at the High Holy Days issue.
    The synagogue I left encouraged contributions throughout the year… to celebrate accomplishments, to remember yahrzeits, or just because. It also held weekly bingo nights to raise money, mostly from non-Jews. Always with the money!
    Then there’s the annual Federation campaign, always asking for a bit more than you donated last year. And there’s the kosher food, that always costs more than “regular” food. Again with the money!
    I’ll pray at home this year, just as I have for the past several years. I don’t think the Creator intended prayer to be so expensive.

  6. avatar

    AT one time,i became a
    Jew by choice.
    When I lost my job–because of taking care of
    my elderly parents—–I couldn’t pay the
    I was emotionally devestated.
    Previously,i had participated in choir as needed,
    and/or other volunteer services.
    I received an impersonal letter in the mail–
    not only could I not attend High holiday services——
    i could no longer
    even attend services

    • avatar

      Most temples would work with you in such a circumstance. If it doesn’t by no means go back there but the main issue is whether people who have the means should go to High Holiday services for free. My answer is no. In fact I believe dues are artificially young for some Jews in their 30’s who can pay full price. This of course takes away the ability for the temple to assist the truly needy belong.

  7. avatar

    I have adult cousins from an interfaith marriage. Their father was Jewish; their mother was not. After their father’s death, they held a tenuous connection to Judaism through a Reform congregation, but when it came time to pay dues to go to High Holiday services, they were refused tickets even though they could not afford them. They all left and found homes in various churches. Then they converted to Christianity.

  8. avatar

    I have always advocated for open High Holiday services, and in my first congregation we had multiple services so there would be room for all. Tickets (I like to call them seating cards) should be merely a way to count those attending so as not to run out of seats. Where there is limited space, I believe members deserve to have seats first, and then unaffiliated (who are often pre-members) should be able to request seating cards – with a suggested but not required donation. Tickets should never be “sold” – they should be free with a suggested donation. Also critical: training ushers so that on the actual day of a service NO ONE is turned away – anyone without a “ticket” is welcomed, wished “Shana Tova” and invited in for the service if there are any open seats. Just hand them a welcoming letter that they open at home — thanking them for sharing with the community, inviting them back, and mentioning that a donation to help provide worship to the entire community is most welcome – even with a suggested amount if done nicely.
    In my current congregation there is a debate about whether folks stay members just for High Holy Day tickets. My opinion: they stay for community, commitment to Judaism, life cycle assistance, learning, Shabbat, yarzeits, and much more. Yes, some might stop paying dues and just come for “free” on High Holy Days, but in most cities they can do that now — there is often some “free” alternative on a campus or elsewhere. In my current congregation those who resign cannot “purchase” tickets for five years (this is coupled with a system that will bend over backwards to adjust dues to the financial needs of the family), and we are revisiting this policy as we begin to grasp that people may take a break for a year or two and then come back to membership — but not if they have had five years completely away. As baby boomers become the emptynesters and grandparents, we need new policies that take into account that they may move in and out of membership for financial reasons, and also because as they move to new locations they want a year or two to get to know a congregation before they join. Open the doors — and squeeze in every Jew (and those interested in Judaism) that we can fit. If we communicate warmth and meaning on the High Holy Days, they will be back on Shabbat and want to be a part of the community.

    • avatar

      If a poor but observant Jew shows up at the richest temple or synagogue in town on the High Holydays he is turned around even though he is following Leviticus and the commandments of the Lord. There is something that has always bothered me about this being a member of a religion that places such a high emphasis on charity and helping others.
      I don’t have 2,000+ to join a temple or a coupld of hundred dollars for a ticket or two tickets one day a year.
      There are temples and Chabad that let anyone come in and worship the Lord and atone and that is the way it should be. There are enough member who pay their dues to support the secular functions ( paying the rabbi, cantor, staff, janitors, etc. ) during the rest of the year.
      But on the high holidays it has always struck me as gouging your members and my late mother belonged to her temple for over 50 years and paid.

  9. avatar

    I very much like the warmth and openness of Rebdeb’s approach, and I would love to see something similar instituted at my congregation.
    It’s clear from the other comments that there is much anger directed at the tickets-required policies, and we would do well to work out creative solutions not to alienate those folks.
    But while I don’t think it’s all that constructive to argue, I do wonder where all these folks who are expressing such indignation about “pay-to-pray” are for the other 50 Shabbatot every year, when they can come and pray, say kaddish for a loved one, study, schmooze and often even have lunch–all gratis. I wonder where they are on the mornings of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot and other yizkor services when we could really use them for making a minyan.
    I wonder how we can get past seeing each other’s actions as selfish…

  10. avatar

    I would suggest no Jew is a “Jew only 2 days a year.” That would seem to be more a person’s perceptive.
    And though, like Bala’am, we can’t look into their tents, we can see into their hearts.
    We carry our faith in the hearts year-round through the many silent Mitzvahs provided for our communities.
    I have been unemployed because of the economy. I’m 59.I know many who can’t afford what they once could. We keep quietly paring down our lives to meet these hard times.
    The only things I have to contribute to my community are free Reiki treatments for those in pain and about 4 to 6 dozen fresh farm eggs each week. Oh, and once in a while maybe an insight or two – purely through inspiration – all the words belong to Source and only being shared with us.
    I realize the support of my community daily – yet especially on each Shabbat when I’m in their midst.
    I get to go to High Holidays for free. The idea of charging someone to come to their community High Holidays doesn’t even register as “Jewish” to me.
    The Torah doesn’t command us to open our doors and then charge an admission fee! Thank God
    I feel sorry for all who are turned away from a High Holiday experience because they can’t afford it.
    I am blessed and grateful for each experience I have been given during High Holidays since I converted January 24, 2003.
    I’ve been privileged to be able to contribute some of the readings; to sit next to a dear friend and bare my soul to the moment; to listen to a teen of CRC soulfully express on her violin that which has no words yet was felt by many. I join in song when it’s time to rejoice in a new year I know I will be sharing with my community; and turn back to Source with true desire to reach higher levels of holy intent in the coming year.
    Thank you CRC for giving me the gift of the High Holidays and for sharing with the least of your community.
    Michele C. Long
    CRC, St. Louis, MO

  11. avatar

    I don’t believe anyone needs money to pray at our
    Temple. If a true lack of money is a problem, our finance committee will provide membership, and not just for the Holdays, but for all Temple activties. We are all for each other in a very hostile world and no one is turned away here.

  12. avatar

    Let’s differentiate between those in straitened circumstances and those who can’t justify supporting a synagogue all year when they only need it on the High HolyDays. And kudos to those congregations that open their doors to all, whether to avoid embarrassing the financially distressed or because their marketing strategy is based on welcoming all to pray now in the hope that they will pay later. (Im lo lishma, ba lishma — that which does not start with a holy purpose may turn into a holy purpose.)
    Leah asks why anyone should pay to pray — she is disturbed by the emphasis our Jewish institutions place on generating income, and has chosen to opt out of the system and to pray at home. Whether or not the Creator intended prayer to be so expensive, our Torah certainly sets forth expectations for the support of the Mikdash and of the Levites, and our Tradition places an emphasis on community prayer and on being part of the community.
    Ruth B remarks on the anger directed at tickets-required policies (while reminding us of the all-year-round activities of the synagogue that are open to all and neglected by most). We should remember that little of that anger comes from those within the synagogue, from those that sustain the enterprise all year, and who would be justified in their anger at those who want to use the synagogue without contributing to its support.
    Ron White asks — Who owns G_d and therefore has the right to charge rent from others for their use of Him/Her?
    The answer is obvious — but the question is wrong. The right question is Who owns the building consecrated to the worship of God — and the answer is equally obvious — those who paid to build it and who pay to maintain it and to organize the formal worship experience that takes place within.
    I find many analogies between the synagogue and the Opera and the Symphony, both of which also provide a kind of spiritual sustenance, both of which also sustain themselves through a mix of subscription sales (equivalent in some ways to temple membership), individual ticket sales, and aggressive fundraising to bridge the gap between the real costs and the box office take. Those who can’t afford orchestra seats for every performance have the option to buy balcony seats for selected performances — but neither of these community institutions is expected to give its performances away.
    When God again starts to send manna and to drop quails down from the heavens to satisfy our craving for meat, we can blithely open our doors even to the free-loaders. When all Jews, instead of just 40% of us, recognize that im eyn kemach eyn Torah, that there can be no Torah without material substance, we can blithely open our doors to all comers.
    Meanwhile, somebody has to pay the bills.

  13. avatar

    Temple Concord, in Binghamton NY. does not issue HH tickets, nor do we sell them. Our services are for our members, and their visiting families/kids, etc. New community members are certainly allowed to attend for the 1st year.
    Our real problem is that several families have resigned membership, yet come to our HH services or have lived in the community for many years. No contribution, or intent to rejoin.
    These people should not be allowed to attend. How do we enforce this? Sometimes peer pressure, sometimes a few reminder words that they should rejoin, and/or a follow up letter saying that attendance at HH services is restricted to members.
    Some of this is an emotional issue of “schnorrers” vs those who support or Temple.
    Nobody wants to play “traffic cop”, so these folks continue to take advantage of our good graces.

  14. avatar

    I am a former member of Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL. and last year my daughter was a Bat Mitzvah there. Due to the fact that I am a single mom and and get no financial support from anyone, I had to make choices on where my money is going and I had to make the choice to pay my bills and save for my daughter’s college education. Since then, my extended family has been torn apart during the High Holidays as my parents chose to spend the time with me and my daughter while my sister is still a member at Temple Chai. How lovely of them to accept the $400 from my parents for their tickets but will not take my $400 for my daughter and I. I’m not asking to attend services for free, I would just like to spend it with ALL of my extended family. While the President is up on the bimah begging for donations, maybe she should think about the thousands of dollars she is turning away from folks looking for a place to be on our Holiest Day. Not to worry, the other synagogue in town is willing to take my money and will only charge me $150 per ticket. I’m sure within the next two years Temple Chai will change following the lead of their ‘competitor’.
    Let it be known that Temple Chai has a healthy membership and there are many Jewish families in the area so Maxine’s concern about dedicated members along with her personal journey should not effect those who are not members. I have paid six years into the ‘Building Fund’ and am now glad I didn’t make another ‘donation’ for a family plate since I am not welcome there. Why would anyone want to attend Shabbat services at a temple that does not ALWAYS welcome you?

  15. avatar

    I think it is inappropriate for a synagogue to require non-members to purchase tickets for the High Holy day services because:
    It denies non-members who can’t afford to purchase a ticket their entitled rite to worship with other congregants during the High Holy day season.
    It is discriminatory by favoring non-members who have some flexibility with their budget over non-members who are watching their budget more closely.
    It violates the commandment: Love Thy Neighbor.

  16. avatar

    I understand that congregations need money to pay their expenses — and I don’t pretend to know the right answer to this conundrum — but I cannot imagine a discussion thread more likely to elicit an anti-Jewish response from non-Jewish readers.

  17. avatar

    I came from a secular Jewish family with very little ties to Judaism. But my family has always been spiritual and i have always felt a personal yearning for a connection to the unknown.
    I went to Israel, mostly just to understand the troubling politics, and had an unexpectedly life changing experience, one that connected so many things i felt in my heart, to things that had existed in Judaism for centuries… I wasn’t expecting to have such a connection, but i did. I felt, that just maybe, in my life, Judaism was a way i could discover and investigate my connection to the mysteries of the universe, and my purpose in the world.
    … then i get back to america, and i try to attend Rosh Hashana/ Yom Kippur, a holiday i understood to be extremely serious introspective ritual. I had never been to a temple in the states before, i had no idea what i was in for. I am a “starving artist”, had on my only nice outfit that i had taken great care to only take out for holidays, i was so nervous approaching the gates of a temple i had only found out about online, when i saw two men outside who almost seemed like bouncers, and they ask me for my ticket. its hard to explain just how much this stopped me in my tracks as i stammered “rosh hashana, this is a … ticketed event?”
    Its hard to explain the psychological shift that happened after i heard about “buying tickets”. I came to the gates nervous about meeting hashem in an unfamiliar place, nervous about evaluating my soul… then after i was ushered to two or three “official people” who told me yes i could have this “free pass” for a year but after that i was required to “make a decision”… It took every ounce of willpower to forget about all that and just try to let the service work its magic, and it did, but my brain kept on returning to all of that ticket nonsense, and at times my eyes would look around me and wonder, what do i have in common with people who would extort money for spiritual events? is this some sort of joke?
    I was shown a lot of hospitality in Jerusalem and abroad, and the more generous the Jews i met were, the more i longed to be more like them. Because thats what generosity does, it requires risk, but it inspires generosity, it changes people.
    … but then in israel there were also jews that were myopic and bigoted to an extent that i felt embarrased to be a part of the same faith, and here in america these tickets make me feel embarrased too, and i wonder whether ive made the wrong decision to feel so connected to this life.
    And i cant help thinking about that story about Jesus getting really pissed off at the marketplace near the holy temple for trying to sell things too close to a holy place. Im not even pretending to have any opinions about messianism. But that story never made much sense to me until now.

  18. Larry Kaufman

    So I came home after ne’ilah, had my lox and bagel to break my fast, and then sat down at the computer to catch up on the current issues in Reform Judaism. And I see our temples are still being scolded for not having been sufficiently hospitable to the stranger.
    May I remind those who have felt spurned that, for the next 350 days or thereabouts, you can go to the synagogue of your choice, nobody will ask you for a ticket, a collection plate will not be passed (as it would be at almost any church you might attend), and most likely neither the rabbi nor the liturgy will ask you to consider your own actions over the past year — no guilt trips, no confession of individual or communal sin. Just a free ride to celebrate your being part of a covenant people. And they’ll probably give you a cookie and a cup of coffee afterwards. Your only responsibility as a party to the covenant is to show up! Less crowded than Yom Kippur, too.
    Of course, you’ll get to do that because the people sitting around you and a whole bunch of other people who aren’t there have concluded that, just because the rabbi and the cantor and the janitor fasted on Yom Kippur, they shouldn’t be expected to fast all year. Now you and I know that they’re wrong — they should be willing to go hungry in exchange for the privilege of leading you in prayer. After all, doesn’t it say above the door My house shall be a house of prayer for all people, whether they’re willing to sustain the house or not.
    I congratulate Central Reform Congregation for being able to maintain an open door. I hope they are getting the message across that, just because you don’t need a ticket doesn’t mean that someone isn’t paying for you to be there, and maybe that someone should be you.

    • avatar

      Thank you Mr. Lev. Most only see barriers where there are none. My synagogue welcomes anyone wishing to attend Shabbat services and social events all through the year. Someone has to support those efforts and activities and that’s where dues come into play. Churches ask for money all year long through “passing the hat” around at their services and through their diocese. Synagogues do not have that opportunity. We must keep the lights on by the means that we have. And we all know that a discreet conversation with the temple finance chairman can alleviate some of your dues responsibility.

  19. avatar

    Anyone who has ever sat on the board of a temple knows that it is a struggle to balance the budget. If you don’t balance the budget, sooner or later, there is no temple. High Holiday services are expensive for a temple to put on, and keeping the doors open and paying the Rabbi and Cantor is even more expensive. This is not about the right to pray, because people can pray at home (although even there, they don’t question that they have to pay the mortgage). It’s about the right to use facilities and services that cost other people money. If someone wants to attend services, they have a moral obligation to pay their share of the cost, either as dues or the price of the tickets. If they can’t afford it, temples will normally reduce dues or ticket prices for them. I would turn the question around: Should a Jew support a temple or synagogue? The Torah says we should tithe, and when the Temple in Jerusalem existed, bring a meaningful offering to the Temple. The idea that people who can afford to contribute to the cost of having a temple should shirk their responsibility and use what someone else has paid for has no basis in Torah or in Judaism.

  20. avatar

    Barbara Grossman, Letters, Free High Hold Day Tickets?, Reform Judaism, Winter 2009/5770, wonders why anyone would bother to make the effort or spend the money to join a congregation if High Holiday tickets were available at no charge? When I lived in New Orleans (1992- 2001) and was a member of Touro Synagogue, we did just that. The doors were flung open and no tickets were required. Unfortunately for Longwood, Florida and it’s surrounds, apparently there are Jews forced to cross the street to the Unitarian and Episcopal churches which will welcome them with open arms.

  21. avatar

    Respondents to the website poll have voted overwhelmingly for free HHD tickets. Trouble is, the simplistic poll does not indicate who the respondents are, nor to whom they think free tickets should be given.
    I agree that HHD tickets should be free — to those who are enabling HHD services by supporting the synagogue financially. But are they the ones voting for an open door for everyone?
    Even if the budget committee says you can offer an open door, what does Homeland Security say? I know of at least one congregation where the police have advised that they require not only tickets, but photo ID. Does your benevolence to the free-loader extend to endangering the lives of your congregants?
    For those “Jews” who cross the street to the Unitarian and Episcopal churches, where they are welcomed with open arms, I have to ask what kind of Yom Kippur services they are welcomed with. And if they don’t need Jewish services, the synagogue doesn’t owe them anything at all — synagogues exist to serve Jews.

  22. avatar

    I concur totally with Larry Kaufman. I worked for a rabbi for 16 years. In all that time, I noticed that the mortgage, rabbi, cantor, office expenses & I were all paid, difficult budget or not. If any family or person could not afford the membership dues, or High Holy Day tickets, accommodations were made, always. However,priorities came into the picture. If the nice house, nice car & comfortable living expenses were shown to be more of a priority than supporting the temple, I for one, would have refused that charitable offering. But the temple rarely did. The temple is available all year for any to use, say Kaddish, or enjoy any Shabbat service. It’s unfortunate that some people can’t see the reality.

  23. avatar

    I wonder if technology is providing a potential partial solution for some synagogues with the ability to webcast services live so interested individuals can observe the high holiday services from home – without a ticket.

  24. avatar

    I’m a dues-paying member of a small Reform congregation. (I mention that because, above, the question was raised as to who is responding to the poll.) I had never even heard of “tickets.” If our temple required paid tickets, I for one would never have been able to attend HHD services, ever. I wouldn’t be able to afford it – especially not with 3 kids. And I would be embarrassed to ask for anything free, as I’m sure a lot of people would be. I can’t see anything positive that could come from requiring payment, and in fact it would most likely be a major turnoff to the few visitors who actually might want to become members. As if the Jewish community in our area isn’t shrinking fast enough already… Of course bills have to be paid, but especially during the high holy days, I would hope the doors would be open.

  25. avatar

    Coming from a Christian background, I was shocked the first time I realized most synagogues require tickets for High Holy Days. On the “Big” holidays of Easter and Christmas in Christian churches, everyone knows you just scrunch together to make room for the 1-or-2-times-a-year visitors. I’m so grateful we belong to Central Reform Congregation with its very open-door policy. Like many other responders, because of economic circumstances, we couldn’t afford to pay to attend these services. Someone mentioned the Christian practice of passing the collection plate. Keep in mind that is a voluntary donation–nothing is required, not everyone gives, not everyone gives the same amount. At CRC, everyone is welcome. Yes, there are people who attend synagogue just for the High Holy Days. However, some attend because they live in communities where there is no synagogue (as we once did). Some attend because they can’t afford the tickets at their own synagogue or because not all family members are welcome to attend.
    I will never understand the policy of asking people to “pay to pray.”

    • Larry Kaufman

      No one has to “pay to pray.” They can pray in their own living room, or on a beach, or in most synagogues, if they are interested enough to make arrangements in advance. What people are asked is to support the synagogue, to pay the salaries of the rabbi and cantor, plus the electric bill and the mortgage payments for the building.

      Why do people feel commanded to worship with the community on the High Holy Days but not commanded by the equally important Biblical injuntion to support the temple and its (priestly) staff?

  26. avatar

    Our Reform Temple has never charged for HHD Tickets. Anyone is welcome not only on holidays, but any day.
    It is a disgrace to charge to worship and to have to pay all monies owed before being able to even purchase a ticket.
    It’s a time to reflect on all that has past and if it gives someone peace to pray then let them, rich or poor, member or non-member. Everyone has a reason to belong or not to belong, right or wrong, prayer should be free.

  27. avatar

    I agree with all those who argue that “someone has to pay the rent”. However another point I have not seen raised is that by allowing non-members and particularly those non-members who are not friends or relatives of members we dilute the sense of community for our members. Rather than being a community prayer service, it is just a crowd of unrelated people. This is particularly an issue if the non-members are a significant percentage of the total high holiday attendance. In such cases, it doesn’t matter whether the non-members pay or not, they’re still destroying the sense of community for the members.

    • avatar

      Charlie, I would suggest you want non members to come so they can see how wonderful your community is and will want to become a part of it.

  28. avatar

    As a past Temple President this is a difficult question to answer. The Temple needs more money then just annual contributions to make ends meet. Temple finance is always difficult. As a Jew it becomes a very easy question to answer. If a Jew wants to attend services there should be a place for them to go. In many large congregations space becomes an issue. In smaller congregations the value equation comes to play. If you let people come for free on the holidays then no one will pay dues. Communities as a whole should find a way to address this issue together. Perhaps an alternative service is the way to go. Its a mitzvah to help others attend services. Its not a mitzvah if the nonmember takes advantage of the situation year in and year out…

  29. avatar

    As Tadd suggests it is a difficult question to answer. However, if what Tadd says about letting people come for free will mean no one will pay dues then there seems to be a bigger concern that needs to be addressed regarding how connected people really are to their synagogue. My thoughts are that using high holiday tickets to help the bottom line is a problem all synagogues need to work on solving. It causes lots of internal struggles for members, boards, non-members and results in other financial issues such as struggles with how to handle members who can’t afford to pay or just don’t want to pay and false judgements about people’s ability to pay. This results in too much time spent talking about finances and not enough time on the spiritual aspects of Judaism. Isn’t there some other way we can come up with to help the bottom line and allow anyone who wants to be involved in synagogue life whether for high holy days or any other day do so without a financial burden to be concerned about?

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