The High Holidays start this upcoming Monday, and again the issue of Jewish institutions charging members and non-members for tickets has come to light. The practice, also known as “pay-to-pray,” is the subject of quite a debate within the Jewish community. We have written before about the growing trend of institutions offering free or low cost tickets, but with a crumbling economy and high gas prices, it seems particularly relevant this year.
Fortunately, the New York Jewish Week has published a comprehensive listing of various shuls in the area that offer free High Holiday services. In an article titled “You Don’t Need a Ticket to Talk to God,” the paper highlights the people behind many of the free services around town. Whether it’s an Orthodox denomination or Reform, everyone hosting a free service appears to have the same motivation: engagement. They believe that by lowering the cost barrier, they will attract more unaffiliated members of the community who are uncomfortable with the “pay-to-pray” model.
Rabbi Judith Hauptman, who runs free High Holiday services through her group Ohel Ayalah, said: “Precisely at the moment when young people want to be with us, on the High Holidays, that’s when the synagogues shut them out.” Similarly, Rabbi Jill Hausman said that reaching the unaffiliated doesn’t start with asking for money. “I want people to attend with a free heart and be welcome,” she said. “I want people to know I’m here for them.”
This is not just a New York phenomenon, though. For years Chabad has offered free High Holiday services worldwide, easily found through an online directory. Their efforts have been rewarded with greater attendance and recognition. We applaud them for opening their doors to everyone on these days, which is a model we would like to see taken by more institutions in the North American Jewish community. The High Holidays are a great opportunity to welcome people in and establish connections with people and families who may not have a Jewish home. Let’s start this year right by opening our doors to all those interested in affiliating with the Jewish people.
We urge you to contact your local Jewish federations to find out if there are any free High Holiday services being offered in your area, or if any congregations offer reduced cost tickets for non-members. No one should be shut out on these holidays.
Click through to read the Jewish Week’s list of free services in New York.