At JOI we often talk about lowering the barriers to participating in the Jewish community. Cost is often one of the biggest barriers. It isn’t because people can’t necessarily afford the costs of participating. The amount that is spent has to equal the value as the person who is spending the money perceives it to be. And we too often undermine our efforts at reaching out by charging, crediting the old urban legend that “people value what they pay for.”
This perspective is particularly challenging for interfaith families as they carefully navigate the Jewish community. Rabbi Andy Bachman of Brooklyn Jews, soon of Cong Beth Elohim (also in Brooklyn) gets it. Take a look at how he handled this encounter, as explained on his blog and also picked up on the Synagogue 3000 website:
Last night at a baby naming the following conversation took place.
Him: “Hi Rabbi. I’m the great uncle. My daughter is Jewish, married to a Catholic who tragically died of cancer. They have two daughters, twins. They’re 7 years old. My daughter can’t afford to send them to synagogue, they go when they can, sometimes they learn. They know they’re Jewish but they never had a baby naming. She decides last year to give them Hebrew names and so she goes to her local synagogue and they tell her, ‘We’ll have to charge you double because it’s two girls.’ They’re twins, did I tell you that? So my question is, Rabbi, is this something you could do? Come out to the house? Like you did here? Finally give my granddaughters a Hebrew name?”
Me: “Sure. Anytime.”
Him: “How much will it cost?”
Him: (Staring at me in disbelief.) “Nothing.”
Me: “Why are you staring at me? Isn’t this the answer you wanted to hear? Let’s give your granddaughters Hebrew names, okay? If you want to pay, make a donation to my synagogue but you’re not getting charged.”>
There are models of inspired leadership in our community, rabbis and others who understand what they do, why they do it, and the needs of the people they serve.