Did something keep you from going to High Holiday services this year?
For many people, the answer is “yes” and the reason is “the cost.” With possibly thousands in synagogue dues, and additional costs for High Holy Day tickets, many Jews simply can’t afford to attend synagogue on the most important days of the year. This is especially true for young single Jews, and young Jewish families, who have no need yet for a Hebrew school, and may only attend synagogue two or three days a year.
Many synagogues are seeing drops in attendance due to the high costs associated with being a member, and are beginning to lower their financial barriers by providing free High Holy Day services. The model echoes that of the Chabad movement; according to Chabad’s media relations director, Rabbi Motti Seligson, “the way we see it, Judaism belongs to every Jew and we try to remove any barriers to engagement.”
A recent article in The Jewish Week highlights the wave of synagogues and organizations who offered free High Holy Day services this year, or free programs as part of services. This trend points to a more inclusive view of Jewish community, and can help draw the younger generation in. Those of us who grew up going to synagogue every year for the High Holy Days, but are no longer living at home, or whose parents no longer belong to a synagogue, still may feel the desire to attend, but feel like we have no place to go. With options like Ohel Ayalah’s free services at the Brooklyn Lyceum, which catered to a younger crowd, young Jews can now feel like there is a place to go, that won’t break the bank.
Another issue, outside of financial concerns, is that many Jews don’t feel connected to a particular synagogue, and therefore don’t feel comfortable entering one. The Huffington Post highlighted this fact in their own article on High Holy Day ticket prices, quoting several rabbis who say that the “old model” simply doesn’t work any more.
This is an issue that has affected me personally. My parents belonged to the same synagogue my grandparents did, but after decades of paying dues made the decision to not join this year. The dues were simply too high for a family who only attends on the High Holy Days, and an occasional Shabbat. There was also a strong sense of a members-only club that left us feeling on the outside of our own community. This left us without a place of worship for the High Holy Days this year. Our solution was to attend Yale University’s Slifka Center, which ask for a donation for tickets, but don’t require one. In addition to the fact that Conservative services (I was raised Conservative) are held in the beautiful Battell Chapel, a spiritual place regardless of your faith or beliefs, the services felt more relaxed and welcoming, with the rabbi even giving a “tour” of the Torah as he and a student rolled it to the proper Torah reading.
Attending these services this year, and reading about the many opportunities for other young Jews to attend services without financial barriers, in an encouraging sign that the younger generation still connects with Judaism, and wants to be a part of it. By viewing synagogues as welcoming centers of community, instead of “spiritual department stores or transient, once-a-year gathering places,” as Jack Wertheimer said in his latest article on Jewish Ideas Daily, the Jewish community will find that people will feel…well, more welcome to participate in Jewish and religious holidays.
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