The Rabbi and the 10K Question

I looked forward to Yom Kippur this year.  I was eager to have a day or rest, disconnect from real life and come to terms with my shortcomings.

I tried to forget that at the same time Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the UN  claiming that Israel had no roots in the Middle East and would eventually be “eliminated.”

When we got to synagogue in the morning, we took sight of our annual appeal card on our seat asking for a contribution to the synagogue.  We always make a donation on Yom Kippur, but after paying our annual dues, for tickets to High Holiday services and Hebrew School fees, we give what we can afford.

After an hour of beautiful prayer, the Rabbi started his sermon, and hence his appeal.  He kicked it off talking about a girl on the Upper West Side who goes from shul to shul (“shul hopping”) during the year to sample various activities and programs at each one.  He said that he didn’t necessarily condone her behavior but understood her need to look for the best in each community.  As I listened to him, I said to myself and to my husband, that’s me! He was talking about me (not really).  I’ve always been like that, both when I lived in NYC and where I live now.  I have never found the absolutely perfect synagogue to suit my needs.  But like the girl in the story, I belong to one and I pay my dues.  However, I don’t have everything that I need there spiritually.

The Rabbi went on to talk about our need for community, blah, blah, blah.  And then he got to the part that nearly made me fall off my seat. He stated, without hesitation, that some of the community at the shul should be able to give 10K to the synagogue  He clearly stated that this community is one with big pockets and we can help the unfortunate who do not have enough money to pay their dues attend the shul.

This is what you call the annual Kol Nidre appeal.  It happens year after year.  Most Jews haven’t been in a shul all year long, and as soon as they enter, they’re asked to make a pledge.  This is after buying tickets, very expensive ones, to attend services in the first place.  Yom Kippur is supposed to be about reflection and redemption. I believe in helping out people who need it most, believe me, but wish it could happen differently.

Let’s bring the people who haven’t been in shul all year long back.

What do you think?  Am I totally off base?


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  1. Non-profits are just like businesses: they need to state their case for their value, so you will “buy” what they are selling. What you are describing is a HUGE FAIL in doing that. There are much more effective ways of getting people to see the value of their house of worship.

  2. I understand the need for asking; but a blatant ask for $10K, that is inappropriate. I think that should be a targeted mailing, to people they think can afford it. But it was inappropriate to try to guilt people into it, that way. I would register your feelings; but do it as if you were ‘educating’ them, on a better way to elicit support from the members.

  3. No, you’re not off base but if you look at it from a “business standpoint”, the High Holidays are when the biggest audience is present. At our temple, the president of the congregation always does a really nice speech about the power of the community and how, “even though funds are needed and we would appreciate your contribution during the High Holidays appeal”, we want every single family involved in whatever way(s) they are comfortable.

    I do think it’s wrong to state a suggested amount. Asking for 10K, I imagine, made a whole lot of people feel icky

  4. I recently had a conversation with a friend about the discomfort of High Holiday appeals – which at our shul happen on Rosh Hashanah, not Yom Kipur, and the Development Chair made the ask, not the Rabbi. Our High Holiday tickets are free, and one of the reasons for the appeal is to continue the tradition. Still, some of us (my family and my friend’s included) struggle to cover membership and Learning Center dues. We also happen to volunteer at lots of committees. Recently the personal call that follows the appeal came. The goal this year was not financial, they explained. It was to widen participation. They know certain families can afford $10K, others only $18. They just wanted everyone to make a show of support. I can live with that. All this to say I totally agree with you. I also did a fair amount of shul hopping to find one where I felt at home, socially and spiritually.

  5. Agree totally with what you say, asking the community to make a pledge is acceptable, but suggesting amounts that they think would be appropriate is going a bit far. In addition, what is worse I think, is when you are charged different prices for tickets according to how close you are to the front. This isn’t a play or a concert, where you need to pay for a better view or to ‘be closer to god’. It should be one price for all, and you sit where you want on a first come first serve basis.

  6. This post made me laugh for a personal reason. When I was fourteen, I was so offended by this practice in synagogue that I wrote an angry letter to the rabbi that my mother still keeps folded in a book. I pretty much said the same thing as you. I do think this type of fundraising is a turn-off, especially on Yom Kippur. At the same time, now that I’m older and understand how life works, I know why they do it. They have a captive, guilty-feeling audience, and synagogues do cost a lot of money to run. And this has been going on for generations. In my grandmother’s time, they used to publicly announce what each person was giving that year, making it into a competition. I used to be embarrassed by these practices because they almost seemed like fuel for anti-semites — as if Jewish culture revolved around money rather than spirit. Nowadays, I see it more in a positive light — I like that the religion is a confused mess of religion and cultural survival. Perhaps this type of mid-century suburban-type synagogue has reached its peak — it is just too expensive to maintain, and things will go the route of the orthodox — smaller, more intimate shuls that don’t have so much overhead. But for many years, Jews wanted big synagogues with pool and social centers, and someone has to pay for it. There are many successful Jews today, but too often their charity goes more to secular causes such as hospitals and art, leaving synagogues scrambling to cover their costs. It would be nice if there was a better system than the current one. I know quite a few people who avoid going to synagogue because of the cost. I didn’t even go to to Yom Kippur services because I didn’t have tickets. Oddly, the ones who would most accept me with open arms are the Chabad, but their orthodox services are the one that I least wanted to attend.

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