Yesterday, I was reminded of a story when our High Holy Day Tickets arrived in the mail.
A friend had recently shared with me why he and his family were not involved in synagogue life. When he was young, his family belonged to a synagogue. He knew Judaism was important. Their synagogue was a big part of their lives. . His older sister attended Hebrew School and he and his twin sister went to Religious School on Sundays.
Then their world changed. His folks found themselves unemployed and on the brink of economic collapse. It was the High Holy Days, and as they had always done, they went to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah morning. When the membership materials had come, his parents were too proud to make the call or fill out the form to ask for dues relief. On this day, they just wanted to pray and be a part of the community.
They were turned away because they didn’t have tickets and hadn’t paid their dues. That is a memory that will stick with you for a lifetime.
There is a great deal of symbolism in High Holy Day tickets. Hopefully it is positive – like our many wonderful memories being with family and friends at this time of year. But is that enough for people to continue to pay dues when their children have moved away, and these are the only three days each year they go to synagogue?
Across North America, the synagogue affiliation rate may be 50%. And those who do belong are leaving at alarming numbers. 80% of teens are no longer involved within a year of their Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and 50% of their parents – the people who pay the bills – are no longer members within the same time period (according to The Jewish Week).
At some synagogues, there are more empty seats on the High Holy Days then there used to be. How can we reach out to those who aren’t members to fill those seats?
Not every synagogue is “members only” for High Holy Day services. A good number are open to the community and ask those attending to make a contribution.
There are concerns about security. What should we do with people who just show up? If we decide to open our doors, how do we know who these people are? How do we capture their personal information (name, address, phone, email)? Can we ask them for a contribution? Some might think this is tacky. But there is often a High Holy Day Appeal to existing members who are already contributing greatly through dues/annual commitments.
And recognizing that there are people who have contributed with their feet and with their pocketbook for many years is also very important.
All of these issues are ones that can be overcome. The bigger challenge is how to make everyone feel welcome and a part of the community so that they want to come back.
As the New Year approaches, I want to wish you and your loved ones a year of continued good health, much joy and personal fulfillment.