Transactional or Relational Judaism: You Decide

Recently, the High Holy Day Packet from our synagogue came in the mail. The listing of High Holy Services, from Selichot through Minchah and Ne’ilah, takes up the top half of the cover letter.

The bottom half of the letter is basically about transactions. Admission is “…by ticket only” (there are exceptions, like Second day Rosh Hashanah and Yizkor, Minchah and Ne’ilah).

You have to complete the Ticket Request Form that is enclosed to receive the appropriate number of tickets.  And tickets “cannot be issued to members who are not in good standing with regard to their financial obligation to the Temple”.

Don’t get me wrong. I really love my synagogue. It is a great community with great people.

I was thinking about the various mail communications I have received from the synagogue since the start of the new fiscal year on June 1st.  In early June, Jordan, our president, wrote a letter about the need to increase annual dues. A week later, and in the second week of July, we received an invoice.  And then the High Holy Day ticket packet that came last Friday.

Today, communications with congregants happen by multiple channels.  The newest method is of course social media through Facebook (I am sure many synagogues are using Twitter, too). We also have the weekly E-geret newsletter. Apparently, I am in the minority of the congregation who still reads the monthly newsletter that is sent as a PDF in an email. Along with the group of 50 or so older congregants who don’t have email addresses and receive this by regular mail.

Maybe I am too focused on snail mail. But so far what I have received is all about a transaction. Pay 33% of your synagogue bill by September or you can’t get High Holy Day tickets. Fill out the ticket form – if you want to bring friends to worship with you, that is an extra charge.

Aren’t the High Holy Days about community?  About family?

I realize July is almost over, and we are at the halfway point of summer in the Northeast.  But if the communications from the synagogue are just about transactions, maybe this encourages congregants to think of the synagogue like they do their health club.

All I am hearing is that I have to pay 1/3 of our dues by September 1st. The materials that come about the High Holy Days are all about tickets and payments.

And I am sure that this transactional communications plan is happening at many synagogues throughout North America.

I certainly know that synagogues have important business obligations. There are salaries, utility bills, technology, mortgages.

But why not send a message on the invoice that “we can’t wait to welcome you and pray and sing with you at Rosh Hashanah?”  Why can’t this be the theme of the cover letter on the High Holy Day ticket packet, with the need for transactions noted on a subsequent page?

Maybe I am oversensitive because I think often about synagogue stuff and how it is an important part of my life. And I want it to be so for others as well. But if we concentrate too much on the transactional aspects, and not enough on nurturing relationships through the various communications channels and in person, it makes building a sacred community so much harder.

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