I am often reminded of stories my dad shared with me.
My parents were typical of those who were born during the Depression and were a part of “the Greatest Generation”, and who came of age during World War II. They moved to a suburb of Boston in 1952 and joined an emerging synagogue. My dad was a member of the synagogue’s “school committee”. I had to experience the embarrassment of his being on the Bima handing out diplomas at Hebrew School graduation. Throughout the years, he was often asked to serve on the temple’s board. He finally agreed to do this in the early 1980s.
When my parents moved to Florida in 1989, they continued their membership at this synagogue. They wanted to read the temple bulletin each week – still a paper version in the early 90s –and keep up with what was going on and with their friends still living in their old community. Dues were at reduced rate of $500 for retirees. They “Shul Shopped” in Florida for a while, never being in a rush to make a commitment to a new synagogue as their spiritual home remained up North.
Or so they thought.
After living in Florida for a few years, one evening in early December, my dad received a call from Steve Weiner, the new Treasurer at the Boston area synagogue. Steve told my dad that his $500 membership dues needed to be paid by December 31st. Since my parents had lived in Florida, my dad had been sending the synagogue their $500 the first week in January. He reminded Steve that this had been his practice and asked if it would be okay to send the check for that year’s dues in early January. Steve said he was sorry, but if my dad didn’t send the check by December 31st, my parents’ membership, after almost 40 years, would stop.
That next week, my parents joined a synagogue in Fort Lauderdale.
Fast forward to today. I had lunch with my friend Judy the other day. Last August she and her husband sold their house and moved to an apartment closer to New York City. Judy told me that before she moved, she had sent a letter to her synagogue that said that after almost 25 years they were moving and would no longer be a part of the synagogue. Judy and her husband Bob had experienced the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of their 3 children and their confirmations. Judy had served on the temple’s board and various committees. And she had been the treasurer. They were more involved than most. And had the class to write a letter.
To this day, Judy hasn’t heard from anyone at that synagogue.
Judy also told me about other friends, Chuck and Lisa, who still live in the same house they have lived in for more than 25 years. They also wrote a note to their temple in August letting them know that they would no longer be members. Chuck was the Co-chairperson of the temple’s first capital campaign and Lisa was the Chair of the Religious School Committee.
They, too, received no response from anyone at their synagogue.
There is so much wrong here. And I am sure that similar stuff happens at many other synagogues.
If synagogues were a business, we would say that this is poor customer service. Simply put, it is not a good way to treat people. Did Judy and Bob and Chuck and Lisa still feel engaged in synagogue life at the time they wrote their letters? Probably not. And someone from the synagogue reaching out probably wouldn’t have changed their minds about leaving.
Treating people with respect in all facets of synagogue life needs to be the practice, not the exception.