High Holy Day Tickets: Roadblock or Invitation

We all are thinking about the High Holy Days these days. A friend’s Facebook post about a local Reconstructionist synagogue focused my thoughts on the concept of whether a financial transaction regarding High Holy Day tickets is a good thing, or should a synagogue be open to everyone.

What do you think?

At some synagogues, you still pay more to sit up front. When I was young, I thought it was pretty cool that my parents had High Holy Day tickets and sat in the sanctuary. Of course they only could afford two tickets, so my sisters and I, and all of our friends sat in the back. When we got older, my parents decided we should all sit together and purchased 5 seats in the auditorium, a cheaper location.

Lots of synagogues have open seating. Members get tickets. You may have to pay for guests. And if you are not a member, you may be out of luck.

Synagogues are all over the map when it comes to whether non-members are even able to attend High Holy Day Worship. Space is a concern as well as being sure that ongoing members who pay dues/annual commitments each year are taken care of. Some synagogues that have the space ask for a donation for those intending to come. Some are open to the community just for HHD worship that is not so well attended, like the second day of Rosh Hashanah or later in the day on Yom Kippur.

Available seats on Shabbat are never really a problem.

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the need for tickets in terms of security concerns. And that remains important as a means of identification. Do you think, though, that the whole idea of purchasing tickets for seats might just be a hindrance to some people –those who are not members – coming to the synagogue?

When High Holy Day tickets are an exclusive benefit of membership, or when tickets cost more than $100, being at HHD worship at a synagogue or some other venue is viewed by some as exclusive. It sends up a red flag in people’s minds that this is the thing about organized Judaism that they don’t like and keeps them away.

Of course there has to be benefits to membership. Ongoing congregants who provide annual support through dues/annual commitments each year should be recognized in some fashion. And this often happens through the rights to HHD seats.

A Facebook friend had posted the link to Temple B’nai Keshet’s High Holy Day page inviting guests at no charge to come and join the congregation for the High Holy Days. It is a big step for people to take to attend HHD worship. Maybe the High Holy Days mean something in terms of family memories. Whatever it is, it fits well with the idea of being a welcoming congregation.

Maybe synagogues like Baltimore Hebrew Congregation that sponsors Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars worship each year in a community park are also onto something. Make it fun, festive, family oriented and free. At both synagogues, people need to register and can do that online. So the synagogue leadership has a call list for a membership pipeline of people to engage and cultivate in the hopes that they will become a part of their sacred community in the weeks and months to come.

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