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(UNDATED) Alex Marmur wanted to go to synagogue on Yom Kippur, but didn’t want to pay temple membership dues to get tickets. So he turned to Craigslist.
“I use it for buying and selling all types of concert tickets,” said Marmur, a 44-year-old business analyst from San Francisco. “So I figured Yom Kippur is not that different.”
He’s not alone. In the days and weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, Jews in cities across the country took their search for extra tickets to Craigslist. Some offered money, while others sought the compassion of strangers. And some were specific, seeking particular services at certain synagogues.
It’s an effort to bypass the large annual membership fees that are often required by synagogues to gain access to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. Temple membership often costs thousands of dollars per family, and many synagogues still charge an additional fee for tickets to the most sacred days in the Jewish calendar.
The process has worked for Marmur before. He first started looking for tickets to services at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco in 2001, just days after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, Marmur thought the venture was risky, unsure of whether people would want to give tickets to a stranger in the wake of the terrorist attacks.
“I found a really nice person who said ‘My friend has tickets,”‘
Marmur said. “It was the day before, and she FedExed it to me on her own dime.” Marmur later sent her a check to reimburse the shipping costs.
Many synagogues do not have an open-door policy for the High Holy Days. In part, the ticketing is designed to control crowds that are exponentially larger than weekly services. But the ticket policy was enacted in many synagogues because the services are one of the most tangible things that come with annual membership.
“Many congregations long ago hit on the idea that if they charge for High Holiday tickets, and they charge less for people who buy memberships, it is a way of encouraging membership,” said Sylvia Barack Fishman, chair of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department at Brandeis University.
Jewish congregations do not receive funds from a central authority, and therefore must find their own revenue streams. And temples do not seek donations on the Sabbath or holidays, because Jews are traditionally forbidden from carrying money at those times. Someone could conceivably walk into a synagogue 50 weeks of the year without ever having to pay a dime.
But the High Holy Days ticket policy has caused a backlash, particularly among those who do not want to pay for a full year’s membership. Many Jews like Marmur describe themselves as “three times a year Jews” (twice for Rosh Hashana and once for Yom Kippur) and feel excluded and question the policy of having to pay to pray.
Fishman, who studies contemporary Jewish life, said members are paying for a year’s worth of activities, as well the salaries of clergy and building maintenance.
“Space costs money,” she said. “People understand that most things in their life have some kind of a cost. But somehow, if they’re not very connected to the Jewish community, they’re not that conscious of the fact that Jewish activities also incur costs.”
Some synagogues have started to open their doors, seeing the High Holy Days as an opportunity to attract the apathetic or alienated. They fund their program through grants targeted at Jewish engagement, and tout their free services in Jewish newspapers.
But most synagogues still require tickets, which has forced some people to get creative.
This year, Marmur posted an ad on Craigslist’s San Francisco page, seeking a single ticket for Sunday (Sept. 27) evening’s Kol Nidre service and the morning Yom Kippur service Monday at Temple Emanu-El.
“If you happen to have any extras or guest passes for either or both services at one of these temples, please let me know,” he wrote, offering to pick up the tickets or coordinate mailing.
Still others are trying to recoup the costs they’ve already paid for synagogue membership.
The Los Angeles tickets page for Craigslist offered two tickets for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur at the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center. The anonymous poster, who did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment, was offering the pair of tickets for $300, half the face value price. “Reasonable offers will be considered,” the ad said.
A week after Marmur posted his Craigslist ad on Sept. 17, he still had no takers.
“Usually I’ve gotten bites by now,” Marmur said Wednesday, “so I’m a little nervous.”
All Craigslist transactions carry some risk, since there is no process to verify someone’s actual identity. All ads on Craigslist’s ticket-exchange page warn users to be wary of any deal involving wire transfers or that require a cashier’s check.
But Marmur said he thinks using Craigslist to find High Holy Days tickets is safe.
“There tends to be a sense of trust,” he said. “I think if you’re asking for tickets to High Holidays, people have a sense of sincerity more than front row tickets to Britney Spears.”
By MATTHEW E. BERGER
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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