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The Best Jewish Advertisement

Check out this High Holiday video put out by Jewish Impact Films. In a much more comical way than I can describe here, the film depicts just how impossible it can be for the majority of Jews to “get into” the High Holidays.

Every year the best advertisement time for Jewish life is wasted on a High Holiday season that promotes high ticket prices (literally shutting many out of synagogues), meaningless prayer services (that put people to sleep), and boring State-of-the-Union-style speeches (that make people want to go back to reading the op-ed page).

Look, I understand what Rabbi Grossman is saying: Money– not love but money–is what turns the lights on in a building. That said, yes, in the short term, opening up our arms and trying a few new and different things may alienate some. But I think long-term the payoff would come around.

Jewish leadership should see the High Holidays as a time to give people a taste of Jewish life. How many people come once a year to synagogue, never to return? Its easy to put the blame on them: “Oh, they only come once a year.” But the more honest response is to examine what we are doing that makes them feel comfortable coming only once a year?

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Charles Stern

posted September 13, 2006 at 1:54 am

What if we made the high holy days free, but charged an arm and a leg to come for Purim or Sukkos services? It’s true that Megillat Esther is pretty dry in spots, but we could show people the fun that they can have, the joy that they experience, the love that they can feel, doing something kosher and entertaining!

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posted September 13, 2006 at 7:19 pm

The link Rebbe Stern provided for the JIF film is definitely worth a looksee and a couple of giggles, too! I posted my shul’s policy for membership dues (fair share) as well as providing free seating to one and all with the option of making a donation so that the policy can continue under Rebbe Grossman’s blog, so will not repeat it here. Our young rebbe started Cafe Shabbat once a month; services are combined with the meal. There is music, often provided by Israeli students at one the colleges, dancing and a discussion with a guest speaker. After all, we do tend to come out for food! :-) Sometimes the meals are paid for by a donor, at others there is a minimal cost … for a wonderful meal prepared in the kitchen. Shul attendence is increasing, especially by young families. As with many things, there are no easy solutions.

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Jeanne Feder

posted September 13, 2006 at 8:30 pm

We just moved to Malibu, CA from small town New England where we belonged to a small Reconstructionist congregation in Bennington, VT where I found warm, welcoming new friends and a great Rabbi when we moved there three years ago. I was invited to a member’s home, invited to services and after that, decided to join and help in other ways. The Rabbi also set up Talmud classes for a few of us (adult women) who wanted to learn. It was wonderful. When I called the congregation in Malibu last week and said we had just moved here, the rabbi’s assistant curtly told me High Holy Day services were for members only. She didn’t offer tickets, a meeting with the rabbi or a member, let alone welcoming us to the area. Then she repeated the rule and hung up!! After the sting wore off, I called the Rabbi at the local Chabad. He was warm and enthusiastic, invited us to Shabbat services and dinner at his home and invited a local teen for my son to meet, so he could go to school knowing someone. Now where do you think I will donate time, money and energy in the future. It is so easy to say welcome, come say hi and we’ll talk. I didn’t realize Judaism was a now country club, no longer a religion. I can and do have the money to join, but wanted to know if I felt comfortable there first. Shame on us and shame on Malibu. Jeanne Feder

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Rabbi Eliyahu Stern

posted September 14, 2006 at 10:03 pm

Jeanne, The most interesting part of your post is that how meanigless denomninational labels are for so many Jews. The bottom line is that what matters most is a kind, caring, and warm congregation. Irrespective of whether or not the rabbi has a beard and a hat or is a women. If what you are saying is true,you are correct shame on the congregation you called. But just know that this time of the year can be really crazy for all synagogues. I agree with you cudos to Chabad. Chabad realy understands that the more you invest in people the bigger the long term payoff will be.

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Tom Beck

posted September 15, 2006 at 3:23 am

My synagogue never turns anyone away from the High Holidays. They don’t advertise this, but if someone shows up without a ticket, they will be welcomed although they will be asked to sit in the back. (And, sometime during the service, someone will discreetly make sure they see the contribution envelope placed beforehand on each chair.) Everyone gets in, member or not.

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Barbara Stander

posted September 15, 2006 at 4:23 pm

I now live in Texas and to join a synagogue, they want to see your tax returns so that they can charge you 10% of that amount per year to belong. Frankly, it turned me off and I belong to nothing. We now have something called the Jewish Information Center that conducts services on the high holy days for people who are unaffiliated with a synagogue. They provide an offering envelope but you are under no obligation to donate anything. Many other cities would benefit by doing this. The “cost issue” makes many people not want to go to synagogue and has a trickle down effect on people retaining their Jewish identity and becoming uninterested in religion. I think that is why there is a lessening in the amount of practicing Jews.

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posted September 24, 2006 at 7:27 pm

Rbiis Sterns, I wanted to share with what happens in our High Holy Day services because what you say is just so foregin to me. Our membership is 2% of an individual’s annual wage. However, we have a policy of never turning anyone away nor denying membership based upon financial ability to pay. There are many ways to contribute other than financial and many people contributing in non financial ways means there are less things for which we need to dish out money. Our High Holy Days services are different in that there are so many more services with the rabbi speaking on so many different and interesting and different topics, but what is the same is congregation participation. In the 2 hour service yesterday, I would estimate there were more than 20 audiance participants doing readings, reading the Torah, and with six of them blowing the shofar. Rather than reciting mind numbing readings and prayers, it is more like we are real people speaking directly to each other. There is a sense of individual and group ownership of our congregation and services. We sing and chant loud and joyfully. We had one service on Friday night. On Saturday we had a morning and an evening service with a reception int he middle. Today, Sunday, we are having a morning service followed by a trek to the creek. Next Shabbat we have our usual services and Torah study. Sunday evening we will have a Kol Nidre service and Monday is packed. We have a mornign service followed by a healing service. In the afternoon we have a concluding service and bagle break fast. Friday we are having the ground breaking for our new addition, building and decorating a sukkah, having an Israeli dinner, and services. A normal week has Friday and Saturday services, Torah study, Talmud study, Hebrew lessons, Israeli dancing lessons, book club, women’s group, all the school activities, and so much more. We are a very small Reform congregation. Of course, I do not know everyone’s private troubles, but we sure seem to me to be a happy and hopeful bunch of people who love Judaism, being Jews, and to celebrate it all. I wish you renewed Joy, happiness, and sense of celebration.

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