Do I Have to Pay to Pray?

The Cost of High Holiday Services
In five weeks many of us will be gathering for Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. But many of you are wondering, where will I go for services? Will I take my partner? How much will I have to pay for services? What if I want to join a synagogue? What will that cost?

One person told me, “Dues are $5000 a year.” “WHERE?!” I asked.
“I don’t know where. That’s what someone told me.”

One woman called me and told me where she wants to join but added, “It’s really expensive.” “How much do you think it is,” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, “I’m afraid to ask.”

Let’s clear this up. First, there are a few places you can go for FREE High Holiday services. That’s right, free. And I’m starting my annual information collection. I’ll be sending out locations, institutions, and contact info.

Second, yes, most synagogues charge for High Holiday services and here’s what you need to know: They will state a price, but will not turn you away if you can’t pay it. You can talk to they about what you can afford. It’s a very un-American thing to do, negotiate costs, but that’s how it works. If you’re too uncomfortable, just call me and I’ll help you work it out.

Tell me you can’t get the day off work, tell me you are sick, tell me you live 500 miles from the nearest synagogue, but don’t tell me you aren’t going to services because you can’t afford it. We will work it out!

What about Membership?
Everything I just said about High Holiday tickets goes for membership dues too. Dues are negotiable. Many couples when they are starting out don’t pay full dues. They negotiate. My husband and I sure didn’t pay full dues when we first joined. We were both working, had just bought a little house, had a toddler and a baby on the way. No, we didn’t go out to dinner or the theater. We were making the mortgage. We DIDN’T pay full dues.

We didn’t pay one annual lump sum, we paid a monthly 1/12th of the cost.

Say you decided you could afford $1000 a year, you’d pay $83.33 a month. Or conversely, you could look at what you can afford monthly and multiply that out to your annual amount. If you can afford to pay $50 a month and then multiply that out and it’s $600. Think about it and then talk to the Membership person.

Yes, each and every synagogue is funded by it’s members. They don’t get money from a national organization – they have to pay the national organization. So don’t expect the guy next to you to pay your way. Be honest with yourself and your partner and then be comfortable with your decision and start enjoying belonging.

What if you can’t pay very much at all?
I knew a woman who could afford VERY little. She had terrible debts left after a divorce and simply had no disposable income. I called the synagogue as she felt too uncomfortable to make the first contact. We got it handled in about 15 minutes. Today is she is extremely active. She loves her shul, enjoys making an impact and is very active in the Social Action program, Sisterhood and a few other programs she decided they needed. I pointed out to her a few years ago that they couldn’t afford to hire someone who did all she does!

If you find a place you love, a place where you are happy, you will be a blessing to them. Don’t worry. Give it time. One lovely woman sings in the choir. I pointed out to her that in sharing her voice with the congregation she makes the worship service sweeter for all.

What if it’s not worth $50 or even $25 a month to me?
That’s fine. You may not be feeling ready to join a synagogue. You may not have identified a reason to do that.

What is the benefit of joining?
I’ve talked to you in the past about how individuals and families benefit from joining a community. Beyond what you can ever buy are the benefits of belonging.

– When my friend died and her 17 year old daughter needed “extra moms” she got them from the chavura (friendship circle) that her family was a part of.
– Remember the April bat mitzvah of Maya, the girl with the Muslim dad and Jewish mom? Her parents wanted her to feel fully in possession of her identity – they joined a synagogue so she’d get lots of affirmation.
– A man I know had a terrible accident and was hospitalized for several months. He told the guys from his synagogue men’s group, “Call me every day, I don’t want to feel alone.” They did and I believe it helped him heal.
– Several friends drive seniors to appointments. They love it. “Someday someone will do this for me, I’m paying forward,” they say.
– My own father is dead and my mother has dementia. Sometimes I need surrogate parents to tell me: stop worrying, life is good, the kids are doing fine, come sit by me, where’s my hug.

Don’t we always want to belong to someone? I know I do.