High holidays are about worship, not money

posted in: October 2014, Opinion | 0
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By Jacqueline Hyman

This year’s high holidays have come and gone, and countless families have spent days in their synagogues. But not only have they spent days, many of them have spent money. Lots of it.

Most synagogues today require people to buy tickets in order to be admitted into their high holiday services. These ticket prices can be through the roof, costing families a fortune just to attend services. So my question is why?

Why is it necessary to charge people such high prices to sit in a room and pray? Why does almost every synagogue feel the need to do this? And most importantly, why has economic success been deemed more important than simply being able to worship G-d?

Now, at some shuls, members can simply reserve seats without having to pay. After searching the websites of many synagogues in the area, I only found one congregation that doesn’t charge its members for holiday seats: a Reform congregation called Or Chadash in Damascus, Maryland. Unfortunately, most synagogues still charge their members hefty prices. Yes, they’re discounted…but still expensive.

And what if people aren’t members? Some shul websites don’t even allow you to view prices without logging in, implying that you have to have a membership. Some people don’t commit to a certain synagogue, and that’s OK. But what’s not OK is blocking people out simply because they don’t hold a membership to a shul. Non-member prices tend to be ridiculous, such as $225 for one adult ticket at some congregations.

At B’nai Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Olney, Maryland, one adult member ticket costs $150 for a front area seat. A “non-member relative” ticket costs $360. If you add that up to let’s say, five family members, you’re paying well over $1,000.

Some people argue that not all synagogues charge for tickets, and that most Orthodox ones don’t. This, however, is untrue. An orthodox synagogue called Ohev Shalom in Bethesda, Maryland is slightly reasonable, charging $165 for non-members and $30 for students. But people shouldn’t have to compromise and go to an Orthodox shul if they don’t practice Orthodox Judaism simply to get better ticket prices.

Here at Maryland, Hillel does not charge for high holiday services. They did put pamphlets in everyone’s siddurim in attempt to solicit donations, but you can go to services on campus free of charge.

Of course, every synagogue is different. While some charge these high prices per service, others, like Ohev Shalom, allow that one ticket to grant access for all the high holiday services of the year.

I understand that synagogues need funds to help keep their congregations afloat. They need to maintain buildings and pay employees. But to what end? I could understand a $30 or even a $50 ticket, but paying thousands of dollars every year for one family is ridiculous.

At most Christian churches, whose masses I have attended, members and visitors alike can walk in freely, even on important holidays. Collection baskets are then passed around and donations are collected. Has spirituality become such a commodity that synagogues can’t do something like that? The point of attending shul is to pray and take in the significance of the holidays. Families shouldn’t have to pay such high prices to do that.

 

There are many ways that synagogues could supplement income if they were to lower ticket prices. They could hold community events and charge entrance, they could add Hebrew school programs. Honestly, they just need to do anything to get these holiday ticket prices down, before people start getting discouraged about worshipping on the most important of days.

Jacqueline is a freshman journalism and English major. She can be reached at jbhyman@terpmail.umd.edu.

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