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What if…

Thursday, 24 February 2011

What if I made decisions based only on my own needs?
What if I made decisions to satisfy my present without any concern for the past or future?
And what if everyone else made the same decision that I did?

Do people even think about these things before choosing to leave a synagogue? Do they EVER think to themselves: “Gee, if everyone else quit paying membership, how would the shul stay in business?”

These are the same folks who years (even decades) later are in need of a rabbi to officiate at the funeral of a loved one, call the shul, and insist that “their rabbi do the service.” The same rabbi of the synagogue they chose to stop supporting because “we just don’t need the synagogue anymore.” How, do you suppose, they think the shul can still afford to pay a rabbi?

[Before you leave a lengthy comment about the high cost of Judaism, let me be perfectly clear — our shul Does. Not. Ever. turn anyone away based on finances. Ever. It has been a hallmark of our shul since its inception. And, quite frankly, it is one of our values of which I am most proud. We truly do believe that money should never be a barrier to becoming a part of our community.]

Remember, the oft-quoted words of Rabbi Hillel are meant to be read together:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?
~ Avot 1.14

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 24 February 2011 10:09 pm

    That piece about the funeral is so true. People also get frustrated when it doesn’t seem like the rabbi really knew their loved one. Well . . . ? It’s chutzpah–and not the good kind.

    Good for you for addressing this!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 28 February 2011 10:26 pm

      It just pains me to see my shul, and so many others, struggle because folks have a consumer mentality these days when it comes to affiliation.

  2. Sakura Norling permalink
    Friday, 25 February 2011 10:30 am

    It’s called Narcissism, selfishness, or self-centered thinking, all which are at the root a form of Pride. I find it very interesting throughout the Jewish and Christian Bible there are two commands that never change: Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself. God knew when He created us that we needed a survival instinc,t which He built into us i.e Maslow’s Hierachry of needs. However, He knew that in order to have a functioning society we needed to abide by these tenets for the success of our culture and longevity. History has shown that societies where self-sacrifice, virtue, and altruistic acts are praised and held up they have long remained. Whereas societies which are goverened by dictators who only think of themselves, their power, their acquititions are here only for a short time and long forgotten. So starting with Me – I find that I am a better spouse, parent, daughter, friend, professional, and a contributing member of society if I think about how my actions can render their days better. At the end of the day I can rest in satisfation and have peace of mind knowing I did make this world a bit better at least in my own sphere of influence. I took the long road around to say I agree with thinking ahead and contributing because it all builds upon one another! 🙂

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 28 February 2011 10:29 pm

      For us, we are taught not to separate ourselves from the community. And our Sages speak at great length about the responsibility that each Jew has to contribute to the well-being of said community. When enough individuals shirk their responsibilities, the entire community suffers.

  3. Friday, 25 February 2011 11:45 am

    Agree 100% And (especially the last couple of years) MOST synagogues make a point of saying they will not turn people away due to financial situations. And many do a purposely piss-poor job of checking prospective families finances, going more on trust and a handshake than a w2 statement.

    The ongoing mental struggle I have is how synagogues can de-emphasize the money aspect without engaging board members fear circuits that if money isn’t mentioned, it won’t get paid.

    I hit on this here: http://www.edibletorah.com/2009/08/14/free-high-holiday-tickets/

    As people invested in our synagogue, we want to build a Community, not a Customer Base. We want every single member to be present and participating all the time (or close to it). I say this because I’ve heard enough people state that synagogues “need” xx% of their members who just pay and stay away, in order to support the people who DO come. Otherwise you’d have High Holiday level attendance all the time and wouldn’t be able to satisfy demand.

    Uh… no. You’d have engaged people all bringing the offerings of their heart as they were so moved, using the skills that God endowed upon them, performing expertly.

    I think I might have read that happening, somewhere.

    Back on track: I get sick when I hear people make synagogue into a fiscal decision. I get just as sick when I hear synagogues promote membership as a fiscal proposition (“Join now, pay nothing for the whole year!” “Religious school discount when you enroll 3 or more children!”)

    I ask sincerely, rather than rhetorically: How many of our congregants consider our community more like a spa membership because that’s how we describe it? If we told our story as if we were a neighborhood, or a family they could adopt into, or some other way that de-emphasized the fee-for-service nature: if we did that consistently, we might find different people joining (and for different reasons), but we might also find community members less eager to drop us like a gym membership in February.

    – Leon

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 28 February 2011 10:39 pm

      You raise good points here, Leon.

      My guess is that so many shuls are now in panic mode that they fear altering the language in any way. Change is tough under the best of circumstances…and terrifying under difficult ones.

      (LOVE the way you used the Torah portion in your comment, BTW. Very smooth…)

  4. Johan permalink
    Thursday, 3 March 2011 5:44 am

    if the shul doesn’t turn away because of finances, it it presumptuous tomassume that the flock is leaving because of the cost. Look deeper into the issue and determine what is sending the congragation away. I belonged to a temple once that closed simply because there were simply too few Jews remaining in the area to support it. Another shul I belonged to closed because the board’s actions deeply offended many of the members. Your problem is not financial, I guarantee. Here’s a suggestion… Make somoe phone calls to your departed flock and ask why they elf compelled to leave.

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