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October 10, 2003 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-10-10

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Bad Timing

Detroit Free Press Yom Kippur story on

synagogue finances sparks criticism.


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n between prayers of atone-
ment during Yom Kippur serv-
ices Sunday and Monday and
at break-fasts after the holiday,
many discussions focused on the
Detroit Free Press story of Saturday,
Oct. 4. The article high-
lighted synagogue dues and
the cost of High Holiday
seats rather than the spiritu-
ality of Judaism's holiest hol
On Wednesday, the Free
Press devoted most of its
Letters column to commu-
nity responses to the story.
These letters echo what
many in the community
were saying. An unattrib-
uted line, "And the general
rule in Judaism, if they want to pray,
they have to pay," drew especially
sharp criticism.
"That's indefensible," said Joe
Zaffern of Southfield. "That was a
defining moment for me — one of
the worst things I've seen said about
Judaism. Name a synagogue that won't
let poor people pray. Would they run
a story like that about Muslims on
Rabbi David Nelson of
Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak
Park said he resented the article
because of its timing and inaccuracies,
even though the synagogue's executive
director was quoted in the story.
"There's a business side to every reli-
gious institution, but to say we make
people ante up before they can pray
— those are not words associated with
Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. To
see this — that we are just money
grubbers and the bottom line is the
buck — was especially upsetting at
this spiritual time."
Dr. Martin Herman of Detroit, first
vice president of Detroit's Isaac Agree
Downtown Synagogue, mentioned the
article when he was tapped as a last-
minute speaker before a crowd of
nearly 700 at the synagogue's Yom
Kippur services held at the
Millennium Center in Southfield.

Since chartered in the 1920s, the
Downtown Synagogue has never
charged for High Holiday services.
"The story was crass, but not inac-
curate," Dr. Herman said. "Some
might not like it, but facts are the
facts. It just wasn't an ideal way of
addressing the subject."
Free Press Metro Editor Laura Varon
Brown agrees.
"My gut told me the tim-
ing wasn't right," she said.
"It's an interesting slice of
Jewish life, that scramble for
tickets is almost comical,
but it's also a way of gener-
ating finances. We [also]
wanted to talk about the sig-
nificance of the holiday and
why it was so important to
be in synagogue.
"You can't do two things.
On another day, it would
have been a good story. Jews don't
have a collection plate every Sunday;
dues are part of how you sustain an
incredible faith with a track record for
"I should have gone with my gut,"
said Varon Brown, a member of
Temple Shir Shalom. "This story feeds
stereotypes. In hindsight, when we
look back, we learn from it. I regret
we offended anyone, especially during
such an important time. I also regret
we didn't direct people who couldn't
afford a ticket or who aren't synagogue
members to resources to get them into
synagogue." ❑

Fast Observed

ast week's Jewish.com survey
question asked: Will you fast
on Yom Kippur?
Of 330 respondents, 197 (60
percent) said yes, 72 (22 percent)
said they drink water/ coffee only,
and 61 (18 percent) said no.
Next week's question: Will you
observe any part of Sukkot in a
sukkah this year? To answer, click
on www.jevvish.corn


—Illana Greenberg

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