Pay To Pray?
Shuls accommodate the
while some offer free
Holiday services to all.
or countless local families still
reeling from the recession, job
losses, pay cuts and Michigan's
high unemployment rate, paying for syna-
gogue membership or High Holiday tickets
is simply not in the budget.
Various congregations across Metro
Detroit share the same response: No one will
be turned away because of inability to pay.
But, the mere fact that paid membership
or purchased tickets are required to attend
services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur
may be intimidating enough to send some
people searching for other alternatives.
"I can't tell you how frustrated I am. I
can go to any synagogue in my area on any
given Shabbat to pray, but when it comes
to High Holidays, I need tickets',' wrote one
anonymous poster on Aish.com , a divi-
sion of Aish HaTorah, a network of Jewish
educational centers across the world. The
organization was founded by members
of the Orthodox community, but anyone,
regardless of synagogue affiliation or level
of observance, can participate.
"Some congregations are not even selling
tickets:' the post continued. "It seems to be
spiritually wrong to require 'membership' in
order to fulfill a mitzvah. Christian places
of worship do not have this policy'
The online complaint prompted a flurry
of additional comments from people across
"The well-off can afford the price, and
those who can't afford a seat can beg for
one. But what about those of us in the
middle?" another person posted. "We don't
ask for charity, yet we can't afford the prices
Someone else wrote: "Sadly, this is
indeed a turnoff for many who are not
familiar with synagogue policies. It leaves
people with a bad taste for synagogues and
Judaism in general."
Aish Huntington Woods, the local Aish
HaTorah chapter, provides free High
Holiday services, but suggests a $50 dona-
tion per family. Congregation Shaarey
Zedek in Southfield charges $250 for each
adult with a family member who is a mem-
10 September 22 2011
ber of the synagogue, $350 for anyone else.
"Of course, if someone needs financial
help, we make it work': says Rabbi Joseph
Krakoff."We have a significant number
of families in need of financial assistance
when it comes to dues, scholarships for
camp/day school/religious school and we
do everything we can to meet their needs.
We never turn a family away because they
cannot afford to pay full dues. Thankfully,
we also have families who are paying addi-
tional dues or premium dues in order to
help families in need."
Shaarey Zedek, like Temple Israel in West
Bloomfield, now has a program where first-
year dues are voluntary, and new members
can pick the amount they will pay the first
year or pay nothing at all. They also offer a
free one-year membership for high school
graduates and college students and couples
who get married at Shaarey Zedek or convert
to Judaism there. Temple Israel also gives
newlyweds a free one-year membership.
"We have an unsubsidized dues amount,
and we also work on a fair share system':
explains Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny."This
means that you pay in accordance with
"Our goal is that finances should never
be an obstacle to anyone wishing to affili-
ate with a synagogue. We do not sell High
established in memory of Isaac Agree.
"Attendance at our High Holiday servic-
es has ranged from 1,000 in the late 1980s
and early 1990s to 500 in recent years:'
says Martin Herman of Detroit, president
of the Downtown Synagogue. "For many
years, I believe the Downtown Synagogue
was the only place in Metropolitan Detroit
to offer free services:'
The last remaining Conservative syna-
gogue in the city is housed in a four-story
building on Griswold Street that's in seri-
ous need of repair. A successful $25,000
fundraising campaign earlier this year
helped restore the building's colorful
windows. But, in spite of everything, the
ticket-free tradition continues. This year,
services will be held free of charge at the
Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington
Hills. Participants are encouraged to arrive
early to get seats in the main sanctuary
area. Donations are welcome.
"Since our sanctuary can seat only
about 75, our services have been held at
many different venues from the Veterans
Memorial Building, to Cobo Hall to the
Rackham Building in Detroit': Herman
explains. "More recently, we've moved to
a number of suburban locations from
the Millenium Centre [the old Northland
Theatre] to the Plaza Hotel [the old
Michigan Inn], to the Southfield Centre for
the Arts [the old B'nai David]. We might
well be considered the prototype of the
Holiday tickets; they're a benefit of mem-
Chabad at Tel Twelve also will offer High
bership. But, if someone calls and requests
Holiday services free of charge this year in
tickets for their children or siblings, or
Southfield. At press time, the location had
even guests from college, we always try to
not yet been announced. It will be avail-
able online (see web address below).
This year, the policy changed at
"This is our first year holding High
Congregation T'chiyah, a Reconstructionist
Holiday services': says Rabbi Bentzion
synagogue in Oak Park. For the first time
Geisinsky. "There are many different phi-
in 34 years, non-members will be charged
losophies and tastes concerning arranging
$180 for all Rosh Hashanah and Yom
these services. Some feel they must be
Kippur services. In the past, anyone could
held in a physically grand fashion, while
attend for free.
others feel a humble atmosphere is more
"If a congregation opens its doors to
conducive to prayer.
everyone free-of-charge, there becomes a
"Obviously, one is more costly than the
disincentive to affiliate as members and
other. We at Chabad at Tel-Twelve would
pay annual dues," says Rabbi Jason Miller.
like to offer those who would prefer a
"That would jeopardize the congregation's
financial health. It's just unfair to the paying more intimate atmosphere to join us at no
cost. We believe every Jew deserves to feel
members whose dues and charitable gifts
comfortable during services. There should
sustain the congregation:"
be an option for attending services on the
High Holidays gratis, and we are proud to
be one place that offers that." II
This year marks the 90th year the Isaac
Agree Downtown Synagogue in Detroit
has provided free High Holiday services
To learn more about the various
to the community. The tradition began in
dates and times free High Holiday
1921 when the synagogue was founded.
services will be held in Metro
Membership dues were always optional and
Detroit, go to: ChabadTelTwelve.
continue to be minimal ($75-$100 per year).
corn, downtownsynagogue.org or
The basic cost of maintaining the building
was underwritten by a memorial society