For a few weeks now, the office has bombarded you with email asking you to “Activate Your Synagogue Membership”! A significant number of you have done soand we continue to be inundated with both renewal and new membership applications. I am truly grateful for each and every one of our members.
This being said, one of the things that I took away from my recent fellowship with Rabbis Without Borders is that asking people to become “members” of a synagogue sends the wrong message about the congregant-synagogue relationship. One becomes a member of a gym, a professional organization, a store like Costco or a beach club by paying a fee and, in turn, receiving specific benefits. In order to enter the gym and exercise, one must be a member. As a dues paying member of a professional organization, one receives professional support and guidance. Only Costco members can shop in their stores and you can only enjoy the beach chairs and umbrellas if you purchased a beach club membership.
Obviously, there are benefits to being a member of a synagogue. A synagogue member is entitled to certain “perks” including but not limited to free High Holiday tickets, rabbinic officiation at life cycle events, religious school for children and a reserved bar/bat mitzvah date for one’s child. This being said, synagogues are not and should never be seen as private clubs. One does not need to present a membership card in order to partake in certain aspects of synagogue life. And none of you who have “activated your membership” at Ramat Shalom would want us to turn someone away from our community because they could not pay to “activate” their membership.
The notion that one becomes a “member” of a synagogue and thus joins a private club, encourages us to see the synagogue as an institution that is there solely to provide specific services to dues paying members. This notion is why it is a common occurrence in most American synagogues for families to drop out after the youngest child becomes a bar/bat mitzvah. “Membership” fosters the idea that after the last bar/bat mitzvah, service has been rendered and there is no longer a need to pay for service. But, in most cases, the family that drops out after the last bar/bat mitzvah will continue to turn to their Jewish community and their rabbi for guidance, religious services and lifecycle events.
While I would love to not flood your inbox with “activate” emails, the truth is that Ramat Shalom and most American synagogues are organized in such a way that makes us financially dependent upon the income we receive from membership dues. However, it is time to toss the notion that one becomes a “member” of a synagogue. We must abandon the concept that one joins a synagogue simply to get something in return. Instead we must appreciate that by supporting the synagogue, we are insuring that it will be there when our kids get married, when we suffer a loss and need comfort, when we yearn to begin the new Jewish year with spirituality, when our grandchildren are born. While, in return for our support, our synagogue should absolutely give us “perks”, we must stop thinking of ourselves as “members” of an institution that provides specific services to us and begin to think of ourselves as investors in something much larger than us, something that will continue to give for generations to come.
On behalf of all of us who have benefited from Ramat Shalom over the past 38 years and those of us who will benefit in the years to come, thank you for investing in Ramat Shalom. Your investment not only helps to activate the services, classes and programs that will define the 2014-2015 Ramat Shalom year, your investment also activates the bright future that we all want for our community.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy 15th Anniversary to my wife, Cheryl!