September 24, 2018

The sanctuary crowdfunds Holy Days services

Singer-songwriter and producer Craig Taubman’s The Sanctuary@Pico Union is funding its High Holy Days services this year through a crowdfunding campaign and providing contributors with admission to the services instead of offering tickets as a benefit of membership.

The campaign, operated through the website Jewcer, had raised more than $63,000 as of Sept. 20, including mail-in gifts, according to Taubman. The goal was to raise more than $60,000 to pay for five High Holy Days services at The Sanctuary. 

Taubman is founder of the Pico Union Project, which is home to The Sanctuary, and a board member of Jewcer. He said in a phone interview that he believes the campaign makes sense in an era when people are reluctant to become members of a synagogue.

“The dues membership model is not working anymore,” he said. “This is a challenge across the board — everybody knows about this — and we said, ‘Let’s just say we’re not selling membership. We’re doing a program, a service program, and only going to charge what it will cost us to put it on.’ ”

Those who contribute $150 or more to the current crowdfunding campaign receive at least one pass to all five High Holy Days events —Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, erev Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur and Neilah.

The events will feature an eclectic array of rabbis, speakers and musicians. Slated speakers include producer and television writer Norman Lear, Taubman said. The Sanctuary’s website indicates the services will be led by Taubman with Rabbi Deborah Schuldenfrei, Pico Union Project Executive Director Zach Lasker (a certified yoga instructor who will be connecting themes of the holy days to mindfulness), Rabbi Scott Westle, Jason Chu, Martin Sorrow, Stuart K. Robinson and Shany Zamir. The break-the-fast meal after Yom Kippur will feature food from Wexler’s Deli.

More than 60 donors contributed to the campaign, which met its fundraising goal on Sept. 19. Fewer than 30 days remain in the 90-day campaign. 

Taubman said he was pleased but not surprised at the public’s response.

“In all seriousness, based on past experience, we had a good sense what people could and would value this at,” Taubman said in an email. 

The Pico Union Project, a mission-driven interfaith events space based in the Pico- Union neighborhood, houses Jewish, Christian and Muslim worship groups. Concerts, cultural events and other events regularly take place there. 

The oldest remaining synagogue building in Los Angeles, the 1909 edifice was the former home of Sinai Temple before the congregation’s relocation to the Westside. It served as the home of a Welsh Presbyterian community before Taubman purchased the building several years ago.

Taubman describes The Sanctuary@Pico Union as a “nontraditional community.” Run by a committee separate from the Pico Union Project board and launched at last year’s High Holy Days, it is a “space for celebration through prayer, singing, spoken word, diversity, learning, emotion and intellectual stimulation,” according to its website. 

Lasker called it an “emerging organization” with plans to launch a monthly Shabbat service in November.