Economy forces tough dues decisions for congregants, synagogues.

With Rosh Hashanah 5770 fast approaching, the synagogue membership renewal season is in full swing. Throughout the summer months, billing statements with letters explaining dues, fees — and often increases — arrive in congregants’ mailboxes.

But many congregants affected by the economic downturn of the past year are struggling to meet their financial obligations, including those to their synagogues. At the same time, synagogues are facing their own reduced incomes and diminished returns on investments, leaving them all the more dependent on membership dues to help meet rising costs.

Although it’s too early to know the full impact of the economy on this year’s membership (dues collection continues through the fall), many shuls have been anticipating and are already seeing an increase in requests for financial assistance. As a result, they are faced with the need to cut costs while trying to maintain the offerings and services members have come to expect.

While balancing the financial needs of a synagogue with those of its members is often a struggle, it has become especially challenging in the current economy. Clergy and staff remain committed to extending compassionate help to their members in times of need, even when it means partially forgiving dues; at the same time, synagogues have to balance their budgets. Members, on the other hand, often don’t know how to ask for help, or are embarrassed by the prospect of doing so. But with some knowledge of shul policies and procedures on dues assistance, and of the role dues play in a synagogue’s budget, congregants in financial straits will most likely find they can reach a workable solution with their synagogue.

Allen Ishakis, executive director of Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, said he’s “definitely seen an uptick in the number of people who have asked for help.”

Because the Orthodox synagogue saw the problem developing over the past year, Ishakis said the congregation decided to send out membership packets to its 750 families earlier this year so the staff would have more time to deal with special requests.

Requesting assistance with Beth Jacob’s $1,320 basic membership fee is an informal and confidential process. All requests go directly to Ishakis and remain private, though occasionally, he needs to consult the board president or finance committee. He sits down with anyone who asks for help and discusses what their needs are.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” he said.

Ellen Franklin, executive director at Temple Judea in Tarzana, said she has been seeing congregants struggling on two fronts — completing payments on last year’s dues and paying for the upcoming year. And while the Reform synagogue’s “policies for dealing with dues relief are great,” Franklin said, “in these times, we end up with a lot of individual, case-by-case decisions.”

At Judea, where the standard membership contribution is $2,750 per year per family, members fill out a form to request assistance, which only a small group of people (the director of finance, one board member and Franklin) has access to. In addition, “our philosophy on adjustments is completely based on the honor system…. We want to hear people’s stories; we don’t want to see their tax returns,” Franklin said, referring to a practice some synagogue administrators once used to determine need.

At Temple Beth Am, a 1,100-family Conservative synagogue in West Los Angeles where basic family dues are $2,585, members asking for relief complete an application that is reviewed by a small “equity committee” and kept confidential, Executive Director Sheryl Goldman said. Though the form asks members to state their income and expenses (no proof of either is required), it also includes space to describe extenuating circumstances, such as a failed business or a prolonged illness. Congregants are also asked to suggest the amount of dues they feel they can afford, a practice shared by many synagogues.

Temple Judea’s Franklin said her goal is to “work out a solution that’s equitable for both the synagogue and the family,” but her instinct is to grant the amount families suggest. She also tries to keep the process as simple and straightforward as possible so “the predominant conversation with the shul isn’t about business, since that would detract from the ability to see this as a sacred community,” she said.

Most synagogues also offer options for paying dues over time, whether as two or more lump sums or monthly payments throughout the year. Ishakis of Beth Jacob said he’s always willing to give people extra time, “as long as they’re making progress … even if they’re paying $25 a month.”

Beth Am’s Goldman said that some members, especially those who have never before had to ask for assistance, are reluctant to approach the issue.

“We want to make them as comfortable as possible … and let them know that now, of all times, we want to support them through this,” she said, echoing a sentiment expressed by all the synagogue staff consulted for this article.

At the same time, the executive directors said, members need to understand what it takes to keep a synagogue running.

While congregants might argue they don’t use their shul often, and therefore shouldn’t have to pay much to belong, a synagogue still needs to be up and running every day.

“It’s wonderful that people don’t need our services all the time, but we still have to be here for when you do,” said Franklin, citing funerals as an example of an infrequent but essential service.

Synagogues have always tried to educate their congregants that they are not fee-for-service organizations, said Jane Zuckerman, who was executive director at Temple Israel of Hollywood for 10 years before becoming a nonprofit marketing and development consultant two years ago. She believes that many people, especially younger ones, “don’t see supporting temple as a moral and ethical obligation — they’d pay more money for a gym.”

In times of financial trouble, some families might not be willing “to prioritize membership relative to their means,” said Goldman of Beth Am. And synagogues have always struggled with how they can remain open and caring, letting it be known there is flexibility on dues, without inviting people to take unfair advantage. Administrators also said some members have misconceptions about where synagogues get funding.

“A lot of people make the erroneous assumption that there is some umbrella organization that helps to support synagogues,” Zuckerman said.

In fact, synagogues must rely on dues, program fees, school fees (where applicable) and fundraising in order to operate. Members who can afford to do so will sometimes pay some form of enhanced dues, which can help make up for those who can’t afford standard dues.

The percentage of a synagogue’s costs supported by dues varies, although most shuls aim for 60 to 70 percent. But in reality, the figure is often much lower; dues at Judea, for example, cover between 45 and 50 percent of the synagogue’s costs.

When income from dues decreases, synagogues have to find ways to make up their budget shortfalls, either through program reductions, staff cutbacks, increased fees for programs or fundraising. While no one consulted for this article wants to make any of these cuts, they would rather do so than see members leave.

Synagogues across the board are facing these same challenges, but each must ultimately grapple with funding decisions for themselves.

“These are the times that challenge and test us, and there are no easy answers,” said Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, whose fall 2008 survey of more than 30 rabbis revealed widespread concern over the developing financial challenges.

Despite their individual needs and responses, Diamond anticipates a commonality in shuls’ responses to the crisis. He believes synagogues across all denominations will be “resetting their priorities and holding on to what’s most important, their three basic functions: as a beit knesset, where Jews come together; a beit tefillah, house of prayer; and a beit midrash, house of learning.” 

The rest, as they say, is commentary.

Synagogue Perks Entice Unaffiliated

What does $1,000 buy you these days in Jewish life?

Maybe, if you’re lucky, a full-year family synagogue membership. But what exactly does that mean? Two tickets to High Holiday services? Free parking? Entree to Kiddushes?

At a time when families have limited time and money and so much competing for it, synagogue leaders are realizing the need to offer more to potential and existing congregant.

The Journal surveyed a number of synagogues in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley to find out what membership brings these days. Remember: Membership has its privileges.

No. 1: The "Come Join Our Synagogue So You Can Enroll in Our Day School" Model

A family membership at Temple Beth Am ( costs $1,925. The price might seem a bit steep, but not only does the membership come with two High Holiday tickets, but it also gives members the privilege of sending their children to Pressman Academy, the synagogue’s affiliate day school. Pressman Academy is named after Rabbi Jacob Pressman, Beth Am’s rabbi emeritus, and, according to its Web site, it teaches students "to be serious and committed Jews and responsible American citizens." The only way you get to send your kids to Pressman is if you are a Beth Am member.

If those are not enticements enough, then Beth Am also has a social coordinator who helps members meet each other by organizing havurahs, or social groups. The havurahs are grouped together according to age, and they that meet various times throughout the year for different activities, like going out to dinner and to the park.

No. 2: The "Join Our Synagogue So You Can Get a Discount on Our Other Institutions" Model:

With 2,500 members, Wilshire Boulevard Temple ( is one of the largest synagogues in Los Angeles, and it requires you to be a member of the synagogue (cost of family membership: $1,728, includes High Holiday tickets) before you can enroll your children in its religious school. But if you are wanting more religious education for your children than what a secular school can offer, you can enroll them in the temple’s nursery or elementary school. Both are open to members and nonmembers, but members get a substantial discount and get bumped up the waiting list.

"It makes financial sense to be a member in order to get in," Wilshire Boulevard Executive Director Stephen Breuer said. "Our schools are subsidized by the congregation, and the day school tuition for a member is substantially cheaper than for a nonmember. Our schools are part of the total synagogue experience — they are not stand-alone businesses that we operate."

Breuer said that in addition to the schools, the synagogue offers everything from children’s services on Shabbat to grief counseling.

No. 3: The "Come Join Our Synagogue So You Can Send Your Kids To Our Religious or Nursery School" Model.

Most synagogues are not fortunate enough to have a day school attached to them, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t care about Jewish education. A good number of synagogues offer an afternoon or Sunday religious school program for children attending non-Jewish schools. Many also have nursery schools attached to them.

At most of these synagogues you need to join before you can enroll your children in its religious school.

Temple Aliyah ( in West Hills charges $1,950 for a family membership, which includes High Holiday tickets for parents and children younger than 18 and the right to send children to its religious school. Temple Aliyah also offers a children’s program during High Holiday services.

No. 4: The "Join Our Synagogue Because We Make Religious Life Easy For You" Model

Beth Jacob ( in Pico-Robertson is the largest Orthodox congregation in Los Angeles, and while it can’t offer its members anything in the way of affiliate schools, it does offer a full range of religious services that are designed to fit into any schedule. Membership at Beth Jacob is $1,000 for a family, which includes two High Holiday tickets, but throughout the year that membership entitles you to your choice of three Shacharit minyanim every morning, as well as a large range of Torah classes throughout the week.

No. 5: The "Our Shul Needs You" Model

Unlike other congregations, Aish HaTorah Los Angeles ( says its primary mission is not building a congregation, but outreach to unaffiliated Jews.

"We are looking for people who want to be part of that commitment," said William Gross, chair of the Aish Hatorah Los Angeles Community. "Our membership is not just for the synagogue — we are packing it together with the outreach organization as well. If we sell $1,000 worth of tickets to the High Holidays we have failed, but if we get 10 people to help us achieve our mission [we have succeeded]."

Therefore, a family membership at Aish is $1,800, but built into that membership is not only two High Holiday tickets, but also two tickets to Aish HaTorah’s annual banquet, which supports its outreach activities.

There are other membership models, too. Shuls like Beth Shir Sholom (BSS) in Santa Monica which want 2 percent of your gross income as membership, with a suggested minimum of $1,500, which excludes anyone earning less than $75,000 a year (in fairness, a spokesperson for BSS said that people needing to pay less than $1,500 "could work it out with the executive director.")

There is a shul in Pico-Robertson, which offers a $600 family membership that includes High Holiday for all family members, but they don’t want to publicize it because "we don’t want people who are just going to come for the High Holidays and not come the rest of the year."

Despite the secrecy, that shul has managed to boost its membership from 100 families to 210 families within one year.

But the good news for those seeking synagogue memberships is most of the synagogues that The Journal spoke to, in many different parts of Los Angeles, said that they would not turn away any Jew because of financial problems. In other words, getting Jews to be religiously affiliated is more important than money in the bank.

Jews Say Bonjour to Club Lampadaire

In between the prayers at the Pinto Shul in the Pico-Robertson area, people who only speak English might feel a little lost.

Not because congregants there don’t speak English — they do, except they are likely to break off into French every so often, leaving behind the hapless English speakers. Likewise, if you are expecting cholent or kugel or any of the other regular foods that you find at an English-speaking shul, you have gone to the wrong place. "Kiddush" at the Pinto Shul has a North African flair. Instead of cholent, they serve salmon cooked in red sauce with garbanzo beans, rice sticky with prunes and apricots and boutargue, a special Tunisian delicacy of dried waxed fish (which to the uninitiated palate tastes like shriveled goldfish).

The Pinto Shul is one of several congregations in Los Angeles that serves the French-speaking Jewish community. Unlike other ethnic Jewish communities in Los Angeles, such as the Persian community, the French-speaking community does not have a cohesive origin. French speaking Jews in Los Angeles are predominantly Sephardic, but they emigrated from a variety of places — Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and France. Eager to escape the perceived and real hostility toward Jews in their countries of origin, and in some cases attracted by the greater personal freedoms that America offered, French-speaking Jews have been coming to Los Angeles for several decades now. They view Los Angeles as a good weather alternative to Montreal, where the French community is the largest outside Israel and France. In Los Angeles, despite their disparate origins, French-speaking Jews tend to stick together, united by the language and a shared cultural affinity.

In 1997, there were approximately 2,500 Jews of North African or French origin in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey. Today, some estimate that the number has grown to 5,000.

Up until now, this community’s organized communal life has been relegated to the synagogue. Shuls like the Pinto Shul; Congregation Em Habanim and Adat Yeshurun in the Valley; the Baba Sale Shul in the Fairfax district; and the West Coast Torah Center in Beverly Hills have predominantly French-speaking congregations.

This Chanukah, however, marks the emergence of Club Lampadaire (The Lamp Club), a new French community group in Los Angeles, which aims to unite the French Jewish community with social, spiritual and cultural events.

"I think a lot of Jews living in France see California as an antidote to the stuffiness and formality of French society, and the pleasant weather reminds us of our childhood on the Mediterranean, and it appeals to our sense of nostalgia," said David Suissa, one of the founders of Club Lampadaire, who was born in Morocco. "But at the same time, the way the city is so spread out it does not encourage the fathering of the community which would otherwise happen naturally. So we have to compensate for that by creating this organization to make it easier for us to get together on a regular basis."

Club Lampadaire currently has a membership of 600 families, and has already raised $25,000 for its events from French Jews. Suissa said that Club Lampadaire was inspired by a conference given to French-speaking Jews in Los Angeles by Yechiya Benchetrit, one of the leading rabbis in France. "During this talk he brought up the word lampadaire, lamp, and suggested that Jews are like lamps and our mission in life is to light up the world," Suissa said. "So we decided to start an association which would bring together all the different synagogues and create a family of French Jews in Los Angeles. Our slogan is Alluman Le Foi et La Joir — light up faith and joy — and our first event will be to light up the first night of Chanukah. We want to seek out all the French Jews in Los Angeles, affiliated or nonaffiliated, and tell them that they have a home."

"I have a lot of American friends, but because of the wittiness of the French language, I feel more at ease on a cultural level with Jews who are French speaking," said Lolita Engleson, a psychologist, who was born in Lebanon but moved here from France while trying to market a documentary film she made about the Jews in Lebanon.

In Los Angeles, many French-speaking Jews find it difficult to get working visas or green cards, so they attempt to network in the community to find employment and sponsors that will allow them to do so. "They love it here," said Rafael Gabay, a French Moroccan who is president of the Baba Sale Shul. "If they can live here free without having a problem with a green card, then this place is a paradise."

Redefining the Synagogue

It’s a Friday evening in the middle of summer and casually attired worshipers – many of them young singles – are lining up on Manhattan’s West 88th Street to enter the large Gothic-inspired edifice that is B’nai Jeshurun.

Virtually every seat in this large, recently restored Moorish sanctuary is occupied even before the rabbi approaches the bimah, leaving those who arrive as the service begins to settle for tattered siddurim and the balcony.

Soon the brightly painted sanctuary is pulsating with singing, organ music, clapping. In the middle of the song “Lecha Dodi,” the atmosphere is akin to a wedding reception, with the rabbi and cantor swaying and singing joyously and strangers linking arms to snake dance through the aisles and onto the bimah.When services are over, it takes a good 15 minutes to leave the balcony, as hundreds of people clog the stairs and entryway and hundreds more spill out onto the street to chat.

This is B’nai Jeshurun in the quiet time of year, when one of the rabbis is on leave and Manhattan is relatively quiet. When it’s not summer, the congregation has twice as many people every Shabbat, forcing it to rent space at a nearby church and offer two separate Friday night services.

“B.J.,” as it is known to insiders, was a location for the recent Ben Stiller film “Keeping the Faith,” about a hip young rabbi who livens up services and draws in new blood with unorthodox music.

It was fitting to shoot the movie at this synagogue that is now world-renowned for its lively worship but just 15 years ago was an aging, demoralized synagogue that could barely pull together a minyan on Shabbat.

Most credit the shul’s transformation to the leadership of its late rabbi, Marshall Meyer, who died in 1993.Synagogue lay leaders brought Meyer – an American who was instrumental in founding the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Latin American campus and active in organizing Jewish resistance to repressive political regimes in that region – to B.J. in 1985 in hopes he would revitalize it.

A charismatic leader, Meyer attracted congregants with his passion for social justice, his openness to innovation and the vision he articulated, which is still displayed prominently on the congregation’s Web site: “A community synagogue which responds to the authentic questions of life, death, love, anxiety, longing and the search for meaning can, once again, attract Jews – families and individuals – if it is willing to grapple with the great issues of life.”

B.J., which was originally Conservative but is now unaffili-ated, has become a regular desti-nation for many Jewish visitors to New York. It is arguably the most-talked-about shul in the United States. Congregations around the country want to replicate at least some of B.J.’s rags-to-riches success.

But is B.J. a recipe for reinvent-ing American congregations or simply a fluke, a lucky combina-tion of circumstances?

The leading synagogue renewal engine, Synagogue 2000, is banking on the notion that the shul has something to teach. That organization, which works with congregations seeking to change, recently launched a $160,000 ethnographic study of the synagogue.

“We hope to find out what makes B.J. the place that it is and then to invite other congrega-tions to employ the principles in their own case – not to become a B.J., but to become their own kind of spiritual success story,” says Rabbi Larry Hoffman, one of the co-founders of Synagogue 2000.

“We have 900 congregations and can’t ask them to start from scratch. They have to go through incremental, slow change,” adds Freelander.

Through a recently discon-tinued project called Friday Night Alive, the Jewish Federa-tion of Greater Philadelphia actually imported the all-Hebrew B.J. service to several area congregations in hopes that it would attract unaffiliated Jews.

While hundreds of people attended the services – held once a month at rotating Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist congregations – and many praised the project, it did not work well in Reform congregations where congre-gants were less accustomed to Hebrew or unfamiliar with the melodies.”We felt like a one-size-fits-all isn’t the way to go,” says Ellen Bernstein, who coordinated the project. She notes that while Friday Night Alive energized the participants, it was less successful at engaging the unaffiliated in any ongoing way.

Ilana Eberson, a 39-year-old natural medicine student, says she found B.J. after years of trying out other Upper West Side synagogues and was so happy her first time at services – where a stranger welcomed her right away and she instantly fell in love with the music – that she burst into tears.

“Where else are you going to find 1,200 Jews on a Friday night happy to go to shul?” she asks, adding, “If there were more B.J.’s, there would probably be more affiliated Jews.”

Ticket prices

Ticket prices are for the full series, including Rosh Hashanah evening and morning, Yom Kippur evening, and all day on Yom Kippur. Many synagogues offer tickets for single services, and many will nego-tiate. And remember, whatever you pay for holiday tickets is a tax-deductible charitable contribution.


  • Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle

  • Temple Beth Israel

  • Aish Los Angeles

  • Sholem Community (Kol Nidre)


  • Temple Beth Emet

  • B’nai Ami Synagogue

  • B’nai Tikvah Congregation

  • Etz Jacob Congregation


  • Jewish Learning Exchange ($50 children)

  • B’nai David-Judea

  • Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue

  • Cong. N’vay Shalom

  • Cong. Or Ami ($25 children)

  • Rodeph Shalom


  • Beth Chayim Chadashim

  • Temple Beth Hillel ($100 seniors, $40 students)

  • Beth Shir Shalom

  • Cong. Kol Ami

  • Leo Baeck Temple

  • Makom Ohr Shalom

  • Temple Menorah

  • Mishkon Tephilo

  • Sha’arei Am

  • UCLA Hillel (other than UCLA students)


  • Adat Shalom ($140 for people under 25)

  • Temple Beth Am (less for alternative BAIT Tefillah service)

  • Cong. Beth Ohr

  • B’nai Horin

  • Temple Emanuel

  • Temple Isaiah (seniors $150)

  • Kehillat Israel

  • Stephen S. Wise Temple ($50 membership ages 21-32)

Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes does not sell tickets to nonmembers but offers a three-month membership.

Free services and programs

  • All holiday services at Southwest Temple Beth Torah in Gardena are free and open to the public.

  • Leo Baeck Temple offers a free service for families with very young children at 2 p.m. on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur, and a Rosh Hashanah “family program” with music, art and drama activities at 10 a.m. on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

  • Cong. Or Ami offers free family services at 2 p.m. on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur.

Many synagogues that hold services on the second day of Rosh Hashanah (most do, except for some Reform temples) do not require tickets. Similarly, many congregations do not require tickets for Yom Kippur services late in the day, following an after-noon break. Call around to locate temples offering these open services.

Chabad offers free holiday services all over Southern California; see synagogue listings for West Coast headquarters and specific congregations. Also, the Chai Center will hold free services near LAX.

How the field guide was compiled

The Journal contacted about 80 synagogues and other organizations that conduct High Holy Days services, from across the spectrum of religious observance. About 40 percent of the synagogues contacted returned information.

We assumed that synagogues which chose not to respond to our requests for information had few or no seats available to unaffiliated Jews.

The field guide is meant to be an informal overview of what’s out there for unaffiliated Jews who want to worship in community during the High Holy Days. A complete listing of all synagogues in the area served by Los Angeles Jewish Federation begins on page 29, or visit

We encourage readers to contact and visit as many synagogues listed in the larger directory as they can before the holidays.


Figures below represent number of member households. To estimate the number of people in the room when the entire congregation prays together, you can double or triple the membership figure for all but the smallest synagogues.

Tiny (75 or fewer households)

Temple Beth Israel, Highland Park Cong. Beth Ohr, Studio City Cong. B’nai Ami, Chatsworth Temple Rodeph Shalom, El Segundo Southwest Temple Beth Torah, Gardena

Small (75-200 households)

Cong. Beth Shalom, Santa Clarita B’nai Tikvah Congregation, Westchester Jewish Learning Exchange, Los Angeles Makom Ohr Shalom, Woodland Hills Cong. N’vay Shalom, West Los Angeles Cong. Or Ami, Agoura Hills Shir Hadash, Los Angeles Sholem Community

Medium (200-500 households)

Adat Shalom, West Los Angeles Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle, Los Angeles Beth Chayim Chadashim, Los Angeles Temple Beth Emet, Burbank Beth Shir Shalom, Santa Monica B’nai David-Judea, Los Angeles Etz Jacob Congregation, Los Angeles Cong. Kol Ami, West Hollywood Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue Temple Menorah, Redondo Beach Mishkon Tephilo, Venice Sha’arei Am, Santa Monica

Big (500-800 households)

Temple Beth Hillel, North Hollywood Kehillat Israel, Pacific Palisades Leo Baeck Temple, Bel-Air Cong. Ner Tamid, Rancho Palos Verdes Temple Isaiah, West Los Angeles Temple Israel of Hollywood

Mega (more than 800 households)

Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills Stephen S. Wise Temple, Bel-Air Wilshire Blvd. Temple, Los Angeles Sinai Temple, Los Angeles Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, Los Angeles University Syngaogue, Pacific Palisades Valley Beth Shalom, Encino Temple Judea, Tarzana Adat Ari El, North Hollywood Temple Aliyah, Woodland Hills

Why Synagogues Are Going Broke

Unemployment hit a 30-year low in April and the economy is, if not booming, at least bouncing. So why is it that so many synagogues, even in wealthy areas, are struggling? Perhaps it is because members fail to understand that dues only go so far, according to Sylvia Moskovitz, executive director at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills.

“A lot of generous people belong to synagogues who give to Federation and give to charities but don’t realize that the synagogue needs their charitable dollars, too,” Moskovitz said. “The dues and fees we charge don’t cover the whole budget. They can’t – we’d have to charge $5,000 a family, and we cannot do that. We can’t make fees so high that it’s like an exclusive club.”

Moskovitz said about 10 percent of Aliyah’s 900 families ask for some sort of financial assistance. The problem comes, she said, when members put off paying dues or fees and then, when the synagogue comes calling, assert that forcing payment “isn’t the Jewish way.” “This is a constant battle we wage between being a business and being Jewish,” she said. “There are lights and prayer books and seats to be set up and bills to be paid. I cannot say to the electric company and the gas company and the bank that holds the mortgage [that] we cannot pay our bills because we’re in the business of God.”

Synagogue budgets tend to throw most of their weight toward two factors, people and buildings, and Temple Aliyah is no exception. Moskovitz estimates about two-thirds of Aliyah’s budget goes to salaries, which does not give the synagogue a lot of room for cutting costs. Security expenses also escalated here and at other local synagogues in response to last year’s shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center. In addition, members are asking for more programming than ever before while at the same time spending less money and time at the shul than prior generations did.

“We’re a young congregation, only 36 years old,” Moskovitz notes. “A lot of older congregations in the East Valley have longtime members who leave endowments and that sort of thing. But young families have their priorities elsewhere; they’re buying homes and dealing with their kids’ schooling. Somehow we have to get them connected into their religion and show them that it’s important to make that commitment if they want their children to grow up and be Jewish.”

Rabbi Alice Dubinsky, the outgoing director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations’ Pacific Southwest Council, lectures frequently on the issue of money and Judaism. She observes that the problem of synagogue financing is driven not only by individual member’s priorities but also those of the congregation as a whole.

“If you look at the budget of a synagogue, you can tell a lot about them from the choices they make: how they raise their money and how they spend their money,” Dubinsky said. “There are congregations that have large infusions of cash but equally large budgets, and they have this atmosphere of anxiety that takes its toll on the board, on the clergy and staff and on the congregation.

“I think it is very important that congregations live within their means,” Dubinsky added. “That’s not very fashionable these days – people have leased cars and leased homes and that is the dominant culture, but a synagogue cannot be run that way. It needs financial discipline. In fact, this is an area where synagogues could be at the forefront, teaching people about financial ethics. We can’t be frustrated with people for not having a sense of philanthropy; instead we need to go out and do the teaching.”- Wendy Madnick, Valley Editor