Paying to pray? Not quite


We’ve all heard this story, and some of us have lived it: A Jewish individual or couple, new in town or newly seeking to reconnect with the Jewish community, walks into a worship space just before the start time of a High Holy Days service and starts to enter the sanctuary, only to be stopped by an usher, who asks, “Do you have a ticket?”

If the answer is no, the would-be worshiper is directed to a table in the lobby, where he or she is offered admission to the service in exchange for a stated amount of money. 

How many Jews have been turned off from participation in synagogue life because this has happened? It’s a classic recipe for alienation. The stranger may be offended by what seems to be a crass business transaction at what’s supposed to be the holiest time on the Jewish calendar. He or she may not be able to afford the admission price. The person staffing the table may come off as officious or unfriendly. And, heaven forbid, the stranger doesn’t look particularly Jewish… This doesn’t happen in our bend of the river, of course. But it happens, and it’s always a horror story when it does.

This is a time of nervousness and heightened security measures, when you don’t know what kind of nut might walk through the door. But we who gather in congregations that are outlets for our Jewish spiritual and communal impulses have a responsibility even at the High Holy Days — especially at the High Holy Days — to make sure every single newcomer who turns up on the doorstep is welcomed warmly and unconditionally. I’ll get to how in a moment.

First, I would like those of you reading this column who are not affiliated with a congregation to understand why most synagogues ask for donations from nonmembers who want to attend High Holy Days services. It’s mostly to offset the greater expenses that congregations incur during the holidays. These can include space rental; additional personnel (from extra security guards to cantors and other professional musicians); food service for a crowd several times larger than usual; printing of bulletins, prayer-book supplements, memorial booklets. Keep in mind, too, that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only services for which congregations ask a specific donation. For every other visit to a temple’s sanctuary during the Jewish year — every Shabbat, every festival, every commemoration — the newcomer is asked for nothing but fellowship.

When you make a donation to a congregation in order to attend High Holy Days services, you aren’t paying to pray. (After all, you can do that for free, anywhere.) You’re supporting the ability of that congregation to provide a spiritually meaningful, aesthetically pleasing worship experience led by people who have trained for years and are working hard to express both the gravitas and celebration of the holiday season. You’re supporting the profoundly communal nature of Judaism, making yourself part of the minyan, if only for a couple of hours. And it’s tax-deductible.

The responsibility of the worship group, then, is to offer a sacred space and atmosphere that will embrace you and make you want to come back. The congregations that do this best at holiday time enlist their friendliest, warmest members to sit at the ticket table, take tickets at the door and hang out in the lobby, keeping an eye out for newbies. At least three types of people, all wearing big “Ask me” or “Let me help you” tags.

Collecting money from nonmembers is a much lower priority. Nonmembers who walk in without tickets should be directed smilingly to the ticket table, where they are told not that the ticket price for one service is X and for all the services is Y, but that the congregation asks nonmembers for a donation; this year, the suggested amount is Z. If the potential congregants offer a smaller donation, it should be accepted graciously. If they say they can’t afford any donation or aren’t carrying what they need to make a transaction, the volunteer member should hand them tickets and a stamped, addressed donation envelope, saying something along the lines of, “No problem. Here’s an envelope if you can send something later. We’re glad you can be with us for the holiday.” The odds of receiving a check? Unknown. Mitzvah points? Priceless.

During my years as a Jewish adult, I’ve been a temple board member eyeing the budget for the High Holy Days, and I’ve been the gal at the ticket table. I’ve been the cantor hired for the holidays and I am currently rabbi of a congregation-without-walls that needs to rent walls for the holidays. And I’ve been the stranger seeking a spiritual home for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Even when I was young and my financial resources minimal, the sense of being home was always worth supporting. 

If congregations and unaffiliated Jews alike approach the High Holy Days in a spirit of generosity, support and welcome, worship spaces everywhere will be filled with an extra radiance of joy and wholeness. L’shanah tovah um’tukah tikateivu: May you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet year. And may you find your spiritual home in 5776.

Rabbi Cantor Ellen Jaffe-Gill (ellenjaffegill.com) is rabbi of Tidewater Chavurah, based in Virginia Beach, Va., and editor of “The Jewish Woman’s Book of Wisdom.” This column appeared first in Jewish News of Southeastern Virginia. Reprinted with permission.

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Oct. 27–Nov 2, 2012


SAT OCT 27

“Seeds of Resiliency”

Documentarian Susan Polis Schutz’s new film introduces us to 12 diverse people who have survived tragedies and challenges by having hope and helping others, including a Holocaust survivor who believes that “the worst can bring out the best in us,” a man who escaped war-torn Uganda and now assists other refugees, and a Korean professor who became a quadriplegic but does not consider himself unfortunate. Sat. Various times. $5. Laemmle’s Music Hall 3, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Laemmle’s Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-3836. laemmle.com.

SUN OCT 28

“Midrashic Mirrors”

An art exhibition and panel discussion marks the completion of “Midrashic Mirrors: Creating Holiness in Imagery and Intimacy,” a book project developed by a group of female artists and writers at Temple Israel of Hollywood, which illustrates how the creative process animates the nexus between Torah and our personal lives. A wine, cheese and dessert reception kicks off the festivities, followed by a walk-through of the installation. Afterward, Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh facilitates a discussion with the project’s authors and artists. The event concludes with a first-edition book signing and sale, with proceeds benefiting Temple Israel’s education scholarships. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330. tioh.org.

Propositions Party

Are you confused about the propositions? Temple Kol Tikvah holds a nonpartisan forum for California voters to learn about of the issues on the Nov. 6 ballot. Speakers present the pro and con positions on all 11 of the state propositions, which include tax initiatives to fund schools, labeling of genetically modified food, three-strikes reform, an end to the death penalty and increased penalties for human trafficking. Sun. 3-6 p.m. Free. Temple Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670. koltikvah.org.

“Unbroken Spirit”

Former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich, who at the age of 22 attempted to hijack a plane to the West to raise awareness about the desperate plight of Soviet Jews, discusses and signs the newly released English translation of his memoir, “Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage, and Survival.” Sun. 7 p.m. Free (reservations required). Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-8403. museumoftolerance.com/unbrokenspirit.

MON OCT 29

“Jewish Values and the 2012 Ballot”

IKAR’s Rabbi Sharon Brous and Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, American Jewish University’s Rabbi Aryeh Cohen and leaders of social justice organization Bend the Arc discuss the November ballot initiatives through a Jewish lens, addressing what Jewish tradition says about the death penalty, criminal justice and income equality. Mon. 7:30 p.m. Free. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870, (323) 761-8350. ikar-la.org, bendthearc.us/events.

TUE OCT 30

Israel Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor Zubin Mehta leads the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Schubert’s Symphony No. 3, Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and Brahms’ Symphony
No. 1. Pianist Yuja Wang also appears. Tue. 8 p.m. $47-$156. Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 850-2000. laphil.com.

THU NOV 1

“Rita in Concert: A Celebration of My Roots”

Israel’s diva reconnects with her Iranian roots and brings a world-music experience to UCLA as part of her U.S. tour. Rita performs selections from her latest album, “My Joys,” which features contemporary renditions of classic Iranian songs, blending Tel Aviv-inspired club music, pop and gypsy sounds with Farsi lyrics. Sponsored by the Iranian American Jewish Federation. Thu. 7:30 p.m. $35-$200. UCLA campus, Royce Hall, 240 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. cap.ucla.edu

Pete Wilson and Gray Davis

Former Govs. Wilson and Davis discuss Propositions 30 and 38, initiatives on the November election ballots that promise to raise additional money for K-12 education and community colleges. Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles and Journal columnist, moderates. Thu. 7:30 p.m. Free. Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. wisela.org.

FRI NOV 2

2012 Kindertransport Association Conference

The Kindertransport Association, a nonprofit that unites children Holocaust refugees of the Kindertransport rescue movement with their descendants, hosts “Generation to Generation: Honoring the Legacy, Transforming the Future,” a three-day biennial international gathering. Workshops and speakers explore the legacy of the Kindertransports, a rescue movement that took place on the eve of World War II and saved nearly 10,000 German, Austrian and Czech children. Fri. 7 p.m. Through Nov. 4. $330 (Kindertransport Association members), $370 (general). Includes two breakfasts, two lunches, two dinners, programs and complimentary shuttle from John Wayne International Airport. Hotel registration: $99 per night (single or double occupancy). Irvine Marriott Hotel, 18000 Van Karman Ave., Irvine. (516) 938-6084. kindertransport.org

Southern Israeli kids getting free Bieber tickets


Some 700 children from southern Israeli communities that have been hit by rockets and missiles from Gaza were given free tickets to pop star Justin Bieber’s concert.

The tickets for Thursday’s show in Tel Aviv, as well as transportation, are a gift of The Schusterman Foundation-Israel, The Morningstar Foundation and ROI Community of Young Jewish Innovators.

ROI approached The Schusterman Foundation to help cover the costs of the tickets, which were provided at a discount to help the Israeli children.

“I feel blessed to partner with The Morningstar Foundation to counter the din of missiles and mortars with the exuberance of rock music for these young Israelis,” Lynn Schusterman said in a news release.

Bieber arrived Monday in Israel and is scheduled to tour the country. The teen idol reportedly will visit Christian sites in the Galilee, the Dead Sea, Masada, Acre and Caesaria. He also reportedly is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

With ticket sales slower than expected, concert promoter Gadi Oron announced Sunday that a parent could enter the concert free with the purchase of two tickets for children at the regular price. Many Israeli parents have balked at sending their young teens alone to a major rock concert in the middle of Tel Aviv.

Chai Lifeline to send 12-year-old to the Super Bowl


Adam Wolf, a 12-year-old with cerebral palsy, was stunned when Randi Grossman, West Coast director of the Chai Lifeline, called to tell him that the organization would pay for him to go to the Super Bowl.

“He said, ‘Are you kidding me? This is amazing,’” Wolf’s mother, Ali Wolf, said.

“And then he said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to the Super Bowl.’”

Ali Wolf said that the news has bolstered her son’s spirits. Adam, who has never been to a football game before, is having surgery on his left hand in late-February and has missed a lot of school to go to doctor’s appointments.

“Adam has been going through a lot, and we knew this would be a trip of a lifetime for him,” Chai Lifeline’s Grossman said.

“We’d like to choose everyone, but obviously we’re limited with the number of tickets we get,” she added.

Adam is one of quadruplets in a family with seven children in Irvine and has attended Camp Simcha Special in New York the past two summers. The camp, designed for kids with chronic or genetic illnesses, is a program of Chai Lifeline, which provides a variety of services for seriously ill children.

He is going to the game with a counselor from Camp Simcha Special, Shlomo Platschek. Chai Lifeline, which received a donation from LH Financial Services to help pay for Adam’s trip, is covering Platschek’s costs too.

After Platschek, a 19-year-old from Far Rockaway, N.Y., and Adam met at camp, the two became close.

Platschek said that nowadays, he and Adam talk on the phone several times everyday.

“He’s like a little brother to me,” Platschek said.

The Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 6. Adam is rooting for the Green Bay Packers, who are playing the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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.

$5-$50

  • Arbeter Ring/Workmen’s Circle

  • Temple Beth Israel

  • Aish Los Angeles

  • Sholem Community (Kol Nidre)

$51-$100

  • Temple Beth Emet

  • B’nai Ami Synagogue

  • B’nai Tikvah Congregation

  • Etz Jacob Congregation

$101-150

  • 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

$151-$200

  • 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)

$201-up

  • 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.