February 26, 2020

Upping the Ante to Sell High Holy Days Seats

The following is a work of satire. Names (except for famous showbiz people), characters, synagogues, places, events and incidents are fictional. 

The High Holy Days are fast approaching, and synagogues everywhere are trying to fill as many seats as possible for the three-day service. For many shuls in North America, selling holiday seats provides the funds to sustain the organization for an entire year. A few weeks before the start of the holidays, in every synagogue boardroom, directors hope that the changes envisioned for this year will bring in additional revenues to the shul coffers and offer participants an entertaining and inspiring Holy Days experience. Some temples have decided to “up the ante” by offering new features, special guests and a more enlightening holiday service.

Several prominent synagogue presidents detailed during exclusive interviews some of the remarkable features and events being planned for this year’s High Holy Days extravaganza. 

In one shul in Frozen Lake, Minn., the upper balcony has been converted into a VIP section. The newly installed seats are upholstered in faux leather and contain built-in back massagers, fold-out refreshment trays and cup holders. Ushers will be assigned to each section, and patrons can order liquor, wine, soft drinks and artisanal bottled water. Party sandwiches, knishes and other finger foods will also be offered throughout the Rosh Hashanah service. 

For the only shul in Hortonville, Ontario, in Canada, there’s no need to bring your machzor (prayer book) this year. Airplane-style LED screens have been installed on each seat and will display the entire holiday service in Hebrew and English. Page calling and page rustling will be a thing of the past. The prayer currently being chanted will be highlighted so everyone is “on the same page.” 

A new Dolby Digital Surround Sound system, featuring Shabbos-approved kosher microphones, is being installed at Congregation Bess Myerson in upstate New York. The new state-of-the-art system will ensure that everyone will be able to hear the prayers, songs and sermons that are integral to the services. The higher volume will help drown out the snoring of some of the older members.

By far the major coup for President Mitch Malkowitz of Temple Austintachos in Herman Oaks, Calif., is lining up three special guests who will participate in this year’s liturgy. Actress and singer Barbara Streisand will perform her signature tune “Avinu Malkeinu”; New York native Neil Diamond will perform “Kol Nidre”; and Adam Cohen, son of the late Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, will sing his father’s special version of the “Usanah Tokev” prayer, “Who by Fire.” Malkowitz hinted at other guest stars as well, but declined to confirm anything further at this time. This reporter has learned from reliable sources that former President Bill Clinton, former Lakers star Kobe Bryant or comedian Jackie Mason will deliver a guest sermon.

In one shul in Frozen Lake, Minn., the upper balcony has been converted into a VIP section.

At Congregation Beit Shachor, a Sephardic congregation just outside of Detroit, an African American gospel choir will join Chazzan David Ben-Louloulou for the liturgy. It was a major undertaking for choir members, who had to study Hebrew and learn all the ancient Sephardic melodies. 

“We don’t think this has ever been tried before,” President Michel Abesera said. “I’m expecting a full house.”

Congregation Beit Shalom in Neckpain, N.J., has rented an old drive-in movie theater on Route 9. The intent is to project the entire holiday service on the gigantic screen so people won’t have to get out of their cars. Of course, the snack bar will serve gefilte fish, herring tidbits and hot knishes.

A shul in High Mountain, Colo., will serve hashish-infused brownies at its Rosh Hashanah Kiddush and for the breaking of the fast. “Well, it is the High Holidays …” Rabbi Scott Newman explained.

When asked about the costs of tickets for this Holy Days season, most of our presidents were reluctant to commit to an answer. “No doubt, with all the new features and entertainment, the price will be several percentage points higher than last year,” one president said. “I would ballpark the regular seats at about a grand and the VIP section at five large.” 

“We always get a few freeloaders who refuse to pay full retail for their seats,” said President Georges Sokolof of Temple Limoni in Richman, Va. “This year we will be segregating these nudnicks in a special Shnorrers section in the back of the shul. We hope that they will be embarrassed into paying full fare next year. 

“Last year, one man told the security guard that he was just going into the sanctuary to give a message to his brother-in-law, but one of the ushers actually caught him praying. We had to call security — it was an ugly scene.”

“What about those Jews who cannot afford to pay?” we asked. 

“Then they can just go to Chabad,” Sokolof answered angrily. “They’ll let anyone in.”

Advertising is a key factor in increasing market share, and some synagogues are using radio, TV and social media to get out their message. As one rabbi put it, “Now we have to compete with the World Series, Netflix and Amazon Prime. If we don’t do something to enhance the service, we will lose more customers every year.”

So get your seats early. It looks like 5780 will be quite a year. Shanah tovah.

Paul Starr is a recently retired systems analyst living in Montreal. He belongs to a Modern Orthodox congregation.