High Holiday Tickets: High Prices, High Barriers to Involvement

Across the spectrum, including among the Orthodox, synagogues have done an admirable job in recent years making themselves more welcoming to the unaffiliated, the intermarried and the just plain timid. There’s a long way to go, but between Chabad’s outreach, the Reform movement’s embrace of interfaith families and the Conservative movement’s push for keruv, religious life is more welcoming and more accessible than it’s ever been. Which makes it all the more unfortunate that the practice of charging non-members for High Holiday tickets–and in some cases, barring non-members from attending–persists.

It’s one of the most shortsighted strategies in modern religion: during the small number of days that Jews actually want (or at least feel obligated) to go to synagogue, congregations charge them exorbitant prices to enter, either through one-off ticket prices or a requirement that the non-member pay dues to join the synagogue. Rather than use the holidays of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah as an occasion to show non-members how welcoming they are, they use it as an occasion to show how restrictive–and expensive–they are.
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Speaking of San Francisco…

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Keeping with yesterday’s return-from-San-Francisco theme, j., the Jewish news weekly of northern California, and The Forward recently wrote about a clever new outreach strategy from Rabbi Moshe Langer of the Chabad of San Francisco: free trolley tours of the diverse and beautiful city. But unlike other Chabad marketing–free iPods in exchange for enrolling in Hebrew classes, “spa day for the soul”–the trolley rides are not about getting people to become traditionally observant or join Chabad. All that the bearded Rabbi Langer asks is that all his passengers, Jewish or not, perform one mitzvah (good deed) that day.

It’s what the Jewish Outreach Institute calls “Public Space Judaism,” whereby the Jewish community engages the global community wherever they are: grocery stores, coffeeshops, even trolleys on Powell Street. I particularly admire the Chabad Cable Car because it doesn’t sound like Rabbi Langer is pushing his religious agenda. By “soft-selling” Judaism and showing people of all creeds how welcoming and friendly a strongly Jewishly identified person can be, he’s making Judaism appealing to unaffiliated Jew and non-Jew alike. That can send a powerful message to interfaith couples.

Turns out, though, that Rabbi Langer is only following in his dad’s footsteps. His father, Rabbi Yosef Langer, has been dubbed “Rally Rabbi” after blowing the shofar during the San Francisco Giants’ Jewish Heritage Night. At this year’s Jewish Heritage Night in August, the Giants will be giving out Rally Rabbi bobbleheads.

The State of Jewish Journalism

I returned from San Francisco today, where I attended the 2007 conference of the American Jewish Press Association, the professional association of Jewish publications and websites. This was the fourth conference I attended and the sessions tend to be similar from year to year. There’s always one or two on how to make your print publication work on the Internet, there’s always one where everybody bemoans their inability to reach young readers and there’s always one on media coverage of Israel. The irony in the perpetual inclusion of the first two sessions is that few significant Jewish websites are members of the AJPA and almost none of the few Jewish media outlets that have had some success reaching young Jews–Heeb, American Jewish Life, Jewcy or Jewschool, for starters–are members either. So the conversations about web presence and youthful audience occur in a vacuum, led by old media print editors.
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Remaking the Reform Movement

Rabbi David Forman, the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights, wrote a provocative op-ed in the Jerusalem Post arguing that the Reform movement needs to change if it hopes to engage Jews in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Germany. While Chabad has emerged as a dominant Jewish force in many of these places, and other more far-flung communities, the Reform movement “has barely made a dent in the consciousness of Jews in these places.”

He doesn’t blame the the leadership of the international Reform movement (the World Union for Progressive Judaism) or the leadership of the North American Reform movement (the Union for Reform Judaism), but rather the constitutents of the North American Reform movement.

…while … the Union of Reform Judaism … has adopted WUPJ’s religious ideology, whereby both Jewish peoplehood and the centrality of Israel to Jewish theology should be primary forces in the life of a Jew, the URJ’s constituents have not. Preaching by North American Reform leaders about commitment to the Jewish people does not resonate with most US Jews.

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Marketing Day Schools to Interfaith Families

Not sure why I hadn’t thought of sharing this yet, but we wrote this article on marketing Jewish day schools to interfaith families for RAVSAK, the Jewish Community Day School Network. It will be published in their issue coming out in December, I believe. It’s specifically targeted to the boards and administrators of Jewish community day schools, so forgive the somewhat-dry language.

How to market community day schools to interfaith families
By Micah Sachs and Edmund Case

Of the estimated 500,000 children in intermarried households, only 5,400 (Kotler-Berkowitz, 2005), or barely more than 1 percent, attend Jewish day school. So clearly there is growth potential in the intermarried market.

When thinking about marketing to interfaith families, the most important thing to keep in mind is that interfaith families who are considering a Jewish day school education are probably not very different from inmarried families considering a Jewish day school. As Jennifer Rudin-Sable, the former Jewish life coordinator at the Rashi School in Boston has said, “Inter-faith and intra-faith families are much more similar than they are different and… the key to bringing them into our community is not identifying ‘who or what’ they are but rather identifying ‘where’ they are and ‘what they need’ to take the next step in their journey.” There is no magic bullet to reaching this diverse market; the best advice we can offer is to make sure your advertising and marketing materials emphasize your acceptance of the children of interfaith families.
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Why Jewish Life?

My Yom Kippur experience was especially meaningful this year–I hope yours was too. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on and evaluate my life, and consider what I can do better. I feel I have an entire clean slate of a New Year to fill, and the prospect is very exciting.

I think my main motivation in founding InterfaithFamily.com, Inc. was my belief, based on my own experience and that of many friends, that participating in Jewish life can be a great source of meaning and fulfillment, not just for Jews, but in particular for interfaith couples. The Yom Kippur opportunity to reflect and evaluate is one example of that. Coincidentally or not, a wonderful article in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is another great example.
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Touring the Temple

Before I went to Salt Lake City for the RNA conference, I was urged by my publisher, Ed Case, to take a tour of Temple Square, the world headquarters of the Church of Latter-day Saints and the site of the original Mormon Temple. Since I always do everything my boss tells me, I snuck out on Friday afternoon to take the tour. It was a fascinating experience, and it has some interesting ramifications for the Jewish community, I think.

The tour begins unlike any tour you’ve ever been on. After you pass the fleet of young couples being photographed after their wedding at the Temple (which apparently can happen any time of day, any day of the week), as soon as you enter the Temple Square grounds, two missionaries approach you. They introduce themselves, ask your name and ask if you’d like to go on a tour. There are no tickets, no lines, no wait. Even if they only have three people–as my group had–they happily lead you on a tour through the grounds.
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