Christians pass a basket to fund their congregations. Now local Jews will mirror that age-old church-funding model for the first time.
Officials at the Conservative congregation say they are confident that members’ voluntary contributions will be more than enough to sustain operations.
“When it came time to build the Mishkan, the tent-sanctuary in which the Israelites worshiped in the Sinai desert, every Israelite was expected to bring a free-will offering of their own choosing to build the sanctuary – but God did not say how much,” said Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal. “God knew that because of the Israelites’ love of their faith and tradition, they would be as generous as possible. I am confident that our congregants will do the same.”
The new financial model at Tifereth Israel takes its name from an Old Testament chapter —T’rumah.
Synagogues across the country finance their operations by charging dues for members, with factors such as family size and age determining the amount required. And families typically must provide documentation of a financial hardship when seeking a dues reduction.
At Tifereth Israel, that will no longer be the case.
“No Jew who wants to join our congregation will ever again feel daunted by the financial process inherent with the old system,” said Jerry Hermes, incoming president of the congregation’s Board of Directors. “We hope Jews who are looking for a stress-free and open synagogue experience will give us a long look.”
The transformation comes amid growing conversation across the country questioning the long-term sustainability of the traditional membership dues structure.
Declining membership combined with the inflationary costs of operating a synagogue has forced many congregations to hike their dues in recent years to keep afloat financially. And that has contributed, in many cases, to further declines in membership.
A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that “American Jews overwhelmingly say they are proud to be Jewish and have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people…. But the survey also suggests that Jewish identity is changing in America, where one-in-five Jews (22 percent) now describe themselves as having no religion.”
Intermarriage has risen steadily in recent years, and the survey said: “Among Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000, nearly 6-in-10 have a non-Jewish spouse.”
Tifereth Israel Synagogue is confident it will attract additional members as people discover the congregation has eliminated mandatory dues, said a news release. And a large number of current members say they will give more than they have in the past.
Temple Israel, a Conservative congregation in the Boston suburb of Sharon, Mass., has seen a rise in income and a growth in membership after adopting a similar model.
“We strongly believe that this innovative program will enhance and ensure the continued vibrancy of Tifereth Israel,” said Dr. Seth Krosner, congregation president.
The synagogue, founded in 1905, has about 500 members and remains one of the larger Conservative congregations in the region.
The Tifereth Israel Synagogue campus at 6660 Cowles Mountain Blvd. is home to the Silverman Preschool, Tifereth Israel Torah School and the nondenominational Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra.
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