Synagogues, Though Feeling Distress, Provide Support

Posted on: February 27th, 2009 by Hayim Herring

I’m taking a brief break from writing about rabbis to report on how synagogues are coping in these stressful financial times. As I speak with colleagues across the country, I’m generally hearing the same story:

“Dues revenue is down, while we are providing more dues relief to congregants who can no longer afford to pay what they were paying”

“We’re freezing or reducing staff salaries”

“We’re moving some people from full-time to part-time, eliminating staff or not replacing staff when a staff member leaves”

“We’ve shortened our weekday hours and are having one day a week when the building is closed….”

Anecdotally, these are the kinds of stories that I’m hearing and I expect the situation to deteriorate during the summer, when cash flow in congregations is low. And, I wonder how many people will request dues relief before the High Holy Days or even drop synagogue membership because of feelings of embarrassed because of the inability to pay.

At the same time, many synagogues are doing an exceptional job of reaching out to members and the community. Here is a sampling of the kinds of creative efforts that congregations are making to support members:

  • Providing support groups for families who are out of work and enabling parents to help their children cope during these difficult financial times
  • Creating either formal or informal job banks, using social technologies like Linked In
  • Turning one of their rooms into a coffee-house like space, with free drinks and nosh, and wireless Internet access available for members who wish to have a place to go to and find others in their situation
  • Partnering with their local Jewish family services and providing counseling sessions, as financial stress can unfortunately translate into domestic problems
  • Some rabbis have been regularly communicating through their media channels that they are available for personal support and that no individual will be turned away for their inability to pay congregational dues.

These steps will help people make sure that they do not confuse their financial worth with their human value.

These efforts are clearly laudable but beg the question of how many congregations will be able to remain viable in the long term future. I’ll be writing more about that later. For now, please respond to these two questions:

  1. What is your congregation doing to support members in these times of need?
  2. What short-term measures is your congregation implementing to be sure that it steers clear of deep financial trouble?

If you have some insights to offer about these critical questions, please share them so that others in the community can benefit.


Rabbi Hayim Herring

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