Friday, February 24, 2006

Readers Respond the Column About the High Cost of Being Jewish

Readers Respond to Column About the High Cost of Being Jewish

Jewish Journal North of Boston

December 16, 2005

Last issue I wrote about the high dollar cost of the Jewish community’s religious, educational and community programs. I said committees that judge a family’s financial ability and offer fee reductions were demeaning and prevented people, especially kids, from full community participation. The resulting mountain of mail proved that I touched a sensitive nerve. It revealed a wide range of feelings and, I must say, a lot of good will.

A rabbi wrote emphasizing the importance of religious and social programs and functions, all of which require funding:

“How shall we survive without money? How is one to pay the professionals who dedicate their lives to the Jewish People; how to support the structures, afford books, salaries, and honoraria for guest lecturers; pay for phones and electric and programming, etc? Alas, there is no free lunch. It’s expensive to be a Jew. Yet there is money for lots of other things — more than ever before. What are our priorities? It is not a simple issue. But who said life was supposed to be simple? So we struggle along and do the best we can and hope people will understand and help.”

A former temple president wrote emphasizing the lay leadership’s concern about balancing the budget: “Having been president of my temple, I saw many shnorrers. We didn’t sell or assign seats for the holidays, but the first to arrive always seemed to be the non-contributors. During my administration, we set low minimum dues with a request for a donation to help cover those who were not able to pay. We included anyone who came and wanted to be a member, without question.”

“Then on the first Rosh Hashanah in our newly remodeled building, I did not give an aliyah to a very comfortable businessman who had paid no dues for the previous two years though he had offered in-kind material for our new building, which somehow never arrived. His wife and son went ballistic about ‘Harold’s traditional aliyah. The following Monday, Harold stormed into my office, tossed a $500 check on my desk, said his secretary messed up, and shouted ‘screw your aliyah.’ It’s hard to run a Jewish organization!”

The shnorrer factor depends upon where you sit, at least according to one reader: “Too often, a person or family going through financial hardship for whatever reason, can be made to feel like shnorrers if they ask for help from their fellow Jews.”

People carry pain for a long time over negative experiences: “Forty years ago I wanted to enroll my son for Bar Mitzvah in a nearby temple. He would have learned quickly, as now he is a tenured university science professor. At the time, however, I couldn’t afford the very high fee. The temple would not scale it down. So — he was never Bar Mitzvahed. I never forgot it.”

For another reader, the committee process did not leave a bad taste: “I remember my mother going to the JCC to ask for scholarships for us children to go to summer camp. Somehow, my parents carried it off without any loss of dignity and even we [children] weren’t ashamed, but this is only the exception that proves the rule you describe so clearly.”

And here is a reader who adds another dimension: “We have one child in college and two in a Jewish day school. Even with both of us working hard, paying three tuitions really straps us. We would like to send the little ones to some of the JCC activities and/or to Jewish summer camp. We just can’t do it. Too bad, I know these organizations need funds to operate. It’s a tough problem.”

My brother Bill, a businessman, says, “You can see this as an unsolvable problem or as an opportunity.” He is right. We, as a community, have an opportunity to insure that every child, regardless of their parents’ financial condition, and without well-intentioned but demeaning committees, has access to a full range of Jewish community programs.

I am asking you, dear readers, for your ideas, and I will make certain they get to those in a position to affect change.


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