Opinion writer Diana Furchtgott-Roth says that churches have open-door policies on Christmas and Easter (“High Holy Days Ticket Prices Are Costing Community,” November 4). That is true. But she leaves out the part that churches have many more members to support their activities than synagogues. A good-sized synagogue will have several hundred membership units, whereas a good sized church will have several thousand. Numbers make a big difference when paying for the clergy, the building, the other staff, the teachers and the programs. In additions, many churches have a tradition of volunteers that take on many of these responsibilities; synagogues don’t.
Furchtgott-Roth also states that “High Holy Day seats provide a major source of funds.” Maybe in some synagogues they do, but in those that I have worked in or belonged to, the largest source of operating funds is dues. Selling tickets to outsiders make up less than 1% of the budgets of the synagogues I know.
She then combines fund-raising appeals with ticket sales. Ticket sales ensure that people who do not wish to join the synagogue and financially support it pay something toward the upkeep. Fund-raising appeals, on the other hand, are geared toward the membership. They know this tradition is going to happen, and expect to give in the annual Kol Nidre Appeal. To combine them as if both are required for a non-member to attend services is ignorant. As to the dent in the budget, think of how solvent synagogues would be if those that ask for a free ride would actually join and pay their share. That would be a great day.
For those who think, as Furchtgott-Roth writes, “that the cost of joining a synagogue… is an extravagance,” let me assure them it is not. First, every synagogue has a dues relief procedure for those who truly cannot afford dues. Second, joining a synagogue is not an extravagance, it is an obligation. It is an above-the-line activity like rent, mortgage, food and electricity.
What would happen if free High Holy Day tickets were offered? I am afraid that those synagogues would cease to exist. Their three-day-a-year members would resign and non-committed Jews would not join, because why should they pay dues when they can get what they want for free?
In an October 28 review of Israel Epstein’s “My China Eye: Memoirs of a Jew and a Journalist,” Gal Beckerman writes that “the communism arrived with the mother’s milk” (“Seeing Red”). The comment may sound cute, but it hardly squares with the politics of Izzy’s Bundist parents, who were dedicated Social Democrats and Yiddishists all their lives.
Lasar and Sonia Epstein were important and respected leaders of the Jewish community in Tianjin, China, until they, along with my parents, left for the United States after the Japanese invasion of 1937. Lasar was the first president of the Jewish Club Kunst in Tianjin, while Sonia always seemed to know who in the community needed help, and was frequently able to find someone who would provide the help.
In New York, Lasar was an active member of the Workmen’s Circle and the Jewish Labor Committee, and was particularly involved with trying to provide succor for the Jewish remnant in Europe. He also provided a weekly Yiddish radio program of news and comments on WEVD.
I wasn’t quite 12 when we left Tianjin to return to the United States, but Izzy’s parents and mine were close friends from the 1920s to the end of their lives. Nor was that our only familial tie: Izzy’s first wife was my sister, Edith.
After leaving China in 1937, I visited only once, in 2000. I was certainly impressed. Even the poorest coolies were decently dressed, and the open sewer in Tianjin had been covered over. One could even see to the bottom of the Hai He, a river that used to be brown with mud and who knows what else.
Martin Bihovsky Bates
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