Divre Harav/Words from the Rabbi – February, 2011

I am reprinting this month a bulletin article written by my colleague Rabbi Richard Hammerman.  I have added a few comments at the end.


Did you ever think, even for a moment, that, “If I wasn’t Jewish, and didn’t have to belong to a synagogue, I would save so much money?” At Church you can just get away with throwing a few bills into the basket- and take care of your conscience and your weekly religious obligations. Right?  It turns out that assumption is wrong.

According to a survey by Josh Nathan-Kazis published in “The Forward” this past September, “Jewish and Christian religious institutions appear to raise about the same amount per member, despite the fact that church giving is voluntary and synagogues charge membership dues.”

Kazis continues, “The amount raised per individual member is very similar between synagogues and churches. But the level of participation is quite different: While synagogues require roughly the same amount of dues from each of their members, church giving does not appear to be so evenly distributed.

“Take Ahavath Achim, a Conservative Jewish synagogue in Atlanta, and Church of the Heavenly Rest, an Episcopal church in Manhattan. The two congregations are broadly comparable: Both serve slightly more than 1,000 middle- and upper-middle class households, have a multimillion-dollar endowment, employ about a dozen people and operate on an annual budget of $2.7 million.

“Both draw around half their income from regular fees paid by members. But, like virtually all American churches, Heavenly Rest does not charge dues. Like most synagogues, Ahavath Achim does.  At Ahavath Achim, those fees are assigned by the synagogue, with each family paying up to $2,100 per year. Annual pledges at Heavenly Rest? As much, or as little, as you can give. While only one-third of member families participate in the church’s annual pledge drive, those that do give an average of $2,700 — far more than the cost of dues at Ahavath Achim.”


We collect slightly less than 1/2 of our annual budget from dues.  The rest primarily comes from the sale of Scrip, the Cadillac raffle, income from renting our building, and income from endowments.  We do not want dues to be a barrier to membership.  Please help us rely less on annual dues by making it a point to buy scrip; sell one more Cadillac ticket than last year; and consider leaving a legacy gift to the Ahavas Israel endowment.  A gift of any size will help the ensure the future of our congregation.  Ultimately, a $3 million endowment might reduce dependence on dues by 50% or ensure that the building fund will always have enough money to keep or building beautiful and in good repair.

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