Editorial | Free holiday services are a gift that deserves thanks

The High Holy Days are just around the corner, which for many Jews means preparing festive meals, getting together with family and friends and attending worship services.

Many Jews who don’t go to synagogue any other time of year will attend services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, about 35 percent of American Jews attend synagogue services only “a few times a year,” which usually means the High Holy Days.

But where do they go for services?

For those who belong to a synagogue, the decision is easy: You go to your own shul, where you receive tickets as part of your membership.

But most Bay Area Jews do not belong to a synagogue. In the East Bay, just 21 percent are synagogue members, according to the East Bay federation’s 2011 community study. The numbers are similar in the rest of the Bay Area, according to the S.F.-based federation’s 2004 community study.

So what are these Jews to do?  Some take advantage of the many free and low-cost worship services offered in the Bay Area. Every year, J. publishes a list of these offerings, ranging from nondenominational services in JCCs to Orthodox services with Chabad. We list these opportunities as a public service, so that those who don’t pay for synagogue membership or High Holy Day tickets — for whatever reasons — can worship in community. That is, we believe, something every Jew should be able to do.

We’d like to make it very clear, however, that these free or nearly free worship services do not absolve one of the need to support our Jewish communal infrastructure. Rather, they should serve as a reminder of the need for such support. These services are not an entitlement, but a gift. And a gift deserves a thank you.

If you believe attending services on the High Holy Days is important — important enough for you to do it — then you might consider stepping in to make sure that those services continue for future years.

Most of the congregations and Jewish institutions that provide these services expect no payment. Some ask for “voluntary donations.” Most do not. It goes against the ethos that inspired them to offer the services.

That’s why we suggest that those who attend acknowledge the gift, but not in terms of a fee-for-services arrangement. Appreciation might take the form of a monetary donation that says you acknowledge what that institution provides all year round. You might consider volunteering, or attending future events.

Or at the very least, a simple “Thank you.” Let organizers know you appreciate their generosity.