Dear Mensch: I converted to Judaism before I married and have enjoyed being part of a Jewish community, celebrating Passover and Hanukkah at home, and even the intensity of Yom Kippur. I am glad my children are being brought up Jewish. My problem is how much it costs! Even though we go to synagogue only a few days a year, over the High Holy Days and for bar and bat mitzvahs, we are required to pay thousands of dollars in membership dues in addition to Hebrew school tuition for our two children. On top of that, our synagogue asks for additional donations throughout the year, including on Yom Kippur! My husband says synagogue membership is part of being a Jew, but I can’t understand why it costs so much. Am I wrong to feel this way? — Anne
Dear Anne: Welcome to Judaism and our time-honored tradition of wondering why it costs so much to be Jewish. You’re in the groove!
You are not wrong to chafe at the cost of shul membership, nor are you alone. Being Jewish brings upon it certain obligations, many of which involve sacrifice and commitment. Being a member of a synagogue is an important, and, I hope, rewarding, aspect of Jewish life and one that unavoidably entails a price. If you were to choose a more observant path, you might also find yourself paying more for kosher food and Jewish day school. Indeed, if you were Mormon, Catholic or Evangelical Christian, you would also be expected to tithe in support of your church and its clergy. Maintaining a place for worship and community is expensive.
Certainly, there are independent groups offering aspects of Jewish observance and education outside of synagogue life, and they may cost less. But Mensch suggests you think about deepening your relationship with your current shul. Attend more than just a few days a year. Join a committee or even the board of directors. In a leadership position, you will have a better appreciation for the costs of membership — and you might even be able to help lower them.