A number of years ago, a congregant who was frustrated with dues, handed me a check for $86.00 and told me that he was covered for the year. “Covered for what?” I asked. He explained that he only attended synagogue a few times a year and that the check should cover the amount his presence consumed in terms of running the temple’s utilities and maintenance.
This incident was one of the strangest dues related interactions I have ever had, as this individual’s sense of congregational support was extremely ill-conceived. That said, the exchange does, indeed, reflect a strange tension between the concept of being part of a congregational family and a “pay to pray” mentality that many in the Jewish community have come to resent.
Congregations, like so many other institutions for cultural and communal gatherings, have many sources for support. Some of this support comes in the form of annual dues and project-specific pledges. Other ways to support a synagogue is through sponsorships and underwriting. Still others choose to support congregational efforts by volunteering. Each kind of support is valued, and each is essential to the health and mission of the institution.
Our Second Annual HCRJ Golf Tournament is part of a much broader effort to generate a culture of giving. While golf is the current means for cultivating support, the tournament itself must be seen in light of a much greater mission. We are trying to develop a culture of philanthropy whereby each of our members considers himself/herself to be personally invested and emotionally tied to the future of the congregation.
One does not need to play golf or bingo or mahjong to be a supporter or a volunteer. One does not need to be in attendance at the next gala or fundraiser, to feel connected. One does not need to be a donor or an underwriter to feel appreciated and valued. While all of these are absolutely essential to our financial bottom line, they are only part of the philanthropic mindset.
We want everyone in our community to feel connected and committed to a shared congregational mission. Through our innovative programs, services, events and more, our goal is to reframe every effort we make as one that is rooted in a culture of giving in which personal resources, finances, time and energy are all welcome and extremely appreciated – and where everything we do, everything we give and everything we develop is entrenched in a desire to build a congregational culture of goodness, graciousness and gratitude.
Our hope is that, over time, attitudes, like the one mentioned at the beginning of this article, will no longer exist and, as we grow as a community, a culture of collective responsibility will become a driving force for our future.