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Synagogue Dues Reduced to Draw Unaffiliated Jews

January 05, 1991|From Newsday

Judaism's Reform movement announced an innovative plan this week to reduce or eliminate synagogue dues for young, unaffiliated Jews in an effort to attract them to congregational life.

Nearly half of all American Jews do not belong to a synagogue, according to the latest edition of the American Jewish Yearbook. That level of affiliation is considerably less than in most non-Jewish denominations, and the three major branches of Judaism--Reform, Conservative and Orthodox--have long sought ways to bring non-members into their folds.

Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said this week that one of the principal reasons young Jews do not join synagogues is their intimidating dues structures. Many urban synagogues charge at least $500 a year to join, and those with two rabbis and large building programs can charge up to $1,000 annually. The fee often does not include tickets to the widely attended High Holiday services, which can cost several hundred dollars.

Under the new plan, unaffiliated Jewish adults between the ages of 22 and 30 could request a "privilege card" from the Reform movement, which would allow them to join a Reform synagogue or temple at little or no cost for two years. In addition, college students could request an "access card" which would grant them entrance to High Holiday services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and other congregational events.

About 200 of the movement's 840 synagogues and temples have agreed to participate in the program, Schindler said.

"I hope many more will follow," he said. "We are trying to persuade them to look at it as a . . . good investment in the future."

By allowing young Jews a taste of congregational life without the fees, the movement is hoping that the people will eventually become full dues-paying members.

The Reform movement is the least traditional of the three major branches of American Judaism, and its less rigorous style of observance is considered the most attractive to those who have not joined a synagogue. By contrast, some Orthodox congregations and institutions do not charge dues, but their strict adherence to tradition has kept their numbers relatively low.

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