According to the oft-cited 2013 Pew Research Center study A Portrait of Jewish Americans, only about one-third of Jews belong to a synagogue — often due to pricey congregation dues and fees.
So when the High Holidays roll around, where’s a wandering Jew to go — and what’s the best option pricewise?
These shuls in the Greater Philadelphia area have some free or low-cost options to get your shofar-blowing on.
Catherine Fischer, director of community engagement at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, said they’re trying to get away from the mentality of selling “tickets.”
“It sounds more like a movie theater or entertainment venue,” she said. Instead, the synagogue is focusing on putting it back into a sacred context.
Rodeph Shalom invites prospective members to High Holiday services as its guests. If you belong elsewhere and want to join, they use the reciprocity process: If you attend the services, the congregation asks that you test drive the shul as a prospective member for a year membership.
They’re not actively “selling” tickets, but that’s really not necessary — for a synagogue just shy of 1,200 families, they need two spaces for each service to accommodate enough people.
For congregants with out-of-town family joining the New Year, Rodeph Shalom guest passes go for “a minimum contribution of $180” each.
New this year, Fischer said admission will take the form of name badges to foster connections.
“It’s a way for people to meet each other and connect with each other,” she added. “The synagogue uses its values to inform our process. It is really hard financially. There is a lot of work in making our budget work, but we’re committed to our values and we have a very dedicated community.”
For a more informal service erev Rosh Hashanah, head to Rittenhouse Square.
Beginning at 5:30 p.m., Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel’s RH² will start in the park with Rabbi Yosef Goldman, who will lead a concert with Marom Band and Lori Turner of Music Monkey Jungle for younger audiences.
The free event will commence with a traditional service.
The fourth annual RH² welcomes families to head to the park for erev Rosh Hashanah picnic dinners.
Terri Soifer, director of community engagement, said the event will also include dancing and a raffle for local honey and apples.
The informal start to the New Year is a good way to ease into it, she said, as some are not even aware the holiday is beginning, and they get a taste of the evening while walking through the park or coming home from work.
“It’s really fun when it’s mid-week because people swing by and check it out,” Soifer added. “It also attracts a lot of people not comfortable coming to a synagogue.”
Betty van de Rijn, Society Hill Synagogue executive director, said packaged member guest tickets go for $300, which covers all Holy Day services through Sukkot. Single-service tickets are $75.
The synagogue usually participates in the High Holiday Wine Tasting, where people could schmooze and find cheap High Holiday seats, but it didn’t take place this year.
Since they usually distribute about 70 free tickets at that event, van de Rijn said they took it upon themselves to offer free tickets to prospective members looking to join a synagogue.
Society Hill can fit about 600 in the sanctuary and 200 in the balcony, though other services take place throughout the building simultaneously for children and young families.
“It’s really not a lot,” van de Rijn noted of the amount of free tickets given out. “It doesn’t really cost us anything to extend and open our arms to people in the area that would like to attend services.”
Tickets are checked at the door, either as hard copies or e-tickets, but no pass is required for Yizkor services.
“A lot of Jews like to come to services, and we have always opened our doors at 1 p.m. for Yizkor,” she added.
Other synagogues are also offering free guest tickets for prospective members and young families, including Germantown Jewish Centre and Tiferet Bet Israel (with pre-registration by Sept. 15).
B’nai Abraham Chabad’s services, like most other Chabads and Hillels, are free, as are services at Congregation Beth Hamedrosh in Wynnewood, Chabad of the Main Line, Chabad Lubavitch of Montgomery County in Fort Washington, and The Little Shul in South Philly.
Mishkan Shalom and Kol Tzedek’s services are also open to the community, though Kol Tzedek asks people to register in advance and donate if able.
Beth David Reform Congregation offers free services to college students with IDs.
KleinLife will host independent services in Russian, Hebrew and English — no ticket or reservation required.
Staying true to its name, Rabbi Julie Greenberg said Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir~Heart of the City invites people to give from the heart during the High Holidays.
There are no tickets or fees for services — its doors are open; just register in advance online.
Although monetary gifts are not collected during services, Leyv Ha-Ir encourages its members or prospective members to make contributions before or after.
“People are incredibly responsive,” said Greenberg, who estimated about one-third of the shul’s budget comes from High Holiday donations.
“We don’t have financial parameters for stepping into Holy Day services,” she added.
Whether people give $10 or $1,000, it goes a long way.
But Greenberg said attendees simply contributing the gift of their presence in prayer, song and learning goes even further.
“Judaism is not really about consumerism,” she said. “It’s about covenant. It’s not a relationship of ‘I’m going to pay for what I get.’ … It’s more like we enter the sacred covenant where we’re co-creating this experience and people put different things into that pot.”
For more information and other discounted tickets, visit jewishphilly.org/get-involved/high-holiday-open-services.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 215-832-0737
Kehillas B’nai Shalom in Bensalem has free traditional service.
They also have a wonderful free one hour service in English.