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Presidents' Blog No. 9: Mar 2018

Wow! A fourth Nor’easter in the last three weeks! Enough is enough. It’s spring; it’s not supposed to be like this!

Many of you already know that our congregation is moving forward with plans to change from a traditional dues structure to a voluntary contribution model. We have been holding parlor meetings with various temple constituencies for the past seven weeks in order to explain why we recommend doing this and how it would work. In spite of our attempts to meet as many of you as we can, many of you still may know little or nothing about what we propose.

Why are we proposing such a seemingly radical change? Let’s face it, the dues model has been around since before World War II. It’s what we and most congregations are familiar with. However, for the better part of the past two decades, most temple memberships have been declining all across the United States. More and more people are asking, “What do I get for my dues?” “Is the price of membership worth it?” And, “Is this really how I want to spend my money?”

Let’s look at our own congregation. Back in 1994 there were approximately 665 members belonging to Temple Beth Am. Fast forward to 2007 and the number stood at 393. Even after the merger with Shaarei Shalom, by 2014 the number had decreased to 311 and today it stands at about 250.

How we see a voluntary or philanthropic model making a difference is as follows: Rather than the focus of the temple or a congregant being on fees in order to become a member, it seeks to enhance a sense of community. The idea of “membership” can be viewed as exclusionary at some level instead of the focus being on community as it should be. Some would argue that it is this reality that drives many Jews away from the traditional synagogue model. Other than coming to services a few times a year or having their child attain Bar/Bat Mitzvah, all at a cost, members are missing the community and family aspect that a temple is here to provide, that WE are here to provide. We propose and will strive to change this, as we have said since taking office.

Presently in the United States, there are about 70 congregations using some form of a voluntary contribution model. Many more are in the evaluation stage and are considering it. Here is what we know to date:

All of the temples presently using the voluntary contribution model are bringing in the same or more revenue as they had before the adoption of the program and almost all have increased the size of their congregations. About 40% of congregants continue to give as much or more than they had previously. While many congregants may choose to give less, the barriers to joining a temple are virtually eliminated. This makes the choice of belonging to a temple that much easier. Ideally, this new plan should attract many unaffiliated families to join and former members to come back. We have a significant advantage being here on Long Island since the number of Jews in our area is still significantly large. We have an untapped pool of people who may consider joining a temple, a community, a family, if they did not feel the costs of doing so are burdensome. In addition, we would be the first temple to move to this model in Nassau County. We would like to call it “Giving from the Heart.”

In order for this change to be approved pursuant to our constitution, there must be TWO votes, NOT ONE, and WE NEED YOU TO COME TO BOTH MEETINGS!! LET’S VOTE YES AND INCREASE BOTH OUR NUMBERS AND VITALITY!

We plan on having two congregational meetings in April to vote on this proposal. Stay tuned for more details. Should you wish to learn more, please email us at presidents@templebethammerrick.org. If needed, we will be pleased to hold another parlor meeting.