New to northern New Jersey?
Unsure where to worship on the High Holy Days?
The Synagogue Leadership Initiative of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and 29 congregations from all streams of Judaism have a message:
Seats are on the house.
For the second year, SLI is running its EZ-Key initiative, in which newcomers who have moved here in the last two years can sign up on a website (http://bit.ly/ez-key) to receive free holiday seating from the participating congregation of their choice.
Last year, more than 160 people were matched up with synagogues.
“It’s doing what we were hoping it would do,” said Nancy Perlman, who runs the program for SLI. “It’s bringing people into the synagogues, into the opportunity to create relationships.”
Requests already have begun to come in for this year’s holidays.
“It’s very exciting,” she said.
The excitement is shared by synagogue leaders who are happy with last year’s results.
“It’s a fabulous program,” Johanna Resnick Rosen, the membership chair at Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center in Ridgewood, said. “It gets people in our door. Hopefully they like what they see.”
Last year, Rosen said, Temple Israel gave away seven sets of tickets.
One family joined the synagogue, “and I’m hoping two or three others end up joining.”
If those families wish to have tickets this year, they’ll have to pony up. EZ-Key is a once-per-customer deal. Organizations know that synagogues need dues to keep their lights on.
“I think it’s nice if you move into a new area, that the federation is offering this and synagogues are participating,” Rosen said.
Rosen said she thinks the program strikes a balance between the needs of the synagogues and “what seems to be an expectation – I don’t think it’s a reasonable expectation – that a synagogue should be open to the community if you’re not members. Given the way synagogues function, that is not a reasonable expectation.”
When the newcomers sign up, they can select a particular shul they’re interested in attending. They also could let Perlman match them based on where they live and their preferred denomination.
Craig Basset, president of Temple Beth El in North Bergen, is another fan of the EZ-Key program.
“It brought us at least one person, and that person was a dream,” he said.
“She had a lot of energy, she wanted to get involved, and she helped us start a sisterhood. We had not had a sisterhood in ten years or more.”
“I think a synagogue would be crazy not to participate,” he said. “There are more and more unaffiliated people out there, and for anyone who is even just thinking of attending holiday services, we, the local community synagogues, should really encourage that and try to make it easy for them.
“Even though we might be giving away a free holiday seat, it’s a bigger mitzvah for someone to come and attend and celebrate the holidays.”