Temple Beth-El, the Reform congregation in Jersey City, was pleased to see the recognition given to free-will donations programs as an alternative to synagogue dues (“Time for Jews to Lose the Dues,” January 18). In July, our congregation enthusiastically instituted a pilot program we call “Terumah: Annual Voluntary Financial Commitment.” We explain our financial needs to each household and believe that each member knows best his or her own capacity to give. Whatever the gift, it is honored. Our motto is: You know what our temple means to you. Give until it feels good. Be realistic. Be generous.
This change has brought in many new members – singles, couples, and families – who specifically informed us that they had not planned to join so quickly. It retained many members who were unwilling to ask for dues relief. It inspired those with greater financial resources to increase their giving. It has reduced the time that lay leaders devoted to dues collection. But the key for us was that this approach matched the philosophy of our synagogue – to be an open community that serves all Jews, affiliated or not. Temple Beth-El believes that blurring the lines between insiders and outsiders does not dilute the value of membership. Rather, it makes it easy for those who are new to move into deeper genuine involvement with the community.
If there are congregations in Northern New Jersey or Rockland County who would like more information on our Terumah program, check out www.betheljc.org/terumah/ or give us a call.