Newsweek and the Jews

Newsweek and the Jews

Newsweek seems to have a fascination, if not an obsession, with Jews. How else to explain its annual list of influential rabbis? You’ll notice there’s no parallel list of influential priests or pastors – or imams, for that matter. Ya think it’s because we control the media?

Meanwhile, the current issue has a story by Lisa Miller called “The Cost of Being Jewish.” It’s a theme that’s familiar to our readers.

“Why does it cost so much to be Jewish,” she asks, and she says Jewish leaders are pondering, “At a time when American families are tightening household budgets, does it really make sense to continue to charge thousands of dollars to participate in Jewish life?”

She notes the high cost of synagogue membership – and that dues at the so-called Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan run “about $3,100 a year.” She’s careful to add that “virtually all rabbis [vow] never to turn someone away for an inability to pay,” but the high price, even if somewhat subsidized, is likely to be a turnoff. Young people, elderly people, young families have a hard time finding that kind of money in this economy – and may be uncomfortable about asking for a discount.

Then – as our readers know, many firsthand – there’s the cost of day school, Jewish summer camp (multiply those by the number of children in the family), and keeping kosher.

Miller quotes Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles: “We have this very bizarre pay-to-play philosophy,” whereas churches, writes Miller, “begin with an invitation to prayer; they ask for money later.”

“Chabad,” says Sanderson, which invites all Jews into its tent, “is working on the Christian model.” (I wonder what the rebbe would have said to that.)

What’s to be done? We’ve put so much of our communal funds into buildings and institutions. She quotes Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary: “People need sacred spaces, but when you’re looking at budgets, you’re looking at heat and air conditioning.”

This community has begun to research and put into practice a number of cost-sharing measures, like group purchases of supplies and even insurance. This is sure to help in the short-term – but what of the long-term? We need a master-plan.