Free Holiday Services
Tue, 10/23/2012
E. Billi Ivry Professor of Talmud and Rabbinic Culture, Jewish Theological Seminary Manhattan

In his column, “Is ‘Free’ Judaism A Good Idea?” (Oct. 19), Gary Rosenblatt makes a persuasive case both for reducing free offers to young Jews and also for maintaining them.

As the rabbi and founder of Ohel Ayalah, an organization that runs free, walk-in High Holy Day services for Jews in their 20s and 30s, I admit that I am not bias-free, but I think there are additional points to make. The most important one is that without free offers, many of these young Jews would not show up at all on the High Holidays.

There is no denying that “free” brings them over the threshold. So the question to ask is: which is better for the Jewish community of the future — to have fewer Jews who wish to pray together, or to have many more?

The underlying agenda of Ohel Ayalah and similar organizations is to keep Jews Jewish, more specifically to get young Jews into the synagogue and show them that services can be meaningful, musical, beautiful and intelligent.

This fall, a total of 1,100 young Jews showed up at Ohel Ayalah’s three Kol Nidre venues. When asked at the end of Kol Nidre to consider making a donation to help Ohel Ayalah offer free services in the future, 115 individuals sent in a total of $7,100, which is close to 20 percent of our High Holiday budget.

I am firmly convinced that my generation should give the gift of free holiday services to the next generation. And they, someday, will learn to do the same for the generation that comes after them. I would rather rise to the challenge of teaching that lesson to young Jews than preach to an empty room.

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