Religion & Beliefs

All About The Benjamins

This story about the high cost of Jewish religious life makes me angry, but maybe not in quite the way you think.  Certainly not because it's incorrect, or because American Jewish Life didn't do their research (it's a great magazine).  … Read More

By / November 2, 2006
Jewcy loves trees! Please don't print!

This story about the high cost of Jewish religious life makes me angry, but maybe not in quite the way you think.  Certainly not because it's incorrect, or because American Jewish Life didn't do their research (it's a great magazine).  And yes, JCC (Jewish Community Center) dues are getting ridiculous. And yes, religious school costs a pretty penny. But that's not really why I'm mad.

 I'm angry because of this assumption that we all have to do things a certain way.  This article (and the community it refects) assumes that a Jewish wedding looks like a "Jewish wedding" and that everyone who "participates in The Community" (with capital letters) belongs to the JCC, donates to Federation, etc.

I find this difficult to swallow, as someone who got hitched in Vegas, and then threw a party for 100 people, which I catered myself.  As someone who still hasn't formally joined a synagogue, but always (okay, not always) finds someplace to be for services.

Now, I'm not saying you can't have the traditional Jewish life if that's what you want. I'm just suggesting it may not be quite what you want.  Your idea of what "Jewish life" is may be the reason you avoid it.

Nothing stops us from a DIY approach to Jewish life. Nothing stops us from building co-op Jewish pre-schools, or setting up our own Jewish book clubs.  And while you won't often find a rabbi on Craigslist, I bet you that if you form your own little congregation (say, in a basement somewhere, like my dad did) with a group of your 10 most interesting friends, you'll get something out of it. Why not have a hiking service?  Or a Friday night cooking club, with a little prayer thrown in?

Or I suggest you try visiting a bunch of different synagogues, sampling places you might not consider joining, for the experience.  Have you ever been to a Spanish-Jewish service?  Have you ever dropped in on some college kids on a Friday night?  Have you ever been to an orthodox service (no, really, they don't bite!)?  You'd be surprised how welcoming these "foreign" places are.  And they might help you break out of the mold of what you think you're "supposed to do." They might help you remember that there isn't a "right" way to be Jewish. With an automatic pricetag.

Judaism is a religion of intention, of careful living. We're supposed to consider our choices, what we eat, how we live in the world. If that's the case, why is our religious practice itself on autopilot?  Especially when it costs an arm and a leg.

I've got no problem with paying synagogue dues, but I'll be damned if I want my money going to re-upholster the ugly purple brocade pews in the sanctuary.

And I wonder if the JCC takes barter? I make pretty good fudge.