Temple Beth Abraham (“TBA”) will become the first synagogue in Westchester County and the Hudson Valley, they claim, to rely on voluntary contributions from members to fund its operations rather than relying on a more formal dues structure.
TBA, which is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism, has more than 400 families and conducts services in both the Reform and Conservative tradition, formally approved this shift at a membership meeting in early January.
The change is one part of a larger effort by TBA to strengthen its connection to existing members and remove barriers in attracting new members. By removing fixed dues pricing from the relationship, the Temple and its members will be bound by a spirit of generosity and good will.
“We’ve long prided ourselves on being an egalitarian synagogue which has never turned anyone away for financial reasons,” said Rabbi David Holtz, who has led Tarrytown-based TBA since 1993. “This is the next logical step. No matter how you spin it, ‘dues’ feel more like something you pay to a country club, not a sacred contribution in support of a house of worship.”
Under the new model, congregants will now determine the amount of annual support they will provide TBA, rather than paying the amount assessed on each membership category, which included different dues amounts for families, singles, seniors and long-term members. At the outset, the goal is to have current members contribute at least what they previously paid for membership, though they are under no obligation to do so.
The shift by TBA to a sustainable voluntary contribution model mirrors a gradual but growing trend among synagogues nationwide, which have experienced drops in memberships as more Jews seek out Jewish experiences away from a synagogue. Synagogues were also hurt by the recession as congregants and potential members saw their discretionary income erode.
While a number of synagogues nationwide have successfully switched to a voluntary donations system, TBA is believed to be the first to make this shift in Westchester and the Hudson Valley.
“We are now Jews without dues, but as an institution we are not Jews without financial needs,” said Herb Baer, TBA president. “The success of this model will rely upon fostering a culture of deep connections and generosity, and not a series of transactions where individuals see their financial commitment as a fee for service.”
TBA has been in the Tarrytown area since 1899 and Rabbi Holtz said the flexible voluntary contributions model is likely the best way to ensure the synagogue remains a vibrant part of the Rivertowns community and beyond for decades to come.
“What our synagogue does, both for our members and in the larger community, is more important today than it has ever been,” Rabbi Holtz said. “We need to do a better job in making that clear, in creating strong personal connections, and in removing any barriers to a sense of inclusivity. One way to begin is to make sure everyone knows that belonging to our community is not about finances.”
For more information about Temple Beth Abraham, go to www.tba-ny.org.