Sun-Times: Synagogues in Chicago grapple with High Holiday seat prices


Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg has a piece today about the catch-22 that synagogues find themselves in annually this time of year.

The High Holidays are here and synagogues often look to cash in by selling high-priced seats for their services, as most synagogues see more than a 60 percent increase in attendance at least on Yom Kippur.

The synagogues, which face dwindling membership rates, see it as a way to pay their bills and a necessary evil. Of course even in good years it can be a tough sell, as Steinberg puts it, because you couldn’t pay most Jews to go to a synagogue normally.

This year of course is a bit different as the recession is in full swing:

On the Chicago Board of Rabbis Web site list (at, High Holidays ticket prices range as high as $500; Evanston’s Beth Emet The Free Synagogue charges $400 — ironic, given the name.
Many synagogues will waive fees for students and the indigent. With the economy still in the toilet, others are scrapping tickets altogether.

Makom Shalom, a renewal synagogue in the South Loop, doesn’t sell tickets and instead asks for donations.

"People are under tremendous economic pressure," says Chava Bahle, rabbi at Makom Shalom. "The pay-to-pray model is not appealing."

Steinberg spends the first half of the column talking about Jewish delis or lack therefore of in Chicago, but keep reading and you’ll get to the meat of the story.

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