Hollywood Temple Beth El is adopting an open seating, no-charge policy for High Holy Days in an effort to reach beyond its core members and attract more young people to its services.
The policy, announced by Rabbi Norbert Weinberg, the senior rabbi at the synagogue, is “a gamble, based on the quote ‘If you build it they will come’,” Weinberg said. “It is our hope that a significant critical mass of younger Jews will meet, find common interest and become interested in creating a community of common interest and friendship at historic Hollywood Temple Beth El.”
Synagogues traditionally have charged annual dues to their members. But that practice is changing according to a report in Jewish Telegraphic Agency. It notes that nearly 60 Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues have dropped mandatory fees. And while that number is a small percent of the roughly 1,500 such synagogues, it is double the number in 2015. Many of those synagogues do have a suggested voluntary donation.
The JTA story cites a survey by the Pew Research Group that notes “millennials are less inclined to become members of old institutions.” And it quotes Jack Wertheimer, a history professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who says “We’re living in a time today when institutions are held suspect and also seen as rather cold and distant. This whole idea of membership dues reinforces that point.”
In his congregation newsletter, Weinberg notes that Hollywood Temple Beth El has “had a glorious past, starting with its founding by some of Hollywood’s film industry pioneers. We also know that this congregation, like any person, has gone through its own storms, and from time to time, needs a taking of stock. We owe it to those who came before us and whose passion helped build this sacred place to do so.
“We are at such a point now.
“We have been operating, since antiquity, as a conventional synagogue, supported by a membership base and High Holy Days tickets, whose focus is on that core membership. However, reality has bypassed that model; this is true for many other synagogues as well.
“We must now position ourselves to become the locus of Jewish life in this side of Los Angeles. That means that we are opening our doors to the entire community. Our services are open, our activities are open.”
In its effort to make the High Holy Days service more open, Temple Beth El is creating a new prayer book text, Weinberg said. It “will be inviting and accessible, with new explanations, readings, and transliteration. We are making sure that the music will move the heart and body, while the teachings will move the heart and mind.”
Weinberg said a system to register for tickets to attend High Holy Days services is in the works. Meanwhile, those interested in attending can obtain free, open-seating tickets (or reserved seating for a small donation), by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling the synagogue at (323) 656-3150 and leaving the names, email address and phone numbers of attendees and the number of tickets desired.
The free, open-seating policy will be in place for the service at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 25, which will feature a musical performance by Bryce Emily Megdal and fellow musicians. Also present will be Cantorial soloist Bryce Megdal, a rising singer and songwriter in the L.A. Jewish music scene. Megdal is a cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion and will be High Holy Days Cantor this year for Temple Beth El. Rabbi Weinberg, senior rabbi at Temple Beth El, will be joined on the pulpit by Rabbi Steven Rosenberg, who is providing his services to act as director of engagement and outreach.
For that service, reservations must be made online https://www.eventbrite.com/e/a-shabbat-of-music-singing-and-spirit-at-hollywood-temple-beth-el-tickets-36213075283 through Eventbrite.
Hollywood Temple Beth El is located at 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., at the northwest corner of Fountain.