Idea #2 - Pay membership fees to your community, not your shul

November 24, 2016 22:54

During the month of March, I will be publishing a daily proposal to transform the British Jewish community. Email your own idea (up to 350 words) to

Today's idea comes from Keren David: Pay membership fees to your community, not your shul

It’s expensive, being an active member of the Jewish community, especially for young families.

A typical family has to pay synagogue and burial fees. Those with more than one child at a Jewish school face voluntary contributions running into thousands of pounds. If you’re at a non-Jewish school then cheder fees are hefty too. Sending two children to summer camp costs near enough £2,000.  And then there are the numerous appeals to support charities whose services are essential to the community’s good running.

No wonder some cannot afford it. What then? Embarrassing appeals to synagogue and school administrators for reduced rates? Form-filling to try and get bursaries to send children on Israel trips? Jews are proud people. Many drift away from a community they see as designed for the well-off.

In Amsterdam, where I lived for eight years, they arrange things differently. You join a community, not an individual shul. Members are charged a proportion of their annual income to join the Jewish community – 3 per cent for the richest members, less for lower incomes. This communal income tax funds synagogues, cheders, Jewish social services, cemeteries and the rabbinate. It subsidises Jewish schools and other youth and student services. Amsterdam’s Jewish community is tiny compared to London, its numbers decimated by the Shoah.

The main orthodox community numbers only 3,000 (the Liberal and the Sephardi communities have similar funding schemes) Of course additional charitable donations and state funding are needed to build a dynamic community. But the general principle of fairness is one that could only benefit the British Jewish community, as is the feeling that every member - rich or poor - has a part to play in building the community.

We are rightly quick to condemn outsiders who reach lazily and offensively for the antisemitic trope of the wealthy Jew. Perhaps this makes us slow and unwilling to examine attitudes towards money within our own community. The assumption that most people can afford to pay, the competitive nature of simcha planning, the awkwardness around reduced fees – what does this say about us? Is it right? Is it sustainable?

Amsterdam is a city built on sand. Its founders had to find ingenious ways to lay foundations, to keep its tall houses standing. With the recession still hitting many hard, the British Jewish Community may find its financial foundations are far less secure than it had assumed. Time for a re-think.

Keren David is the author of the Young Adult novel When I Was Joe, published by Frances Lincoln

Check our our previous ideas: Make 2010/2011 the Year of Synagogue Renewal

November 24, 2016 22:54

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