Ducats to Davnen
Smack in the middle of the Jewish High Holidays, my thoughts run to the concept of
buying tickets to attend Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. These are the two most important holidays in the Jewish calendar signifying the New Year, and, in effect a new start, as we seek forgiveness for sins we committed the previous year and a shot at making it into the Book of Life, which is like being friended by Him, so we can live to do it all over again next year.
In general, one cannot sashay up to the synagogue, pop on a yarmulke and take a seat in the sanctuary without coughing up some serious shekels. I should mention, however, many congregations offer free tickets to newcomers to the area or those who just afford them.
Unlike Christian houses of worship, Jewish law forbids handling money on the Sabbath or on High Holidays, so there’s no plate passing to help fund the place.
So we charge admission. As a kid in Hebrew school, we paid 50 cents to score a seat in the small children’s services, which were held in a basement lined with unsold cases of soda and styrofoam stuff. But that escalated to 3 bucks as we hit our teens and then, oy, it could get as high as about $200 for the privilege of schtupping yourself in a seat in the main sanctuary where the actual rabbi and cantor ran the show. In today’s world, one might find the coveted “main sanctuary tickets” available on Schlub Hub at a premium, of course, including fees, or on Chaim’s List. But some of those schmucks can be sketchy mama’s boys.
If you didn’t mind a rent-a-rabbi, you could pay about 50 bucks and pray in the ballroom, where the Sh’ma might be interrupted by the sound of crashing dishes in the kitchen or wafts of smoke from the janitor’s Cigarillos sneaking out from the spot where he slept instead of mopping the floor where the old men dropped their after-service balls of gefilte fish because they drank too much of the free Canadian Club or J&B scotch available on the Kiddush table. Note. No Kiddush on Yom Kippur when we’re all supposed to be fasting, before retreating to Don’s Chinese Restaurant across Union Turnpike from our synagogue, the Bellerose Jewish Center in Queens. So, the old men would get drunk before fasting, which only served to make them more unstable and utterly unable to pronounce any of the Hebrew prayers. But they meant well and always enjoyed the nap during the rabbi’s sermon.
When I tell my Christian friends you have to buy tickets to pray during the High Holidays they invariably express their dismay and secret admiration for our very efficient fund-raising method since everyone pays the same price and no one can just slap the plate and stiff the congregation.
Really, one of my Hebrew School teachers put it quite succinctly when he described why we sell tickets. Mr. Rosenberg, a stout man with slicked back grey hair, a jowly red face and a blunt attitude explained there are those Members of the Tribe who only showed up to synagogue once a year on the High Holidays, taking their prayer shawls out of storage and never paying membership dues. “You can smell them,” he barked and smiled at the same time. “Those camphor-ball Jews.” Yup….seen carrying their talithim...and tickets.