Every year in the weeks approaching the High Holidays I spend some time researching how the Jewish community is communicating with Jewish people in their communities who might be looking for a place to attend High Holiday services but may not be affiliated with a synagogue. As we all know, the High Holiday season is one of a very few moments during the year when Jews (affiliated and unaffiliated, inter-married and lots of others) are looking for synagogues and other High Holiday service sponsoring organizations that advertise their services with messages that are friendly, inviting and welcoming.
While many synagogues continue promoting “pay-to-pray” services, the stubborn recessionary climate has led a number of synagogues and other Jewish institutions this year to offer “free” High Holiday services to give those who want to but may be unable to pay, a place to worship.
In the greater New York City metropolitan area alone, the list of advertisers – online and in print – promoting “free” holiday services is extensive. In a September 11, 2009 Jewish Week article, “Free and Clear,” Carolyn Slutsky wrote about The Flame, a nonprofit organization in the suburban New York City community of New Rochelle, which hosts a range of free services, classes and other ways to engage the unaffiliated in the area. Slutsky wrote that ticket-free High Holiday services in the New York City area are expected to draw record crowds this year due in large part to the impact of the recession.
A Google search for “free Jewish New Year services” reveals that Chabad continues to promote “free” holiday services in cities and towns across the country (and around the world) and smartly provides an easy-to-use holiday service directory on line. And for those who cannot or choose to not leave their homes, Jewish TV Network even offers live Kol Nidre services webcast. These are but a sampling of “free” and accessible holiday service options that communities across the country are offering in this very difficult year.
While some might crassly characterize the burst of activity around “free” High Holiday services as a smart marketing ploy, it is fair to say that giving people what they want and need when they want and need it, is good marketing. It is also just plain good.
This year, giving Jewish people a welcoming place to worship that eliminates a financial burden they are ill equipped to handle, is a mitzvah. It’s a mitzvah to those who need a free way to worship and it’s a mitzvah for the sponsoring organization to have among them a few more Jews who just might remember their generosity and caring at a time when it mattered.
Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional, with deep experience in both the public and private sectors. She currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.