Membership has its privileges. I have heard that phrase quite a few times lately, but I am not sure I agree with its implications. I remember an old American Express TV commercial that used this catch phrase to imply that by using the American Express Card there were rewards available only to those who belong to the exclusive club. Country Clubs use this phrase to make sure that only members have access to the golf course or other amenities.
Maybe they use the special benefits or rewards as an incentive to gain more members, or maybe they use them as a method to discourage general public use. Obviously, if the Country Club isn’t going to make money off you, they don’t want you to have access to its amenities, or else what would be the benefit of membership?
Is our Temple similar to a Country Club? Are our goals the same as American Express? Are we attempting to attract members for profit? If the answer is no, then what is the goal of membership at Temple Beth Shalom? What are the benefits or privileges of this membership? Life Cycle Events like weddings and funerals? Access to a Rabbi’s services for these events? Access to Prayer at High Holy Days without being asked for donation to enter? Access to Religious School in which I also need to teach or volunteer in some way? A ten-dollar discount on a Passover Seder ticket?
Maybe we need to reconsider what we consider to be privileges. Maybe the membership benefit that our Temple gives us is the ability to join with other likeminded people to serve the greater Jewish community. Maybe the phrase should be repurposed to “Membership has its responsibilities.” That is really what we are offering people with membership, a responsibility to serve in order to facilitate the transfer of Judaism to the next generation. In a large community, a Temple can function like a country club. They can charge a fee large enough to pay for clergy and administrators to do the work of the continuation of Judaism. In that sense, it would make sense to look at membership coming with benefits. Members could then pay a fee to access the programs the Temple puts together they like and come and go at their convenience. In a volunteer community, without clergy and administrators, we simply don’t have this option.
Do we, as members of Temple Beth Shalom, see our membership as an exclusive group with restricted access, separate from the public who haven’t paid their dues yet? Do we exist to simply serve members, or do we have the responsibility to serve the unaffiliated who haven’t yet even considered writing a check? Have we ever considered that if we offered non-members the opportunity to participate in a Seder without a cost increase, or send their children to Religious School on a trial basis without cost, that they might discern the value of membership on their own? Or do we suppose that most people would just take advantage of our generosity? A lot of tough questions to consider.
My membership in Temple Beth Shalom comes with responsibilities, which isn’t a negative by the way. Financial Responsibilities: yes. Time and Energy Responsibilities: yes. Having a responsibility to something or someone only proves their importance to you. Just my opinion, and I could be wrong.
I guess the point of all this, is that we should reevaluate our mission, and what membership in our Temple means. If necessary, we should then reconsider how we approach the unaffiliated in our community. Do we want them to be members as a benefit to us, or do we really believe we have something of value to offer them?
As we finish our Passover week, we must remember that while we celebrate our people’s deliverance from slavery so many years ago, total freedom wasn’t on the table for our ancestors or for us. We were made free from Egypt and Pharaoh, only to become servants of God. Our service is still required, only due to another master. In this service of God that we call Judaism, we are obligated to teach our children, and our people’s children. Obligated to love our neighbors as ourselves. Your membership in the people of Israel carries certain responsibilities, and your membership in Temple Beth Shalom does as well. These responsibilities can be privileges if we look at things with a new perspective. I am honored by the privilege I have in serving our community with you. Membership may indeed have its privileges after all.
Shalom & Blessings,