As the High Holy Days approach, synagogues are feeling the lash of a lousy economy like never before. Rabbi Charles Klein, of the Merrick Jewish Centre on Long Island, told the Associated Press that he’s had more economic hard-luck conversations in the last year than he’s had in 31 years at his congregation. “I’m calling up universities and talking with admissions officers, trying to advocate for scholarships for kids because the parents can’t pay the tuition,” Klein said. Shuls in areas of the country especially devastated by the downturn—such as Detroit and its outlying suburbs—are offering job networks and support groups. Still, as Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg recently noted, the Chicago Board of Rabbis’ website lists expensive tickets for non-members to attend services in the Windy City this year. “High Holidays ticket prices range as high as $500,” Steinberg wrote. “Evanston’s Beth Emet The Free Synagogue charges $400—ironic, given the name.”

According to Steven Bayme at the American Jewish Committee, U.S. Jewish organizations have lost 25 percent of their wealth since the market went south (though Bernie Madoff’s graft surely helped fritter away institutional funds and private wealth that would have gone toward donations, too). As a result, writes Rachel Zoll at the AP, many synagogues are doing what they can to offer free admission to Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana services, including putting off repairs, cutting jobs, and canceling programs.

Dilemma for High Holidays [Chicago Sun-Times]
Synagogues Under Stress as High Holy Days Approach [AP]