Thursday, September 16th 2021   |

Membership Recruitment


During one of those “touchy-feely” periods – I think it was around 1982 or so – a pathologically trendy colleague of mine used to organize pre-Shabbat experiences in which one person would role-play challah dough, while others would encircle and massage, as if preparing him or her for baking.

Caught up in one of those exercises in “living Judaism,” I guess I dampened the mood just a bit when the spirit suddenly moved me to suggest we all join in singing that old favorite, “People. People who knead people…”

I couldn’t help myself.

Late summer and early autumn is the primary “people who need people” season in synagogue life. Spiritually, it feels good to share what you believe in, especially if that philosophy and community have enhanced your life. On an economic level, most synagogues operate this way: “If we only had more members, we could balance the budget.” New members join, requiring additional staff, enhanced programs, and enlarged facilities. All of which results in higher expenditures and the thought, “If we only had more members, we could balance the budget.”

In the summer of 1978, my family and I moved to a Philadelphia suburb where I became rabbi of Congregation Beth Or. (You’ll need to remember this.)

“Beth Or,” by the way, means “House of Light.”

It was a three-mile drive to Beth Or, but just down the street from our new home stood another synagogue, the beautiful, recently-constructed Temple Sinai. (Jot this down, too.)

“Sinai,” by the way, means “Sinai.”

With a brand-new building and, no doubt, a high mortgage, the folks at Temple Sinai were definitely people who needed people, not only as a way to share their blessed achievement, but also to help pay the bills. And so my guess is that some energetic and creative person on their membership committee kept a close watch over the local newspaper’s real estate transfer reports, targeting Jewish-sounding names as part of their recruitment efforts.

I drew this conclusion because shortly after we arrived, we received a lovely letter from Temple Sinai’s administrator. It was addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Robert A. Alper,” and read, in part, “As our new neighbors, we hope you’ll consider joining our fine synagogue, with its outstanding spiritual leader, excellent religious school, magnificent new building…”

I responded.

“Dear Mr. Goldenblatt:

“Thank you for your thoughtful invitation to join Temple Sinai.

“Regrettably, we cannot possibly consider affiliating. My wife has informed me that she is passionately in love with the new rabbi at Congregation Beth Or.”

(Rabbi Bob Alper is a stand-up comic and author. Visit him at




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