Explaining religious costs
Re “It’s too expensive to be Jewish,” Opinion, July 30
Kudos to Leslee Komaiko for sharing her personal family experience and shining light on the financial barriers some Jewish families face in accessing their religion.
Attracting and retaining younger families, couples and singles is, indeed, a top issue facing many institutions in the Jewish community. At University Synagogue Irvine, our “40 and Under” program offers free membership. We want everyone to experience our humanistic, creative and joyous approach to celebrating Judaism — without having financial pressure become a barrier. We hope the Komaiko family finds a path that works for them.
I can’t decide if this op-ed, replete with a giant headline, was written tongue-in-cheek or just as a broad-stroke put-down of what the author considers a “typical Jewish situation.”
I am a Jewish person whose two daughters had bat mitzvah ceremonies, albeit not extremely recently. However, we did not feel pressure to pay prohibitive sums for Hebrew school training or the services. My family does not have a synagogue membership. I’m sure we’re not alone in celebrating Shabbat (the Sabbath) and Jewish holidays without benefit of rabbi or cantor.
Linda D. Finn
Marina del Rey
The author has struck upon a dilemma that all of us who are concerned for the continuity of Judaism must face. In a nutshell, because of high expectations, Jewish leaders and educators of necessity are highly trained, both in Judaism and in their field of specialty — often, in terms of years, comparable to attorneys and physicians. Of necessity, then, Jewish involvement is an expensive proposition.
Hollywood Temple Beth El in West Hollywood has adopted an open seating no-charge approach for the High Holy Days. All we require is advance registration for security purposes and, if you want reserved seating, a nominal charge for that. (Yes, security is a problem that all synagogues must face today.) We are redesigning our service and format as well to be accessible, emotionally, to a broad swath of the community.
West Hollywood The writer is rabbi of Hollywood Temple Beth El
It is easy to empathize; it can, indeed, be a financial burden to be a practicing Jew, especially in L.A.
However, if the author had used more initiative, I am certain she could have found Jewish high school students who would have been qualified and willing to tutor her son for his bar mitzvah, and at a cost considerably less than $80 per session.
It's too bad that the writer sees being Jewish as a fee-for-service transaction. Yes, if you look at it as a way of purchasing a bar mitzvah, it's pricey. But being part of a faith tradition is being part of something bigger than yourself, something deeper and much richer than one event. It is a tradition that teaches values to live by, the importance of family, and provides structure, comfort and a caring community to help us deal with life's challenges.
Komaiko undercuts her entire article in the last paragraph, where her priorities become clear: “Baseball and sleep-away camp and a million other not-so-good excuses have prevented me from setting up his first tutoring session. But it’s on my to-do list.” Clearly, Nathaniel’s bar mitzvah is at the bottom of that list. And she may never get there!
The problem is actually with the author, not with the price tag of being Jewish. Yes, synagogue membership and religious school are expensive. But why is she waiting until the year before her son’s bar mitzvah to get him Hebrew lessons? Many Jewish families have their children learning Hebrew — even basic reading skills — from third or fourth grade. It doesn’t matter to me if Komaiko decides to be a devout Jew, a cultural Jew, or not Jewish at all. But she should blame her family’s lack of connection to Judaism on her own lack of commitment.