High Holiday Poll: Nearly 80% of Affiliated Jews Question the Need to 'Pay To Pray'; But the Majority Find Services Spiritually Uplifting

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National Jewish Outreach Program offers Nationwide Free or Low-Cost Explanatory Beginners Services

In its second such survey since 2004, the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) reveals a growing dissatisfaction among affiliated Jews with the cost of High Holiday services. More encouraging however, is the indication that services are striking a more spiritual cord with worshipers across the country.

The 2006 High Holiday Survey was conducted between Aug. 30 and September 18, 2006 by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP), one of the world's largest and most successful Jewish outreach organizations. More than 280 people participated in the online survey.

Pay to Pray

According to the survey, nearly 80% of American Jews feel the cost of High Holiday services is either too high, unwarranted, a turnoff, or should be reconsidered. This is compared with nearly 70% who responded similarly in the 2004 survey.

“Many of survey respondents expressed concern with the cost of High Holiday services,” said Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of the NJOP. “We encourage worshipers to search for services that meet their spiritual needs but don’t break the bank. There are low cost or no cost services offered by synagogues nationwide and many cater to specific spiritual interests as well. We are proud that NJOP’s Beginners Services have offered tens of thousands of Jews an opportunity to worship and connect to G-d in a meaningful way.”

Expensive but Uplifting

The good news? For the majority of worshipers who do attend High Holiday services, the experience is positive, with more than 60% indicating they find services “spiritually uplifting.” Similarly, just over 55% responded that services are more spiritual than boring. In 2004, only 50% found services spiritually uplifting.

The Sermon

Rabbis across the country may be pleased to know that while more than 60% claim to not understand what is read or said during services, approximately the same number indicate that they look forward to the Rabbi’s sermon. Only 3.2% admit to napping during the traditional Rabbi’s address but almost 23% offered suggestions for how Rabbis can improve their sermons. (Sample suggestions are available upon request.)

For survey respondents and thousands of other people seeking greater spiritual fulfillment during the High Holidays - without the high price tags many synagogues charge - NJOP's Beginners Services offer a refreshing alternative. Since 1989, NJOP has been offering free or low-cost High Holiday Beginners Services that are open to Jews of all backgrounds and levels of observance. Billed as the "High Holiday service for those who aren't so high on the holidays," these services vary in length from full-length to an hour-and-a-half abridged program. Services vary in format as well; many utilize a traditional prayer book, and offer abundant explanations, ample opportunities to ask questions, inspiring and easy-to-learn melodies, and numerous English readings.

In addition, as a means of helping rabbis identify the needs and interests of their congregants so that they can better serve them, NJOP has created "The Priceless Appeal" pledge card that synagogues can distribute. Rather than asking congregants to pledge money, this unique appeal -a welcome change from standard High Holiday fundraising campaigns- encourages worshipers to identify areas of interest in Jewish education and community service. Synagogue leadership can then evaluate participant interests and offer courses and programs accordingly.

For a list of synagogues offering High Holiday Beginners Services, visit http://www.njop.org.

About the National Jewish Outreach Program

Founded in 1987 by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald to address the critical issues of assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge, NJOP is now one of the largest and most successful Jewish outreach organizations in the world. To date, more than 920,000 people have benefited from NJOP’s innovative, free programs which have been held in 3,645 locations—including synagogues, community centers, military bases and college campuses—in all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces and 32 countries around the world. (http://www.njop.org).

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Ilya Welfeld
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