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Voluntary Financial Commitment

Voluntary Financial Commitment – an honest evaluation 4 years later

One of Temple Beth Am’s core missions is to tear down the boundaries between Jews and the synagogue. Our leadership and staff are committed to help and support everyone who wants to be part of a Jewish community, to be able to recognize TBA as her or his spiritual home. We realized that one of the most significant hurdles was families’ financial situations. Four years ago, our leadership took a bold move and changed our system from dues to Voluntary Financial Commitment (VFC). 

Now, 4 years since we established VFC we are in a better position to answer some questions. Was it a good idea? Was it worth the risk? Did we achieve our goals? Is there a reason to be concerned? Yes, yes, yes and unfortunately—yes. 

Before we decided to adopt VFC, I spoke with many colleagues whose synagogues had done the same and with some who chose not to go down that path. One rabbi, who acknowledged the virtue of VFC but did not think it would work for his congregation, reminded me of an old Chasidic story: 

At the end of Services, the rabbi of the shtetel told the congregation that he heard about the many problems in the Jewish community and after thinking long and hard he understood the reason for them. “When you come tomorrow to Services,” he said “I want each one of you to bring a bottle of Vodka so we can mix it in a big pot and drink, and discuss, and then everything will be clear." Moishe went home and thought to himself "If everyone else is going to bring a bottle of vodka, if I bring a bottle of water no one will notice the difference," and water was what he brought.

After Services they made a Kiddush, then the rabbi poured all the vodka together in one pot, mixed it and poured a glass for each member. The rabbi raised his glass, said l’chaim, to life, and they all drank water.

The moral of the story is simple. When people are asked to give and the amount is up to them, some will be tempted to contribute less than their fair share. We were aware of the risk, but knowing the nature of our congregation decided to go ahead with the plan.

I am happy to report that after 4 years it is clear that we have been successful. We saw a significant growth in our membership, the number of students in HaMakom, our Religious School, almost doubled (we now have 260 children) and we can still pay the bills. So why worry?

To use the metaphor of the Chasidic story, we knew that not every member is able to bring a full bottle of vodka, but we also knew that we have generous members who will bring more than one bottle—and we were right. In fact, we had members who gave even more than they had given in the past because they liked the idea behind the VFC model and wanted to support it. But here is the problem: in the first year, about 50% of our families contributed the sustaining amount or more—what we were hoping for. However, every year this percentage has been slowly declining and now it is just short of 40%. We all need to know that if this trend continues, the content of our pot will be too diluted to enable us to serve the Jewish people of our community the way we should. 

We believe that the dues system is a major barrier for many Jews who want to be part of a synagogue, and we do not want to go back to it. However, in order to keep those barriers down and provide quality services to our Jewish community, and continue to stay true to our core mission, we need more people to pay the sustaining amount of the VFC. Please keep this in mind when you receive your letters of membership renewal this month. We are building a spectacular thing together and there is much more to do. 

Thank you and have a wonderful summer, 

Rabbi Alon Levkovitz

Wed, December 2 2020 16 Kislev 5781