As attendance declines, synagogues find new ways to grow congregations

JUPITER, Fla. -- As people across Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast prepare for the Jewish holidays, a local rabbi said he has found a way to grow his congregation.

"Our main goal is to break down the boundaries -- this wall -- between Jews and synagogues," Alon Levkovitz, a rabbi at Temple Beth Am said.

Earlier this year, Levkovitz began to transition his congregation away from annual membership fees to donations.

Some annual memberships, he said, averaged $1,800.

"Dues has a negative connotation. But, what they give is a donation. So, you give it on a weekly basis. Some people give tithe -- different ways -- but, it comes from the heart," Levkovitz said.

The move comes as synagogues and churches across the United States see declines in memberships.

In Palm Beach Gardens, Bruce Benson, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Living, said a move away from traditional synagogues didn't just make business sense for him, it would grow his congregation.

Benson, who leases space at the Borland Center, said the money he saves on salaries and the expenses of a traditional synagogue, is spent to create a better experience for the congregation.

He said a 13- or 14-piece string orchestra would perform during High Holy day services -- something other synagogues can't always afford.

"We are not constrained by brick and mortar -- and, the expenses that go with it. So, the majority of our donation money, really, goes into programming," Benson said.

 

Benson said people who can't afford steep membership fees or had lost their connection to their faith would fit in in non-traditional spaces such as the Borland Center Theater.

 

"It is catching on. I mean, more and more people are stepping away from the brick-and-mortar synagogues," Benson said. "There has got to be a different way. There has got to be a whole different way to envision bringing faith communities and spirituality to the people who are stepping away."

 

Benson said tickets were still available for the upcoming services.

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