BRATTLEBORO >> Brattleboro Area Jewish Community is starting the Jewish New Year with a change in its approach to membership. In previous years, BAJC invited people to become members, presenting them with a membership form that requested a specific financial commitment (AKA, "dues").
Although the form said "We do not turn anyone away who wishes to be a member" and "Special arrangements are kept in complete confidence," the BAJC Board of Trustees felt that people might be reluctant to ask for "special arrangements" (aka "dues abatement"), an uncomfortable situation even when it was made as easy as possible.
Risky as it may be, BAJC decided to no longer ask for membership dues.
"We're not a gym," said Faith Schuster, chairwoman of the BAJC membership committee. "We don't want to charge a fee for use of our services and facilities."
Referring to a portion of Exodus in which God asks Moses to create a mishkan — a portable sanctuary in which God's presence would dwell among the people — faith reminded the committee that the people were asked to contribute what was needed to build a home for God ("The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved." Exodus 25:1-3) and Schuster noted that the Israelites brought even more gifts than were needed to complete the sanctuary.
"We ought to ask for 'gifts from the heart' to support the mission of the congregation, not dues."
The committee agreed, feeling that if they were open and transparent about the congregation's expenses, current members and potential members would understand what is needed, see how their donations are being used, and appreciate how easily they can be a part of the Jewish family of southern Vermont.
The audacious new approach to membership was developed by the BAJC membership committee after researching systems in use at synagogues and Jewish communities throughout the country. The "no set dues, give from the heart" method proposed by the committee was unanimously approved y the Board of Trustees early this summer.
"Unanimity can be quite difficult to achieve, but in this situation the Board was completely in agreement," said BAJC Board President Daniel Kasnitz. "It is an audacious approach, quite bold and daring because we know that we have budgetary issues to satisfy, but we are confident that what we offer the community will engage and inspire current and future membership."
"We recognize that these are challenging economic times and we want to break down financial barriers that may be keeping people from joining our congregation," said Cantor Kate Judd, the congregation's spiritual leader. "We don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable having to ask for special financial consideration, whether current members or potential new members."
BAJC looks forward to retaining its membership and to welcoming new members. The congregation has a lot to offer to the community in terms of programming and being a welcoming place of worship. More information about BAJC membership, programs, along with scheduling for High Holiday services, can be found at their website www.bajcvermont.org.