York is confident of the congregation’s overwhelming support for the change. Nor does he expect it will hurt financially to abandon the dues system, which goes back more than a century for American Jews.
“We’ve talked to 20 congregations,” York said. “... It’s worked in every single situation where it’s happened.”
On the other hand, he conceded, “Is there concern? Yes.” He said he’s anxious to see how the first pledges come in.
“Someone needs to pay for the heat. It doesn’t just happen,” Meyer said. “ ... The people will respond to that need.”
“I’ve heard plenty of skepticism, but more optimism,” he said. Fortunately, the temple has the means to withstand some tough times if necessary, he said.
The decision to change was driven by the lay leadership, York said. Although Temple Emanu-El practices Reform Judaism, a more liberal faith, a lot of the inspiration for this move came from watching the success of the Orthodox (and very observant) Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore, a Hasidic movement that meets in Swampscott and is supported by voluntary contributions.
Additionally, the trustees heard from Rabbi Dan Judson, a national advocate for a voluntary system. In a recent online article in Reform Judaism Magazine he wrote of the system of mandatory dues: “It is now out of step with contemporary Jewish culture and values. ... Writing a check to a synagogue for dues can feel like paying the price of belonging to an exclusive country club, rather than to a sacred community.”
It’s not the purpose, but the change to voluntary dues could give a slight boost in the number of people who attend Temple Emanu-El, an important factor in a world where so many are seen as adrift in a less religious culture.
“The offerings of a secular society don’t fill the basic human need for meaning in life,” Meyer said.
Pledge cards will go out in late spring or early summer.