For the second year, synagogues in the Central community are offering newcomers and those in search of a congregation to call home free tickets to High Holy Day services.
Registration opened this week for applications for Central Pass tickets to Rosh Hashana services on Sept. 28, 29, and 30, and Yom Kippur services on Oct. 7 and 8. The registration deadline is Friday, Sept. 16.
The intention is to offer a welcome to recent arrivals in the community, or those — like newlyweds — with a new interest in becoming part of a congregation.
The program is an initiative of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, which will link anyone interested with the synagogue of their choice; the synagogue can then let the community member know if its Central Pass tickets are still available.
The list of participating houses of worship is on the federation website, www.jewishjerseycentral.org. Aside from the synagogues affiliated with the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth and Congregation B’nai Ahavath Shalom in Union, all the Central congregations are taking part.
According to Amy Cooper, the associate executive vice president of the Central federation and its director of financial resource development, 90 people took advantage of the offer last year. About 12 went on to become members of a congregation.
“It was a really wonderful collaboration between federation and the synagogues,” Cooper said.
With the High Holy Days a time of peak attendance, there are leaders who see the program as an opportunity not only to attract new members but also to bring in additional revenue. Cooper estimated that in the Central community, tickets average around $150. In some congregations, the price for newcomers is included in a discounted membership fee for the first year, and most will “make arrangements” for those with limited means. But either way, it can be a major deterrent for people who are unsure where they want to join.
Cooper said that initially some leaders were hesitant about the idea. “It does involve a cost for the congregations, and it calls for follow-up and cultivation of the new contacts,” she said. “But it really is a win-win opportunity. Everyone who took part last year wants to do it again this year.”
‘Public space Judaism’
The concept originated in 2010 with the MetroPass program of the neighboring United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ federation. According to MetroWest leadership development manager Stacey Brown, the idea came about during a brainstorming meeting “on how to get new people into synagogue doors.”
Central federation leaders were quick to see the potential. Cooper said, “Our intention is to be more open and engaging, to provide people with an opportunity to connect wherever they’re at — through the schools or the community centers or through synagogues. It’s what we call ‘public space Judaism.’”
In her state-of-the-federation address in June, president Julie Lipsett-Singer cited the Central Pass program as one of the most successful initiatives of the past year. She said it was part of an approach that has helped grow the number of Jews connecting with the community.
In Central, as in MetroWest, the federation was able to cross denominational lines, offering all participating congregations an equal opportunity to bring in new members. It also has produced marketing materials and placed advertisements in the media.
Elliot Balen, the immediate past president of Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim, the Conservative synagogue in Cranford, said, “It’s a great program and it had great results.”
Last year, the temple provided Central Pass tickets to 12 “family units,” including a retired individual, young couples, and families with children. Balen said they waited a couple of months before making follow-up contact, so as “not to behave like used-car salesmen.” Then they invited the guests to events they thought they might enjoy — like the Purim carnival or a picnic, or simply for coffee.
Two of the families joined as members, and three or four have stayed in touch. “We’re definitely doing it again,” Balen said. “We’ve already had one inquiry for this year.”