Once a year my wife and I have our entry into Transdenominationalism. For the past twenty-five years a dedicated cadre of observant Conservative Jews, still members of their USCJ congregations, depart from what can be an irritating experience, conducting something akin to what I aspire to, almost a College Hillel for the Alumni of the College Hillels at Rosh Hashana. No Rabbis. No new clothing from the fancy outlets. No reserved pew seating. Nobody checking tickets. They have an honor system to pay $18 to cover the cost of building and chair rental, along with a small kiddush. Nobody asking for pledges. No interruption of the service to honor the congregation's machers and raise money at the same time. Aliyot and petichot and gabbaim assigned that morning with no expectation of a donation for the honor. No chazzan or Symphonic Choir, though each volunteer baal t'filah has been outstanding. Sermons also superior in content and analysis from what I have come to expect of our congregational Rabbis. No kvetches about faulty air conditioning or having to park the car too far away. And we got done with the service in its entirety at least a half hour before our home congregation did. It's the shabbos experience transposed to the Holy Days when the realities of congregational experience often corrupt what the congregation should be aspiring to. If only they knew about it and did not mind either the drive or the gender equality, AKSE would not be competitive on the days the Board depends upon most for people to have a favorable experience.
Much can be said about shopping down. When I need a new cars or house or suit, I look first at the ones I cannot afford, noting their special features that are most important, some of which are preserved in the offerings more readily available to me. Synagogue membership has become a big ticket item, one rather expendable if the only thing derived is a three day, four service appearance that can be had for $18 a person per year. Unfortunately for some, that outstanding experience invites other outstanding experience, which means ponying up for the membership which at its best includes some means of molding the congregation. People can observe the Holy Days for free at any Chabad but they cannot influence what Chabad has become. Congregational members can impact on who the Rabbi is, what the Rabbi does, the social activities that go on through the year, the educational offerings, maybe even the finances. Inability to do that, particularly in those Beth Sodom's that have kingmakers or macher swoops greatly devalues the cost of membership, as many a congregational leader now grapples with membership retention as the ultimate goal with membership participation as the element that cements retention.
So as RH transitions to YK, I return to AKSE as a Torah reading participant, a curious listener to hear what the Rabbi has to say about the Pew Research Report, his announced pre-Yizkor topic and perhaps even a minor league schmoozer at the buffet that follows shofar blowing.