Ocean Township – Congregation Torat El, a Conservative Jewish congregation located in Oakhurst, is paving an innovative path to the future – one free of membership dues.
At its April meeting, the Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly to move away from its current dues structure and move forward with a Sustaining Commitment Model, allowing congregants to contribute what fits them best in support of the synagogue’s operations.
Synagogues typically finance their operations through a membership model where everyone is expected to contribute a “one-size fits all” approach. With this traditional model, a synagogue first determines the cost of its operations, and then fixes membership dues based on needed income to keep the congregation’s doors open.
About two years ago, Congregation Torat El began to look seriously at other ways of funding its programs.
“A combination of factors – a need to refocus on engagement, changing demographics in Eastern Monmouth County, the economic downturn – challenged our leadership to find a way to make our synagogue more inviting and more financially sustainable,” says Congregation Torat El President Andrew Robins. “Our committees and lay leadership worked hand-in-hand with our professionals to explore new approaches consistent with our mission of a ‘Congregation Building Relationships.’”
In making the system voluntary, the focus is to inspire feelings of connection with the synagogue. Donations from members will sustain programs that were once funded by mandatory dues.
Before adopting this new change, several discussions and presentations were made to Congregation Torat El’s membership explaining the sustaining commitment model. The response was an overwhelming endorsement of the proposal, demonstrating a unified commitment to eliminating the barriers of membership and welcoming all those who want to join.
“Our tradition has always placed an important value on the contributions of the individual to the larger community. The Torah teaches that as the Israelites approached the Temple during the Pilgrimage Festival they were to appear ‘with their own gift, according to the blessings which God had given to them (Deut. 16:17),’” says Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun.
“This innovative model invites individuals to participate in the sacred work of creating and sustaining a sacred community that is focused on building relationships. I am so incredibly proud to be in such a forward-thinking community.”
Congregation Torat El Executive Director Pam Cardullo has strong faith that this new system will “bring out the best in our congregants rather than the worst,” noting that many members have already committed to giving more than they gave last year.
For young families who are just starting out, seniors on a limited income, or others who would like to join but can’t afford the dues, now there is a way to be part of the Congregation Torat El community in a welcoming and comfortable way.
“We are empowering our members to decide their own connection when they select their financial contribution to sustain Congregation Torat El to keep its doors open and be there to serve them,” Robins says.
“We hope to nurture an environment where those who can pledge the sustaining amount, or more, will be inspired and moved to do so,” Robins continues.” Those that cannot will pledge to their ability, with the knowledge and expectation that they are full and essential members of our community with a true stake in what we do here.”
For more information about the synagogue and to find out more about the Sustaining Commitment model, call 732-531-4410 or visit www.torat-el.org.