I don't like that shuls charge exorbitant amounts for "tickets" for the High Holydays. I like more Jewish people doing more Jewish things. So while I wish people attended synagogue more often, I'm glad they come any time. However, I'm not the treasurer of a shul (or any other shul position of leadership, baruch Hashem).
Here's why shuls charge $100 or more (and sometimes much more) to attend synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur:
- Limit the number of people who attend. Most shuls just cannot hold as many people as would like to come. The fire marshall puts a limit on how many people can safely be in the building, and there are only so many seats. Many shuls expand the seating for the chagim, but demand usually still exceeds supply.
- Likewise, know how many people will be attending. They have to plan, ya know?
- It's a great fundraising opportunity for the shul. Some shuls bring in more for the chagim than their normal membership funds.
- I can't guarantee anyone actually thinks this, but it sounds a bit like a sin tax: "You only come to shul twice a year? How nice, that'll be $300. That's almost the price for a full year of membership, but how would you know? Your poor grandmother is rolling over in her grave."
- Keep in mind that the reform movement only holds one day of Rosh Hashanah, so your ticket may not "go as far" in those congregations. That may matter to you.
But some shuls (mostly Chabads, but not all Chabad houses) don't charge anything. Like me, their mission is to see Jewish people doing Jewish things. It's in line with their mission statement to make if affordable to attend shul for the chagim.
What if you're already a member of the shul? Shuls differ as to whether the congregant's membership fees cover tickets. Most will still ask you to pay in addition to membership fees. (Remember: fundraising.)
How do you find a place to daven? Try these:
- High Holidays Directory
- Chabad High Holidays Services Directory
- Google "High Holidays service in *town*"
Remember to arrive early to get a machzor with English (or your preferred translation). You should be able to find siddurim in Russian, French, or Spanish at many shuls.
But here's the real question: what happens if you can't afford that exorbitant price? As I see it, you have a couple of options:
- Stay home and mope
- Stay home and daven
- Try to crash the party
- Shul shop for a place with cheaper (or free!) tickets
- Ask for a reduced-price ticket
- Ask for a free ticket
- Ask around whether a family has an "extra" ticket (usually a child away at college)
All shuls should be willing to negotiate a price, and many will allow students and other low-income people attend for free. I don't recommend crashing the party. I've tried it too many times (hello, pride and ego), and it's blown up in my face almost every time, regardless of movement. A woman working the door accused me of lying about having a free student ticket reserved because my name somehow got left off the list. People have accused me of sitting in "their" seat. Sometimes seats were assigned and I didn't realize it. Some people have asked me whether I paid full price to attend. Door people have treated me less than respectfully for having reduced or free tickets. People are almost always really cranky and rude on Yom Kippur because of fasting (irony much?), and that leads to seat fights and backbiting. I hope your luck is far better than mine. It seems that the chagim are always a time of "character building" for me, whether I seek it out or not.
All that said, don't let me discourage you from seeking a free or reduced price ticket, even if you're not halachically Jewish (yet). The shuls are almost always kind and respectful, and the ones who aren't are committing an aveirah and will get their punishment sooner or later. My experiences are usually extreme because I'm a Murphy's Law Monstrosity. But I also let myself be intimidated by the high prices, and I didn't even try to attend shul during the chagim for the first several years I was in the community. (Shuls are much better today about advertising their willingness to negotiate prices.) The experience would leave a bad taste in my mouth and affect my relationship with Judaism and with the shul for months. Don't let that happen to you. Learn from my mistakes.
It's best to daven with a congregation, but if you can't for whatever reason (injury, pride in poverty, sickness), don't let it ruin your holiday, as I have many times. Make it the best it can be with the resources you have, and make sure you spend some time celebrating with other people. There's always next year unless Moshiach comes.