A different High Holiday appeal
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High HolidaysSynagogues adapt fundraising methods

A different High Holiday appeal

For congregations around the world, the biggest fundraising time of the year poses new challenges due to COVID-19.

Temple David's simcha tree. Photo by Harvey Wolfe.
Temple David's simcha tree. Photo by Harvey Wolfe.

It’s the morning of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and around 100 congregants arrive at Temple David. As they enter, they’re handed envelopes containing the “blue card.” They fold down tabs indicating the amounts of money they can contribute, and ushers collect the cards. Afterward, Temple David mails the remaining envelopes to those congregants not present for services.

The annual High Holiday appeal is huge for Temple David: It accounts for about 10% of its annual income. And it’s no wonder why — the High Holidays draw regular minyan-goers and twice-a-year Jews alike.

But for congregations around the world, the biggest fundraising time of the year poses new challenges due to COVID-19, prompting adaptations.

This year, Temple David mailed congregants an extensive letter with a pledge card and return envelope, and Harvey Wolfe, the financial vice president, was scheduled to give a short talk at the morning Zoom service on the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“Most of our High Holiday appeal is a ‘thank you’ for the response of the congregation,” he said, previewing his speech.

There’s an upside to the new structure. Since congregants don’t need to turn in the appeals on Rosh Hashanah itself, this year’s cards involve writing in place of tabs, which were a limiting factor. So, Temple David could put more items on the card, adding to the list of items people can dedicate, which includes a classroom and a leaf on the simcha tree.

But this year also brings uncertainty. “I don’t have an anticipation,” said Adat Shalom Synagogue’s Rabbi Yaier Lehrer. “I have a hope that we will be successful. And that’s all I can do.”

Adat Shalom’s usual pre-Yizkor request to donate after Yom Kippur will happen this year over Zoom. The Adat Shalom team is working to create an engaging service that fends off Zoom fatigue — otherwise, it fears it will pay a price.

“Our future is not just about the money; it’s also about connection,” said Lehrer. “You don’t regain the connections you lose. Every step along the way in a Zoom transmission is one you have to be concerned about. For every hour we will be transmitting on Zoom, there have been at least 10 to 15 hours of preparation.”

While Adat Shalom will still have an appeal during its Yom Kippur service, Congregation Rodef Shalom decided to delay it, afraid that congregants might see donating as a prerequisite to attending services.

“We don’t want that to get in the way of simply trying to be part of a community at a time like this when community is so important,” said Karen Brean, president of Rodef Shalom’s board of trustees.

The congregation plans to mail the appeal after the High Holidays. Centered around philanthropy, the congregation’s appeal has four key areas: sustaining Rodef Shalom, feeding the hungry, social action/justice and critical community needs.

“Yes, we are interested in the sustainability of Rodef, but in these times, we’re really looking to the greater community,” said Brean.

Rodef Shalom also usually runs a food drive and a “blue jar” initiative — people take home blue mason jars and fill them with coins. In their place, Rodef Shalom is encouraging congregants to donate to food pantries.

Like Rodef Shalom and Temple David, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills will mail congregants a card, and it will list opportunities for donating money and volunteering time.

Beth El’s appeals are threefold. The High Holiday appeal and the Yizkor appeal go toward synagogue operations, while the Israel bonds appeal marks an investment in Israel.

Beth El’s president, Susie Seletz, hopes the pandemic-prompted changes won’t lessen the appeals’ impacts.

“We’re hoping that people do appreciate everything that the synagogue and leadership has been doing to try to stay connected and to offer them a real source of support and stimulation through COVID, and will show that in their gift,” she said. PJC

Kayla Steinberg can be reached at ksteinberg@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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