Photo Credit: Josh Weinberg

Summer is coming to a close, which means the High Holidays are right around the corner. As Jewish families coordinate Yom Tov plans, one important item on every “to-do list” is purchasing High Holiday seats in shul. It is usually around this time that the grumbling starts. “Why have prices increased?” “I already pay membership dues and gave generously to the building fund.” This kvetching has become part of the Yom Tov ritual as much as dipping an apple in honey. In fact, in the aftermath of the covid pandemic, this complaining has turned into action with some people deciding to continue davening in backyards for free or at a modest cost, sidestepping the seating fees altogether.

Many congregants feel the costs to daven in shul are unwelcome or unnecessary. Their frustrations are valid. A frum lifestyle is expensive, and shelling out more money is a challenge for many. However, we may be losing sight of the bigger picture when it comes to opening our wallets to local Jewish institutions. Here are some considerations when you are asked for donations this Yom Tov season:

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Your membership dues are not sufficient: As someone who has had an inside look at the financials of many shuls, as a congregant, board member, and outside advisor to synagogue endowments around the country, membership dues alone are typically not sufficient to cover most shuls’ operating budgets. Keeping the shul clean, well lit, organized, and functional creates a lot of expenses. Holiday seating is a major fundraiser that goes directly to pay for these operational costs of running a synagogue.

Be mindful that this is not a time to pinch pennies. The philosophy of davening in someone’s house or backyard to save some money is the wrong approach. If you must daven there, then you should also make a donation to your synagogue that, at minimum, matches the same dollar amount as reserving high holiday seats. Your community will survive without backyard minyanim. It will not survive without a real shul.

It’s your responsibility to give: One must not lose sight of this fundamental point. You undoubtedly benefit from living in a community with Jewish infrastructure, such as shuls, yeshivas, and mikvehs. These institutions serve as the cornerstone of Jewish life, and their viability sustains the overall Jewish community. Establishing and operating those Jewish institutions costs a lot of money. If you want your way of life to continue, it’s imperative that you support local religious institutions. This includes paying membership dues, participating in building campaigns, and other fundraisers.

Some people can’t give: There are families in every community who need financial assistance just to put food on the table. These folks obviously can’t buy seats. They should in no way be made to feel uncomfortable or excluded from the community. If you have the financial ability to contribute, but always find it annoying to be hit up for money, it may help if you reframe your perspective. By contributing in a timely manner, you will benefit your shul and you will also be directly helping others in the community who are less financially fortunate. This should make opening your wallet more manageable.

Establish a framework for giving: I always advise my clients that it is important to have a framework for giving. While it’s common to discuss strategies for the accumulation of wealth, it is not as common to discuss a system for the distribution of one’s money.

For many investors, philanthropic giving discussions tend to focus purely on tax, financial, or estate planning. This may include discussing strategies like utilizing Donor Advised Funds, Private Foundations, charitable annuities, or creative trust planning. Those conversations are important to ensure your hard-earned money is distributed effectively and your legacy lives on. However, it is only the first part of your philanthropic discussion.

The second, and equally important, part should focus on laying out a hierarchy of where to allocate your charitable funds. For example, you may choose to first support family members who may be struggling, followed by your local Jewish community, then any specific causes that your family feels passionate about, and finally any other solicitations that pique your interest. Having a system helps segment your charitable funds from your non-charitable dollars. It also helps make your dollars more meaningful.

While there is no shortage of good causes to support, it’s imperative that your local community be near the top of your charitable giving list. Local charities have a smaller pool of donors than large national ones. Additionally, they likely more directly impact your day-to-day life. This means that giving tzedakah to your local Jewish institutions, including through the purchase of High Holiday seats, is a way for you, your family, and local community to directly benefit from your generosity.

Securities offered through Kestra Investment Services, LLC (Kestra IS), member FINRA/SIPC. Investment Advisory Services offered through Kestra Advisory Services, LLC (Kestra AS), an affiliate of Kestra IS. Shenkman Wealth Management is not affiliated with Kestra IS or Kestra AS. Investor Disclosures: https://www.kestrafinancial.com/disclosures.

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Jonathan I. Shenkman, AIF® is the President of Shenkman Wealth Management and serves as a financial advisor and portfolio manager for his clients. In this role he acts in a fiduciary capacity to help his clients achieve their financial goals. He publishes regularly in financial periodicals such as Barron’s, CNBC, Forbes, Kiplinger, and The Wall Street Journal. He also hosts numerous webinars on various wealth management topics. Jonathan lives in West Hempstead with his family. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter/YouTube @ShenkmanOnMoney.