The Whole “Tickets” Thing
Because most synagogues expect a lot of people who aren’t members to come to services for these holidays, and because many synagogues have space and seating limitations, what they often do is require non-members to buy reserved tickets in advance in order to attend some or all of the services. Sometimes congregations sell out all their tickets days or weeks before the holidays begin, so it’s a good idea to check with congregations to ask if this is an issue. Some synagogues may not have a ticketing system, in which case there will be plenty of space and you can skip this section.
For some in the Jewish community, the tickets system feels disappointing and off-putting. A common complaint is that selling tickets for High Holy Days services seems to conflict with some of the core values of Judaism. And even though almost all synagogues have a policy that no one will be denied tickets due to lack of ability to pay, for many people the prospect of asking a stranger for a reduced ticket fee because of inability to pay is deeply uncomfortable.
Many rabbis and synagogue staffers will tell you that they don’t like implementing the tickets system, but that they feel it’s necessary because most synagogues depend on High Holy Days tickets for a big part of their annual budget. Without that source of income, they’d have to reduce staff and programming. In fairness to synagogues that use this system, it’s important to remember that synagogues don’t “pass the plate” during weekly Sabbath services to collect monetary offerings. Congregations of any religion have budgets, and they do need reliable ways of sustaining their operations.
The tickets system mainly affects families who aren’t members of a synagogue, since members usually receive tickets as part of their annual dues. Because a lot of interfaith families—especially younger couples—are statistically less likely to have joined a synagogue than other demographic groups, the tickets issue sometimes ends up being the “first look” that interfaith families get at the organized Jewish community.
We recommend that people who are new to attending High Holy Days services approach the tickets system with a couple thoughts in mind:
Attending High Holy Days Services away from Home
Sometimes people find themselves planning to be away from home during the High Holy Days, and they may want to attend services at a local synagogue. For interfaith families, this sometimes happens in conjunction with travel to visit Jewish in-laws. Whatever the reason for being out of town for the High Holy Days and wanting to go to a synagogue, we recommend taking the time to do some planning ahead.
As mentioned above, many congregations literally run out of seating space and use the tickets system. Doing an online search for synagogues in the area you’re planning to visit and contacting their offices to ask about High Holy Days services is a good way to ensure that you won’t be scrambling at the last minute to find a place.
Some communities may have venues where there is no seating limit, or where there’s no need to make an advanced reservation or get a ticket. If the place you’re visiting has a local Jewish Federation or Jewish Community Center (JCC), they may have good information about local options for the High Holy Days. If you’re going to be near a university campus, you might also want to check out the website of the Hillel (Jewish student center) on campus. They may be offering High Holy Days services for students and faculty, and these services are usually open to the general public.