Joel Bernheim Advocates a New Membership Commitment Plan at or Shalom

A new ‘Mutual Commitment Membership Plan’ at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, IL has been introduced.

VERNON HILLS, IL / ACCESSWIRE / May 26, 2020 / Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, IL has implemented a new Mutual Commitment Membership Plan that recognizes the varying household incomes of families in the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago.

This new membership dues plan was put forward by Joel Bernheim, Congregation Or Shalom Treasurer, and supported by the efforts of Board President Jeff Kruger, the Membership Committee led by Charlie Silverberg, Finance Committee led by Jerry Goldstein, the Executive Board, Executive Director Lora Zygman and Rabbi Ari Margolis.

Per Rabbi Ari Margolis: ‘Or Shalom’s leadership team has been exploring ways to align congregational membership with the values that have made us a people, both in the time of our Torah and in our community today. Rather than using a traditional model of collecting fixed dues based on categories of membership, we are excited to open a community-wide dialogue about a more inclusive approach, a Mutual Commitment.’

Along with 55 other congregations across the country, Or Shalom has adopted a membership commitment plan that will enable their congregation to flourish. According to Rabbi David Holtz of Temple Beth Abraham, the dues plan for his synagogue has been a success; saying that even though some in his 400-member congregation are giving less, “others have increased their pledge … and we’re going to break even this year.”

Additionally, the new dues plan is based upon self-evaluated household finances. Members would assess their own household finances and contribute annual membership dues accordingly. According to Mr. Bernheim, ‘We will never ask for income verification – or even about income at all. The relationship between Or Shalom and its current or future membership is based upon mutual trust.’

Or Shalom is also implementing free dues and school tuition at the pre-K, first and second grade levels for the first year of a new family membership. Bernheim explains, ‘We want to reinvigorate our existing membership by taking some of the financial strain off our members’ shoulders, but we also want to encourage new membership among young families. We don’t want the burden of heavy dues or tuition keeping families away.’

When putting together this new membership dues plan, Or Shalom leadership considered what has been successful for other congregations as well as what that data was telling them. In a URJ (Union for Reform Judaism) survey conducted on synagogues who have deployed this model previously, they learned that congregations are almost uniformly pleased with this membership dues model and no congregation reported an interest in returning to a traditional dues model.

One of the primary reasons many synagogues have implemented this dues plan is that they didn’t want to have potential members feel that there is a dollar sign hanging over their head when they considered the possibility of joining a synagogue.

“The dues system has fallen out of alignment with the zeitgeist,” said Rabbi Dan Judson, an expert on the history of financing American synagogues who teaches at Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Massachusetts. “People want to feel that whatever they want to give to a religious community should be valued as a gift,” he said. “They don’t want to feel like they’re giving money and still it’s not good enough.”

Bernheim acknowledges that many religious institutions are experiencing a decrease in membership as families must prioritize what they can afford. We are suffering the effects of growing secularization; declining affection for institutions; a dispersal of Jewish philanthropy; and an end to the era in which membership in a congregation was a social obligation.

In the words of Or Shalom Rabbi Ari Margolis;

‘Together, we will achieve our goals by taking shared responsibility. The Or Shalom leadership is confident that each member will step up, in mutual commitment, to keep this community strong and accessible for generations to come.

We are not just a synagogue. We are an organic, ever-changing spiritual community committed to a greater Jewish World. We are ruach, spirit, we are light, and we are the future. In this holy space, we commit ourselves to ensuring that everyone has a place to gather. We commit ourselves to learning with others who share our faith. We commit ourselves to lifting one another.’

If you would like more information on membership at Congregation Or Shalom, then please call their administrative office at 847-362-1948 or email

Joel Bernheim
T: 847-708-1669
Location: Vernon Hills, IL

SOURCE: Joel Bernheim

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