Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Come to minyan, get a free batting helmet!

In my 12 years in the pulpit, I served in two shuls, both of which went through times when we had difficulty ensuring our minyan. Certain times of year were harder than others – early winter afternoons for minchah/maariv, post-Succos and post-Pesach for Shacharis as men needed to make up for time taken off from work – and then other times were challenging because we needed to provide minyanim for shivah houses as well.

We tried various tactics to help build the minyan, including-
...asking people to pick specific days of the week to attend,
...running educational programs about the importance of minyan,
...offering kids “Torah Cards” and prizes for attending, and
...scheduling teen programming so that they would be in shul at the time we needed them.

Some suggested providing post-minyan food and drink, newspapers to read in a lounge before or after minyan, and so on. Some wanted to give dues discounts for those who supported the shul by coming to minyan. No different from what many shuls do.

It was hard, and draining. Spending time – sometimes daily, in my first shul – calling or emailing people to ask them to stop into shul for 35 minutes, for their own mitzvah, can really sap a rabbi’s energy. Here the rabbi is, spending his entire day and much of his night looking after the needs of individuals and institutions, and people can’t be bothered to help out the community, if not themselves, by coming to shul? The daily grind of it can really wear.

But here’s a thought I never tried: Imitate the strategy Bill Veeck pioneered in baseball, and create special Days or Nights appealing to special segments of the population. Perhaps there could also be sponsored giveaways, modeled on ballpark giveaways.

A quick search on-line turns up various kinds of ballpark giveaways: Bat day, Helmet day, Cap day, T-shirt day, Jersey day, Wristband day, Piggy bank day, Bobblehead day, Spatula day, Picture day, Autograph day, Beach towel day, Comic book day, Umbrella day, Reusable shopping bag day…

And then there are the days and nights dedicated to attracting a specific segment of the population: Children’s day, Ladies’ day, Star Trek night, Singles night, Legal Professionals night, Indian Heritage night, Irish Heritage night, Chinese Heritage night, Jewish Heritage night, Scout day and so on.

So why not do the same in shul?

There could be giveaways, sponsored by local businesses – books, sports memorabilia, trinkets, office supplies, etc.

And, perhaps better, there could be minyanim targeting specific segments of the population, with programming attached to suit their needs. Accountants Night, with a brief shiur, or even a secular class, on taxes. Children’s Day, of course, perhaps split up by grades. Lawyers, Physicians, Singles, New Yorkers, Hockey fans, and so on.

Sure, this would be a lot of work to set up, initially, but once you have a portfolio of 30-50 ideas, it’s fairly easy to run through them repeatedly, and people might actually enjoy it. Perhaps this could be done for one particular weekday - Tuesdays, for example - as a test of its appeal.

I’m glad I’m no longer responsible to ensure there is a daily minyan, but I think this could be fun.


  1. I've heard certain people refer to the days yizkor is said as 'lady's day' with the tag line 'they let them in for 1/2 price'. Of course, that wouldn't help fill the minyan :)

  2. there's always this:
    רמב"ם הלכות תפילה ונשיאת כפים פרק ח הלכה א

    תפלת הציבור נשמעת תמיד ואפילו היו בהן חוטאים אין הקדוש ברוך הוא מואס בתפלתן של רבים, לפיכך צריך אדם לשתף עצמו עם הציבור, ולא יתפלל א ביחיד כל זמן שיכול להתפלל עם הציבור, ולעולם ישכים אדם ויעריב לבית הכנסת שאין תפלתו נשמעת בכל עת אלא בבית הכנסת, וכל מי שיש לו בית הכנסת בעירו ואינו מתפלל בו עם הציבור נקרא שכן רע.

    joel rich

  3. We offered free Shmurah matzoh to those who came Peisach Sheini!

  4. This does seem to assume that there is a large and diverse community already which just isn't motivated to come to shul. It isn't going to do much for declining communities who simply don't have the members.

  5. Risa-

    Welcome back! That's one of the pieces I tried in my educational programs, of course...

    Anonymous 2:41 PM-
    Excellent. I'm in!

    Doesn't need to be that large; 10 isn't that big a number. Many communities have 5-6 regulars, and need to add another 4-5.

  6. What attitudes make potentially available people who can read Hebrew unmotivated to be regular minyan-goers?

    Unless these attitudes can be identified and dealt with successfully, assuming they can be, there is no genuine solution.

    Of course, it also helps to have a big enough potential pool of minyan-goers. Often, smaller communities are shrinking because their youth gravitate toward larger ones, which progressively depletes the pool.

  7. Bob-
    From my experience, it's generally that their schedules are packed, and they don't see how they can clear that time. In the morning it's time they desperately need for sleeping, or breakfast, or the gym. In the evening it's dinner time or homework time or relax-after-a-long-day time or spouse time...
    The pool of minyannaires really need not be that big; it's more a matter of providing motivation, and demonstrating that it's not that huge a commitment.

  8. Bill Veeck- that really isn't such a crazy idea. The trick is once you get them to come, how do you get them to come back.

  9. Jack-
    I find that to actually be fairly easy. People tend to find it (1) satisfying religiously and socially, and (2) not such a great sacrifice of their time.