No Tickets Necessary

From what historians can tell, the first recorded use of “ticketing” were tesserae – small dime-sized clay discs with special stamping. In Ancient Greece (around the 6th century BCE), a tessera was used to gain access to theater performances and sporting bouts. Travelers to the Colosseum in Rome today can bear witness to the numbers above the doors, which would have corresponded to a spectator’s tessera. One could surmise that ticketing was a form of crowd control, and in a sense, s/he would be correct.

Today, we use entry tickets in so many venues. Most of them are to indicate that we’ve paid for access: travel, performances, festivals/fairs, attractions, etc. Even from the very beginning, ticketing was a revenue vehicle.

Still, there are some settings that use (free) tickets simply for security. However, tickets not linked to a person’s identity and background information do not play a significant role in securing an establishment or event.

Everyone will agree, irrespective of the reason they are in place, tickets raise the barrier for access and impede entry.

I am grateful to serve as rabbi at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minn., where our congregation realizes that the synagogue should not be a place that impedes entry.

Should there be security? Yes.

Should there be a way to understand who attends programs and worship services, so that we can better serve the target population? Yes.

Should there be a way to safely control the flow of people? Yes.

Should there be a way to fund the operations and programming and initiatives? Yes.

But none of these, at its core, is the true reason synagogues have tickets on the High Holy Days. And that’s why we got rid of them.

Synagogues have tickets on the High Holy Days to collect revenue, full stop.

It is the largest (captive) audience of the year. The thought was always: why not use tickets as a vehicle to generate dollars? Use tickets to compel members to get “their account out of arrears.” Use tickets as a carrot to recruit new members. Give tickets the double-duty function of serving as a pledge card – and ask for money during worship services as well.

Several years ago we at Beth El made a change. We don’t ask for tickets and we don’t ask for money. It was an uncomfortable shift logistically and culturally from how it used to be – but our community has internalized this as a tangible example of welcoming and openheartedness. Instead of “ticket please,” those who cross our threshold hear “we’re so glad you’re here.”

The High Holy Days are a time to welcome the stranger (and the resident) with open arms – as all of us are trying to reacquaint ourselves with God. The High Holy Days are not a time to be partly closing the door and forcing the request of entry.

Granted, there are a limited few institutions with a demand that far exceeds their capacity. If that is the sole reason for ticketing, then that’s understandable; but then this a catalyst to create an alternative opportunity to participate and attend.

As the world is becoming more and more polarized, synagogues should be opening their doors wide – wider than we ever have before. They should live up to their charge as warm and welcoming communities: come as you are, all are welcome. The High Holy Days should be a time when those who attend reflect on what is broken in their lives and how to fix it, as opposed to what is broken in the synagogue or the community and how to fix it.

Ne’ilah is the only time the doors should be closing – but those are the Heavenly Gates. And just as they begin to close, we should be ensuring that our doors are cast open.