They say you get what you pay for, but Rabbi Michael Barclay says you can’t put a price on religious education.
After receiving multiple generous donations, his Westlake Village-based Temple Ner Simcha is offering bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah preparation courses at no financial cost to the participant.
Bar mitzvah means son of the commandment, bat mitzvah means daughter of the commandment. Preparations usually start at least a year in advance and involve learning Hebrew, how to recite prayers and read the Torah scroll.
Prices vary but it typically costs at least $2,000 to join a temple, around $3,000 for a bar mitzvah fee and up to $7,000 for tutoring. This is all before planning the party that generally accompanies the event.
By removing the financial obstacle, Barclay said, he hopes to bring Jewish families back to Judaism.
“We should place no stumbling block before anyone who wants to be involved in the Jewish community,” he said. “Our job is to make it easy for people.”
According to the Pew Research Center, 85 percent of Jews don’t go to temple on a regular basis and more than half of Jews marry someone of a different faith. Barclay said free Jewish education affords a chance to plant lifelong seeds of faith and identity in young minds.
“It gets them involved in every level of Judaism, and now they’ve got a Jewish anchor,” he said. “This is a long-term investment in our Jewish youth.”
Soheil Rabbani is the treasurer at TNS. He said eliminating the financial burden lifts a barrier for families that want to participate in faith.
“Religion shouldn’t be paid for. It should be available,” he said. “It’s free, but there are obligations.”
To participate in the program, the student’s family is required to attend at least two Shabbat services a month. Students will attend a yearly Holocaust education weekend, where they will meet survivors and hear their stories.
Barclay opposes what he referred to as the “pay to pray” model used by most synagogues. TNS does not charge membership dues or for High Holy Day tickets.
The rabbi said nearly 60 synagogues across the country have adopted their no-dues-or-fees approach in the past two years and he hopes the concept of free Jewish education catches on as well.
TNS member Jack Edelstein said he supports Barclay’s approach.
“I think the rabbi is a visionary,” he said.
The rabbi said he’d eventually like to serve 100 families each year through the free bar and bat mitzvah preparation courses.
Rabbani said he’s confident they’ll reach that number.
“The sooner, the better,” Rabbani said.
For more about the program, email Mitzvah@NerSimcha.org.