“The synagogue-as-vendor model is ultimately self- defeating, even at the most pragmatic level”

The synagogue-as-vendor model is ultimately self- defeating, even at the most pragmatic level. That is because the kind of spiritual experiences that can be bought will never, in the long term, be worth what it costs to provide them. For those who come to the synagogue with the mentality of customers, even the most positive experiences can have only a limited impact. The nature of the vendor-customer relationship, in which the customer is always right, limits how transformative any synagogue experience can be for them. Due to the entitlement inherent in their role, they can be challenged to grow only so much. Synagogue membership will always feel expensive to those buyers because their own mindset as consumers limits how deeply membership can impact them, and hence how much it can be worth to them.

On the other hand, the kind of spirituality that can motivate financial sacrifice – the kind that is deep and lasting – cannot be bought. It emerges out of an engagement very different from the vendor-customer relationship. It grows out of the choice to search for meaning by investing authority in a structure larger than the self, by rooting oneself in a tradition and community. The kind of loyalty that generates real meaning is deeper than brand loyalty. It is not a matter of self- interest but of self-transcendence. At the most practical level, the problem with the vendor model is that spiritual goods that are for sale are rarely worth the cost, while those that are worth sacrificing for are not for sale.

In other words, the vendor model puts the synagogue in a no-win position. To the extent that synagogues internalize the norms of the consumer marketplace, they position themselves on terrain where they cannot succeed, and abandon the terrain where they could make a difference. They implicitly accept the premise that they are competing with other consumer industries – a competition that they cannot hope to win – and in the process limit their ability to do the work that they are uniquely capable of doing, that of challenging and helping Jews to grow in their religious lives. Vendor-synagogues fail in the consumer marketplace because they ask too much, and fail as spiritual communities because they ask too little.

Michael Wasserman, “The Vendor Trap: Why Selling Spirituality Doesn’t Work”, eJewish Philanthropy (9 January 2014), {http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-vendor-trap-why-selling-spirituality-doesnt-work/}