I don’t know why I am struck by it this year, but the whole concept of selling seats for Yom Tov turns me off. Thank G-d we daven in a local Bais Medrash that has a simple policy: reserve seats and pay whatever you think you can afford. There are no box seats and bleachers, no seats with names engraved on them, and most importantly, no one as far as I know is ever turned away because they cannot afford to pay. The davening is quiet and kavanah filled, which is why we go there. But not every place shares this philosophy, and if you are on a tight budget, this time of year is gehennom. Your kids will be clammering for school supplies after you have already shelled out a fortune in registration and tuition, you need extra meat and more expensive foods for Yom Tov meals, this kid needs shoes, this one needs a dress, etc., sukkos is coming and you need a lulav and esrog, and on top of all that you get hit with a bill of a few hundred dollars just to sit down and daven so you can ask G-d for the $ to pay for all this. I left out the Kol Nidrei, Yizkor, or some other appeal or two where donations are often announced and how would it look for Yankel to give a nice check and for you to pledge nothing?
Don’t get me wrong – shules need money too. Someone has to be the electric, gas, rent, rabbi’s salary. And I am sure that if someone is needy many places will forgo the price of seats. But why put people in a position where they have to ask and compromise their dignity? Why turn the holiest moments of the year into an auction (for aliyos), a telethon (for pledge dollars), or some kind of event where box seats vs. nosebleed section separates the haves from the have-nots?
So much for my idealistic rantings. I don't know if there is a better way to raise money than seat sales and appeals, and I don't know if the honor system of pay what you like would work everywhere, but since I have not seen anyone else in blogger-land raise the issue, just my 2 cents.