single or married concept on the signpost, 3D rendering

Paying The Price For Being Single

In 2001, at the age of 52, I went from being Single and Orthodox to Married and (still) Orthodox. That was a lot of years of being single.

Hearing about a recent conference titled rather inelegantly “The Shidduch Crisis” brought to mind a number of the inequities I faced as a single person. Many of these inequities involved money and Jewish institutions and organizations.

In the mid-’90s I increased the number of synagogues I joined both on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and in Long Beach, Long Island. I noticed that at a few of these shuls‘ annual dues for membership for a single person totaled more than half of the dues charged to a couple. So, for example, a couple paid $1,000 for yearly membership, and a single person paid $600.

Before my funding became targeted and circumscribed in the late 1990s when JOFA was formed, and I began earmarking my money towards promoting Orthodox Jewish women in all areas of life, I donated to numerous charities. I went to many fundraising dinners related to these charities. In over half of the dinner invitations I received, I noticed that the cost of the dinner for singles was, once again, more than one half the cost for a couple. A dinner might cost $500 for a couple, and $360 for a single person.

This made no sense to me, and in fact was blatantly discriminatory.

After I joined the shuls and realized the dues structure was unequal, I met with various shul personnel to discuss these inequities and suggested they change the single dues to equal one-half the dues of a couple. One shul changed its policy, one did not. The one that did not merely said that it was “their policy” to charge what they did, and that changing it would be a long and arduous process involving many layers of personnel including the rabbinical staff, the administrative staff, the executive committee, and board members. My suggestion to begin the process was not received well.

I did not rejoin that shul, and I explained to the senior rabbi and executive director why I was not rejoining.

When I received invitations to organizational fundraising dinners in which the costs for singles totaled more than half of the cost for a couple, and I wanted to attend the dinner, I sent a check for exactly one half of a couple’s cost. I wrote a note saying that it was discriminatory to charge singles in this way, and I asked that someone contact me to discuss the situation.

No one ever sent the check back to me or told me not to attend the dinner. On the other hand, only one person out of more than a dozen organizations ever called me to discuss my comment and my thinking. In this case, after a meaningful discussion, the organization changed its policy to be more equitable towards singles. And even where lay or professional staff did not contact me, I noticed in future invitations that about two thirds of the organizations had changed their policy, as well, eliminating the inequity in costs.

Going even further, Dr. Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, executive director of JOFA, suggested to her traditional Orthodox shul in New York City when she was single that a single woman should pay less than a single man, noting that “men are given kibbudim (honors) and positions not available to women.” As a result of her advocacy, the shul barred her from having access to the shul website for 30 days, a punishment she termed “internet cherem (ban).”

Advocacy has its risks, for sure.

Still, it is important and often productive to speak up. Talk to your shul leadership, to organizations, and institutions, and to anyone else working with an entity that has a money policy discriminatory towards singles about your thinking and your suggestions. Bringing like-minded folks (single and married) into the discussion will strengthen your position. And if no change is forthcoming, think about not rejoining or not donating further. Let the organizations know why you are doing this, and ask them to let you know if and when they change their policy.

Someone else is more deserving of your money.

Zelda R. Stern
Donor-Activist
Member of the Board of Directors of JOFA and Yeshivat Maharat
(c) 2016 by Zelda R. Stern. All rights reserved.

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