Noting a trend toward competitive advertising for High Holiday services, Marc Angel rues what it implies:
Recent issues of New York’s Jewish Week newspaper, as well as other publications, have included advertisements by area synagogues that promise “inspiring” services and sermons, talented cantors, special programs for children, etc. Several hotels have placed ads attempting to lure customers to spend the holy days in their “luxurious and chic” facilities, where guests will enjoy services led by fine cantors, rabbis, and scholars in residence.
[While I was] perusing the various ads, it struck me that virtually all of them are appealing to readers’ desire to be entertained. The ads seem to be saying: come to our synagogue or hotel and you’ll have a great time, good music, good speakers, [and] lots of inspiration. You should come to us (rather than to others) because we can entertain you better, or cheaper, or for free.
I suppose it should not be surprising to find synagogues marketing themselves as entertainment centers, even if they also include “inspiration” and “meaningful” services as part of their draw. . . . Yet, in reading the pre-Rosh Hashanah ads, my heart sinks. . . .
Traditionally, the month of Elul [the final month of the Jewish calendar] is a period of self-evaluation in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Special prayers are chanted; the shofar is sounded. The season is not here to entertain us, but to challenge us. It is not meant to be a time of spiritual passivity, but a time to encourage us to raise our spiritual levels by dint of our own efforts.