Just in time for the Jewish High Holidays, two lifetime front-row seats to services at the historic Temple Emanu-El synagogue in Miami Beach are being auctioned off on eBay with a minimum opening bid of $1.8 million.
Besides getting to sit up front close to the rabbi, the winning bidder's family name will be engraved on Seats 1 and 2 of Row 1, Section DD, and they will receive free parking, two custom-made prayer shawls and yarmulkes, and a hefty tax write-off. And it is for life.
"It's a gift that goes from one generation to another," said Rabbi Kliel Rose, who came up with the concept with a little bit of chutzpah and the help of two congregants who work in advertising and marketing.
The auction ends Monday morning, but as of Saturday evening, no one had made a bid. Rose said he was not surprised. He said the auction was more about gaining the attention of Jews who are disconnected from their faith.
"It has very little to do with the money," Rose said. "Hypothetically, if the money comes, it would be great, but the idea was really just to be edgy."
The auction might hit a nerve, though. A popular criticism within American Judaism, particularly around the High Holidays, is of the hundreds or thousands of dollars it costs to be a member of a synagogue or to simply attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.
Kliel says he will give away over 500 seats for free over the holy days to those who cannot afford them. Throughout the year, he says, no one is ever turned away for services.
"This isn't a country club," he said. "That's not what I'm here to do."
Temple Emanu-El is a 1,400-seat conservative congregation that was founded in the 1940s on South Beach. It is steps away from the shopper's paradise of Lincoln Road.
It had thousands of members in its heyday, but the temple shrunk to just over 200 families by the time Rose arrived two years ago. Since then, he has added musical instruments to services, offered meditation sessions before Shabbat, launched an advertising campaign and presented numerous cultural events.
The changes have brought in dozens of new members, including Claudia Dobkin, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, but had not belonged to a synagogue in many years.
"When the rabbi speaks and the cantor sings, you feel like they do it from the heart," she said. "I think the seats are worth a million bucks and then some."
As for a bid, Dobkin will leave that to others.