I got buried in other topics and did not return to my Jewish Observer Review of the "Tuition Dilemma" issue. Not surprisingly, the issue of extreme spending came up in the issue as it relates to Pesach Hotels. For whatever reason, whenever it comes to discussions of gashmuit on parade and/or wasteful spending, all attention turns to Pesach vacation and the vacationers. It ends up focusing the attention away from a culture that we are all immersed in to some extent and laying the blame for materialism at the feet of what I do believe is a sliver of the klal (although the marketing campaigns can make feel like 'everyone' is going away), as if all of our problems with materialism would cease should these families stop making a mass Exodus away to Cancun for Pesach.
In the most recent installment of the Pesach Hotel debate, Jonathan Rosenblum has published a scathing piece in Mishpacha (available here on Cross-Currents) naming Pesach Hotels as the biggest challenge for contemporary Orthodoxy, as per a conversation with an unnamed Los Angeles Rav. Here, the cost of Pesach was suprisingly enough not addressed directly, but instead the article looked at the quest for entertainment, the gorg fest, and some ill behaved guests. Mr. Rosenblum mentioned the Rav grew up with a "particularly biting style of mussar," but I fear that by targeting Pesach vacations, an easy target no doubt, the focus is turned away from our own lives and a spotlight is turned onto other people, i.e. those living it up more than we are, even if we are living far more opulently that we should be living.
I was actually pleased that the comments of Mr. Rosenblum did not focus on a different argument against Pesach vacations which I have heard over and over again and which I believe is a falicy. The Jewish Observer, however, promoted the argument that we could solve communal financial issues if people would stop taking Pesach Vacations. The argument, as extracted from the Jewish Observer is as follows:
"Note the following: The past Pesach , eighty-five hotels in America were filled to capacity by frum Yidden, involving their guests' total expenditures of $175,000,000 (not including Eretz Yisroel or Europe). If some of that money would have gone to our Torah institutions, there would have been enough to subsidize all the families who are unable to pay full tuition."
The falicy of this argument should somewhat obvious. . . . presuming those wealthy enough to spend on exorbinantely priced Pesach vacations are not currently reliant or setting themselves up to be reliant on the community via lack of savings and/or debt financing of luxuries, a big presumption I admit--the discretionary funds used to fund these vacations are coming out of personal funds, not communal funds and forgoing a Pesach vacation isn't going to magically land the money in the community's pot. In other worlds, the finances of a frum family fall into two pockets: 1. The Personal Pocket, roughly between 80-90% of earnings which goes to fund necessary spending, unnecessary spending, and savings, and 2. The Communal Pocket, roughly between 10-20% of earnings which is designated to fund communal institutions such as schools, shuls, mikvaot, bikur holim, scholarships, tomchei, etc.
What is in the Personal Pocket will not automatically jump into the Communal Pocket just because it does not get spent, although, those who live more frugally who save and invest will link their pockets as their savings grow, thereby increasing the Communal Pocket incrementally too (although currently we have experienced a large plummet as of January). The solution to increasing the Communal pocket must include increasing the Personal Pocket. And, as the Personal Pocket grows fatter, you are bound to see luxuries (however you define them) increase because much of the motivation to earn is tied to the motivation to enjoy luxuries.
Yes, the amount spent on Pesach vacation is staggering and astounding. Yes, the level of materialism is far too often beyond the pale (Pesach vacations only being one manifestation of such). Yes, I do believe there is something to engaging in Pesach cleaning and preparing beyond packing a suitcase. But, I do not choose to blame communal financial issues on those that take costly Pesach vacations, nor do I believe that we can label the frum community's largest problem to be Pesach vacations, even if many of the problems manifest themselves rather loudly in the Pesach vacation environment.
Now. . . . .back to scrubbing my floor and cleaning out the refrigerator. At this point, I could be tempted by a Pesach vacation, but I don't like to vacation in a pack, so I will count myself out.