Time to get back to my bread and butter blogging. I hope all my readers had a great yom tov and that no one has entered the realm of slavery/subjection a la Avadim hayeinu L'Mastercard B'America.
Hat Tip: Numerous readers from Baltimore and beyond. Thank you loyal readers. I will allow you to self-identify at your own discretion.
Numerous readers from Baltimore and beyond have kindly emailed me regarding the Baltimore Communal Initiative. In late March, the Rabbinical Council of Baltimore sponsored a community wide event: “Responding to the Economic Crisis: An Evening of Tefillah, Chizuk, and Practical Initiatives.” The event featured various speakers in which an initiative known as "The Pledge" was presented along with other information about job programs (JobLink), Baltimore tzedakah organizations, the roll out of the Baltimore's own Mesila (an Israeli organization that provides financial counseling, awareness, and education, which is now expanding to chutz l'aretz), Day School education in Baltimore, etc.
The main point of the night was that the majority of tzedakah funds must stay within the community. "The Pledge" is a public listing of all community members who have committed to keeping 51% of their tzedakah funds local (Note: Rav Schachter mentioned 75% of tzedakah dollars should remain local in his shiur). Of the amount that must be given locally, 26% is to be designated in care of local day schools/yeshivot. All media files from the event are available online, see the Pledge and FAQs regarding The Pledge. (Another Note: I believe Rav Schachter mentioned that previous commitments to tzedakah need not be honored when your own community is in a emergency situation. Unfortunately, I cannot find my notation regarding this point).
I believe that the Baltimore Rabbonim are hoping that a public commitment will both help potential donors be able to turn away institutions from outside of the community with greater ease, as well as create a positive peer pressure to keep giving local. Apparently there is a sense of urgency regarding funding, especially for schools, as is the case throughout the nation. E.g., Rabbi Frand in his talk relates that there is a principal in another community sitting on $180,000 of currently worthless checks.
I'd like to hear from more attendees regarding their views regarding both the substance and presentation of the event. One reader wrote to me that while there was nothing earth shattering in either the video or the speech, that the basics (keeping money in the community and networking within the community to help those seeking work) were fine.
However, my reader felt the comments regarding tuition and personal finance missed the boat:
- The reader pointed out that a comment on the video telling telling parents to teach their kids to be careful with money, so they will understand the value of $1, $10, $100, and eventually $10,000. My reader writes notes that "its not the little things, but the big things." The reader refers to the ingrained lifestyle choices that are considered normal writing: . . . . but will you get rid of that maid? Will you buy a smaller house? Buy a used car? Stop going to summer camp, pre-Pesach camp, between summer camp and school camp, etc?" The reader noted that no specifics regarding personal finance were addressed beyond being careful. The reader's comment really resonates with me, as I have a bit of (professional) experience in the realm of personal finance. Issues of "lifestyle" simply can't be glossed over. I know very few people who say, "I'm broke because I have made poor choices." But I know a lot of people who are broke and believe they are quite careful, even frugal. Might sound harsh, and I apologize if I am in a bad mood after a recent conversation with a client regarding cash issues, but that is my own observation. Take it or leave it.
- My reader noted that on the school front, it is what I am about to start calling "same old, same old." The schools are are basically just looking for more ways to find money---more donations, government funds. They aren't yet ready to deal with issues of sustainability and (like above) tangible "lifestyle" changes of their own. If you listen to the Aisfa video available at the website (school section starts at just past 20 minutes) you will likely note, as the reader did, that no changes are being proposed. The basic gist is a need for more funding.
I'm encouraged by the increased attention on tuition, although it would have been nice if there was more foresight, rather than trying to tackle the issues when the schools are at the "financial breaking point." Personally, I don't like to tackle an issue when there is an emergency on hand. Like my reader who kindly sent comments, I don't believe the full pictures regarding the tuition and other economics crisis vis a vis the Orthodox community is more fully understood yet by leadership. (Obviously I'm not quite convinced that the funds are sitting in wait).
Hat Tip: A Mother In Israel
One person does seem to pinpoint one or two crucial issues (highlighted) of this financial crisis, and that is the executive editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times, Phil Jacobs. In response to the community gathering he writes the following:
I don't have much to say about Mr. Jacob's own suggestions. Many of the suggestions have been made before (but are a long way from implementation), and in the case of a "tax" of meshulachim, Baltimore already has a program for taxing meshulachim. Some of the suggestions really push towards some sort of half day public, half day Talmud Torah option, which isn't going to get too far at this juncture. I think volunteer labor is key to lessening costs in the schools, and forgoing a pricey year in Israel may just be commonsense for those lacking the resources, but the "YeshivaCorps" suggestion doesn't hold much appeal for me personally. Perhaps others feel differently. I think the delay of entrance into the workforce (amongst Orthodox young men in particular) is one of the root causes of our current doomed economic model. I see no reason to delay my own children's entrance into the workforce while painting Yeshiva walls, answering phones, or coaching a sports team alongside some sort of ad hoc learning program.
So here we are. It’s 2009 and we’re still working a model of education and fund-raising that connects back 25 years ago, at least. We remember the days when schools would “pay off” loans by borrowing from other sources. Jewish Community Services executive director Barbara Gradet told the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES that her agency is handling some 1,000 unemployed Jews. Ahavas Yisroel is going to disperse a record-setting $370,000 in financial aid just for Passover alone. CHAI is preparing itself for a workshop on avoiding foreclosure. The Orthodox community is mobilizing itself to train its constituents in job-hunting skills and family financial management. [A lot of suggestions interspersed with "Again, we don’t have money. There is no money." Which is followed by a reminder]:
The punch line –– there is no money.
There is no money coming.
I will wrap this up now before this post becomes even more lengthy. Welcome to what will probably be an extended stretch of bread and butter Orthonomic blogging. I've got materials coming out my ears with thanks to my fantastic readers.