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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Guest Post: Sitting on Thousands of Dollars of Silver Assets

Guest Post from Frum Actuary's Nephew (Thank You for contributing!)


I was in a silver store last week buying a wedding gift, and the proprietor mentioned a couple of interesting thoughts, which got me thinking as well. These strongly affect the Orthodox community, in more ways than one.


1: Couples are not getting silver presents. They get silver & wood, or silver & crystal. Full silver is just too expensive to give as a gift.


2: Everything in his store is a “bargain”, as it was bought (and is priced) when silver was at $28 an ounce (as of my writing this, it is over $36).


3: He has had many people come in to him to sell silver, which is at 30 year highs.

So how does this affect the Orthodox community? The presents that are “expected” by a couple have gone by the wayside. Gone is the day when a Chosson got a gold watch; That would set the father in law back more than a custom Shaitel!


But more interestingly, is that many families, even those without large amounts of funds, are (literally) sitting on a silver mine worth tens of thousands of dollars, just based off of Chassuna presents alone (Liechter & Menorah alone can be worth 10K). How this will affect tuition scholarships and the sort is beyond me, but I can see schools that are desperate for funds literally “raiding the families’ silver cabinet”. There is just too much money there to be ignored. Also Hilchos Tzedaka come into play, regarding giving to someone who is sitting on tens of thousands of dollars of sellable goods.

68 comments:

Abba's Rantings said...

1) the "silver" that the author refers to are all ritual or traditional items. we don't buy "silver" for the sake of decoration but rather for the purpose of hiddur mitzvah. clearly the author doesn't have his priorities in place.

2) "Also Hilchos Tzedaka come into play, regarding giving to someone who is sitting on tens of thousands of dollars of sellable goods."

and a house?

JS said...

Maybe I'm out of touch, but the post had me scratching my head:

1) Is it really true that people aren't buying sterling silver gifts anymore? I just find this hard to believe.

2) Families on scholarship have TENS of thousands of dollars in silver in their homes?

We don't have a lot of silver, but we do have a nice candelabra that was a gift from grandparents when we were married. It has 6 lights and is very ornate. Looking around online it's maybe $2k or so. How much silver do people have to be TENS of thousands of dollars? I find it hard to believe.

That said, if it's true, I have no problem with the school saying these are luxuries that should be sold.

Anonymous said...

Abba: At what point does hiddur mitzvah become excessive (or really is an excuse for keeping up with the Goldbergs)? Why not silver-plated? Beautiful menorahs and candlesticks can be made from many materials.

ProfK said...

Sigh, where is this all going to end up? We're talking about household items that are worth X so anyone asking for tuition reduction--regardless of the reason--will now have to sell any household items which can bring in money to pay for tuition? If there is a cheaper alternative to the item you have to sell the more expensive version?

Re the silver, so that lachter, which was your greatgrandmother's, and through a cycle of inflation is now worth a lot of money, you have no right to if you get a scholarship? And that menorah which was a gift to you at your wedding you are no longer entitled to?

What's next? Selling a woman's engagement ring because she is not entitled to it years later if her family needs some tuition reduction? Exchanging a gold wedding band for stainless steel because the gold could help pay for tuition? Not allowing any precious metal jewelry to be owned by scholarship parents, regardless of when that jewelry was purchased or by whom, because it could be sold?

Sorry, but you can't own a computer made after 2000 because you could sell it and buy something way cheaper and use the money for tuition.

And those sheets that you paid $15 a sheet for? Sorry, but you have to sell those and buy $1.99 sheets and use the difference for tuition.

Sorry, but that mayonaise you just bought that is name branded? You have to sell it and buy the less expensive no-name brand.

The tuition problem is not going to be solved through this kind of suggestion. Even if someone should own--at this present time with today's valuation of silver--tens of thousands of dollars in silver, that might, just might, cover one year of tuition for the kids. So, what are we going to go after in all the other years?

Any solution to the tuition problem that counts on this type of funding is doomed to fail, and for good reason.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: No one is saying this is a solution, and I really don't think there is a large market for used sheets or mayonaise, and these days you have to pay to dispose of a pre-2000 computer. However, if someone does have tens of thousands in jewelry or silver, should their tuition be subsidized by the hard working couple down the street who has none of these baubles but doesn't get tuition assistance because he earns a little more due to hard work and he'd like to use a little of that income to save for retirement or take a much-needed vacation but can't because his tuition is too high because it subsidizes families with assets but insufficient income and/or mortgages or credit card debt that is too high because of buying too big a house or too many baubles? Would there be more money in the community to help the truly needy, the disabled elderly, etc. if there wasn't so much tied up in material goods? Perhaps there should be a cut-off for assets before getting aid. Set it high enough so you can keep one or two family heirlooms, but not a whole china closet full. Maybe its not so bad to have to choose between your greatgrandmother's candelabra and the big diamond. I don't know the answers to these questions, but don't shoot the person who asks them.

JS said...

I don't think this will solve the tuition crisis one iota, but it is pretty odd that if I called up the cable company to get the triple play and I couldn't pay they'd tell me to go jump in a lake. But, I call up the yeshiva and tell them I can't pay and they give me a discount.

If I want cable, but can't pay I would be forced to sell possessions or work another job in order to pay.

Why should yeshiva be any different?

If you want a more "frum" example, should a family go to Tomchei Shabbos or accept other tzedaka if they have expensive jewelry at home?

(This addresses the revenue issue in yeshiva tuition only. I strongly believe that the costs need to come down as well - at least at one local school should be affordable to the vast majority of parents.)

ProfK said...

Sorry Anon 11:42, but you're talking to someone with a gun licence--I shoot if I want to. And in this case I believe the "shooting" is justified--you're free to disagree. Asking these questions WILL NOT solve the tuition problem nor will it even put a teensy tiny dent in it. The tuition problems are systemic, not just based on any one individual or even a few individuals who are trying to game the system. Empty out the silver cabinets of EVERYONE in Klal and sell every piece of jewelry and you won't have solved the problem of tuition for even one year, never mind more than that.

Selling your grandmother's candelabra should not be considered as a prerequisite for getting tuition assistance. Having cleaning help weekly or bi-weekly throughout the year is a different story. At $10-12 dollars an hour on a 52-week basis, at a minimum you are talking $4,160 per year on an ongoing yearly basis. Not very many people who are presently on tuition assistance who are going to have "baubles" as you put it to sell each year that would equal that.

And just as an aside, there are some who would consider your "much-needed" vacation as one of those baubles.

Anonymous said...

ProfK: You are sounding rather Palinesque today. I don't think that families on scholarship or taking other tzedakah should have cleaning help either (absent a disability that makes cleaning help a necessity) so your cleaning example doesn't prove anything. In a perfect world, people could have their silver and diamonds and their cleaning help and tuition at the school of their choice and hundreds of millions of children would not go to bed hungry each night, but we don't live in a perfect world so we have to prioritize even if it only is a drop in the bucket. Even the oceans are made up of drops in the bucket if you get enough of them.

JS said...

ProfK,

Agreed. It won't solve the problem for more than a year - if that. But, I think there's an attitude problem in klal where we stick our hands out when it comes time to pay the yeshivas without even considering the many, many luxuries we all have. To place the value of hiddur mitzvah above the responsibility to pay your bills and not request unneeded tzedaka is just warped in my opinion.

If you inherited something expensive that's one thing, but to receive expensive gifts and other luxuries while looking for a handout is just wrong. Again, if you wouldn't do it with the cable company, why would you do it with the yeshiva? Your house cleaning example is just another version of this (as is the "necessary" vacation).

We need to change the mindset that when you deal with everyone else in the world there's one set of rules when it comes to payment and when you deal within klal there's another set of rules. And it's not just with the yeshivas. I have family friends who take on frum clients and there are some who try to haggle on the bill after agreeing to the price or pay in drips and drabs or claim hardship after going to Pesach hotels. Again, not everyone, but a significant number. I'm sure they don't deal this way with Verizon (if they did they'd lose service), but it's somehow acceptable to treat fellow Jews this way?

The attitude of sticking your hand out needs to end. People should stick their hands out when they have no further reasonable options. The contractor working on my house told me he works 4 jobs to get ahead and support his family, but in our communities some aren't even willing to work 1 job let alone 2 before asking for tzedaka.

(Again, the cost issue of tuition needs to be addressed too - I'm just trying to stay on topic.)

Shira and Joey said...

I've actually been debating some of our silver because it rose in value so much and I hate polishing it.

We got a few heavy bowls as wedding presents and I am sure they are worth a lot. I wouldn't sell my candlesticks (passed down from my mother) or my husband's menorah, unless it was a matter of taking tzedaka.

I'm conflicted.

Anonymous said...

JS: You misread my comment about the necessary vacation - I was referring to the hard working family (60 hours/week for Dad, 40 for Mom) who IS paying full tuition and not taking handouts who can't take a vacation while someone else is sitting with their valuables but getting tuition breaks.

JS said...

Sorry. I wasn't referring to your post, that's why I put "necessary" in quotation marks. I was referring to the pesach hotels, trips to Israel or Florida, etc. that some people claim is necessary. Same with "necessary" cleaning help and myriad other "necessary" expenses people seem to put before paying their yeshiva bills.

The yeshiva should be understanding about some expenses even though the cable company would never be.

Bklynmom said...

I am actually wondering about the sterling market in the Orthodox comuunity. There are 3 or 4 stores that specialize in silver, in addition to Judaica stores that carry silver items, in Flatbush alone, within a few blocks of each other (or at least there were until a few months ago; I have not been in Flatbush in a while). Is there really so much demand for silver? With the bad economy and the tuition crisis, are people still buying these expensive items? While I am not ready to weigh in on whether selling one's silver should be considered when applying for financial aid, I do think that an engaged couple or their parents can decide, or perhaps should be ecnouraged, to put the money that would have been spent on silver (or other high-ticket items that could be had for less) in a bank account to be used for education of their eventual children.
As far as the principle of hiddur mitzvah, I have seen many beautiful chanukiyot and candelabras that are not sterling, a fraction of the cost, and in my eyes more beautiful. Everyone has their own taste.
I do think that requiring a family to sell their heirlooms seems draconian.

JS said...

I agree that it's draconian and I'd shudder at the thought of making someone sell an heirloom that has been passed down several generations or perhaps had been saved from the Holocaust, but at the same time I don't have a good reason for feeling that way beyond mere sentimentality.

I wish someone would rationally explain why yeshivas shouldn't get the money they're asking for but every other company providing a service for money should.

Why are there a million and one exceptions when it comes to paying to tuition but no one even tries such an approach with the cable company?

A family takes scholarship - they take tzedaka from the community - and immediately the assumption is that they HAVE to be entitled to certain luxuries. The debate is just WHICH luxuries. Should they be allowed cleaning help? If so, how much? What if they have a lot of kids? What if the mother works hard and is tired? Can they go to a Pesach hotel? What if it's cheaper than making Pesach at home? What if a relative is paying for it? Can they make a bar/bat mitzvah or a wedding? How lavish is too lavish?

I have yet to hear a rational explanation for why engaging in such a thought process makes any sense. If I can't afford cable, I don't buy cable. If I agree to pay the cable company and then I don't you can bet they're going to repossess that sterling silver candelabra even if it was your great great grandmother's.

tesyaa said...

JS - the answer to your question about why yeshiva tuition is not like your cable bill is because yeshivas are run by people who believe that having silver pieces is important. Period, end of story.

Anonymous said...

Putting aside the lichters saved from holocaust victims or the Menorah that has been passed down for generations (I have no problem with hanging on to a few sentimental items), everyone should ask themselves would great great Bubbie prefer that I keep the silver or the diamonds or the pearls in the family or that I use the money for tuition or to give tzedakah?

JS said...

tesyaa,

Completely agree.

It's a real shame because this kind of thinking really jacks up the cost of tuition:

1) Money that could be used on tuition is instead displayed prominently in a china cabinet.

2) If people had to go through the pain and discomfort of selling their silver or forgoing other luxuries they'd be forced to confront the tuition issue head on.

3) The actual pain is borne by those who are too honest in the sense that they feel terrible taking tzedaka and enjoying luxuries even if the community condones such behavior or those who go to the ends of the earth to not take tzedaka even though they could by taking equity out of the home, not saving for retirement, etc.

4) If the yeshivas implemented a "zero tolerance" policy it would force families to really evaluate how much they value yeshiva beyond mere lip service. I imagine most families wouldn't be willing to work multiple jobs and really bust their kishkes to pay the exorbitant rates which would likely force the tuition rates down or force the creation of a new model.

Anonymous said...

Does the concept of modesty have any application to material goods other than clothing and whether it covers enough and is the correct color? Personally, a breakfront full of silver bowls and crystal, a lexus in the driveway, expensive jewelry and getting a 3G ipad II (at least before ipad III comes out) does not seem entirely consistent with tznuis.

Anonymous said...

At my kids' school, the financial add office asks what the value of your wife's engagement ring is. The financial aid office manager actually asked my wife to consider selling her ring to pay for tuition because the school "ran a little short of cash" last year. The ring in question was bought for $4000, and I doubt that we could sell it for more than $2000 in an emergency.

JS said...

Anonymous,

Please believe me that I'm not trying to tell you to sell your ring and I completely sympathize with your situation, but can you explain why you shouldn't have to sell it (even at a loss)? Why should you be able to keep the ring and not pay the school while the school runs short on cash and perhaps can't pay its bills or employees (who generally aren't as forgiving).

Again, I really hope I don't come across as a jerk since I'd act the exact same way in your shoes.

Avi said...

I don't see how relatively liquid assets like silver and gold items are any different from other liquid assets like a savings account. Before you accept tzedaka - which is what tuition assistance is - you'd withdraw money from your bank account, no? Why is is remotely OK to accept tzedaka without first liquidating material assets?

And to the poster who wrote that it's hiddur mitzvah, check with your Rav because it may not be a mitzvah at all if you're taking from others in order to have the hiddur.

Does this solve the tuition crisis? Of course not - it's a one time thing (once the assets are sold, they're sold). Scholarship abuse is largely a separate issue. But that doesn't mean it isn't an issue that should be addressed.

tesyaa said...

Thinking about the idea of people holding thousands of dollars in silver items while bills go unpaid reminds me that in the old days (whenever that was), families often acquired or were given gold, silver, and jewels not for ostentation or hiddur mitzvah but because of the chance that their paper money might become worthless. In other words - it was acquired so that they would be able to pay future living expenses, come what may. What is tuition besides a living expense?

Mike S. said...

The financial press has been rife with stories about speculation in the silver markets, large institutions with large naked short positions and large investors trying to create a squeeze.

In short, I would like to warn your readers not to speculate or invest in silver unless they are very sure they know what they are doing.

This is very different from buying a becher or menorah to use. If you can afford it and want it, go right ahead. But if you are buying silver as an investment, watch out.

Abba's Rantings said...

AVI et al.:

I was kidding about the hiddur mitzvah

ANON:

"everyone should ask themselves would great great Bubbie prefer that I keep the silver or the diamonds or the pearls in the family or that I use the money for tuition or to give tzedakah?"

i think that is an excellent question. if someone thinks bubbie would have wanted her grandaguhter to use the heirlooms for tuition, so be it. but if she think bubbie would say its more important to keep the heirlooms, what does this say about how much bubbie values day school education?

Abba's Rantings said...

i don't understand PROFK and the others who argue that families have intrinsic rights to hold onto to certain possessions. so there is a sentimental attachment? big deal. why should jack have to give up his weekend fun car or a pesach cruise while jill keeps her grandmother's [fill in the blank]? i mean this isn't even the typical blog argument over what's a necessity and what isn't, but rather whose non-necessity is more important?! who cares. it's not a necessity. period. jack should sell the car and jill the [fill in the blank]

that's part of the problem with this whole tuition assistance mess. you have a self-selective and self-perpetuating group deciding what is "necessary" and then the rest of us (myself included) get to look down on each other because we all value things differently, have differenct "vices," etc.

Shoshana Z. said...

This discussion is a beautiful mashul. Should we trade in the heirloom (the warmth, the mesorah, the commitment) in order to pay for the kids' education? It is a profound example of confusing the means for the ends. Not only are people forced to impoverish themselves financially, there is an impoverishment of spirit and reverence for the Torah life itself that is cracking families apart and shifting them off the path of Torah.

Dovy said...

I guess we wuz' po' folks, cause nobody mentioned or offered us any silver when we got enagaged or married.

Anonymous said...

My son's school told us be had to sell a silver menorah we had to qualify for a scholarship. It belonged to my great-grandfather. We were only paid for its weight in silver and netted around $1800. The silver shop then turned around and sold it to a member of our school's board. I want to believe it was a coincidence but I still have very bitter feelings about it.
Chaim Weisberg

Anonymous said...

BH
Even if everyone sold their silver (most families do not have more than 3/4k worth of silver) to pay for tuition, well ok, that would help towards tuition for one year. What happens the next year?

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

JS has the tuition point down pat. If sacrifice was called for, families would "find" money. Perhaps they would forgo the Yated & Mishpacha mags, or go to the "cheaper" store, or clip coupons, or tell bubby to forgo the hotel, we really need the funds for tuition. Now families have it off easy.

Of course it will not "solve" the tuition issue, but if the school is in a pinch, I can see them asking for one time funds from those who normally don't pay in full. (And I see that is happening as a general rule in some schools) And then you have a choice. No one is forcing you to send to that school or any school for that matter.

I'm not suggesting anyone go out & invest in silver, but realize you could be sitting on a mine, especially if you got married between two years & 25 years ago. And that has social and halachio consequences. Feel free to ask your own Rov if the question applies.

JS said...

Chaim Weisberg,

Sounds like the story of kerem navot (Naboth's Vineyard) - or with the overemphasis on gemara do they not teach Navi anymore in yeshivas? You should be happy the administrator didn't arrange to have you killed.

On a serious note, you showed what you truly value - a Jewish education for your children over silver. That's a really important lesson for your children - much more than the item's sentimental value.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

ProfK: That is exactly the question, where (and when) do we start saying "you can't have X" because you are on Tzedaka. The Halacha in most cases is clear (no you can't). Now something that you already own may be different, I don't know, but this is different than most items. In this case there is quite a large sum of money that is there for the taking, from people who may have rightfully been able to say before "I don't have".

And heirloom or no heirloom, money is money. Where would you begin saying enough is enough? A gold watch or coin collection from Zaidy? A Chagall or other painting?

Miami Al said...

Chaim Weisberg,

I'll concur with JS. Assuming you share this story with your children, this will impress upon them the importance of Jewish education more than everything that they learn in Yeshiva combined. You sold your great-grandfather's Menorah because a Jewish education, even one more year, is worth more than a priceless heirloom.

Let's ignore the corruption side where you were forced to sell it for it's metal and the Jewelry store pocketed the value of the craftsmanship.

I focus heavily on college education and providing it for my children. My grandmother talked about picking up night shifts in Harlem because they paid better and she had children in college to pay for. The idea of her taking a train to Harlem to provide for her children's education is seared into my brain from that story (and other, related stories).

May your sacrifice have the same impact on your grandchildren in providing your great-grandchildren with a Jewish education.

JS said...

Anon 7:32,

The point isn't that we piled up all of the silver in klal we could pay for yeshiva in perpetuity. Rather, the point is that by starting from an understanding that everyone is allowed certain luxuries even if they can't pay their yeshiva tuition bill - the debate is just over which luxuries they are "allowed" - a self-reinforcing system is set up in which tuition just keeps getting higher and higher because there isn't enough downward pressure to either force yeshivas to cut costs or to come up with cheaper educational models.

As the number/percentage of people paying full tuition increases, the pressure on the school to keep costs in line and the pressure on the community/leadership to come up with acceptable educational alternatives becomes less and less.

If only 30% of parents are bearing the cost of a tuition increase, for example, where is the pressure going to come from to make meaningful change?

Imagine instead that the schools simply stopped scholarships entirely. Each family was responsible for raising their own tuition. You could take out equity loans, burn retirement accounts, ask for relatives, seek private scholarships, sell possessions, etc. This would force people to really consider how much they value yeshiva. Is yeshiva more important to me than leasing a new car? Is it more important than a Pesach hotel? Is it more important than cleaning help?

Inevitably, enough people would reach a breaking point where they either don't value yeshiva more than retirement or equity in their homes, for example, or have no further sources of money to give to the yeshivas. When that happens you'll finally have meaningful change happen. There will finally be meaningful pressure to do something new.

When the constant refrain is that it's irrelevant how high tuition gets because we never turn people away for financial reasons and scholarships are always available you perpetuate a broken system.

Of course it would be nice to have change without all of this pain, but we haven't shown ourselves capable of such mature decision making.

JS said...

I would add on a personal note that my parents never took scholarship from the yeshivas. Instead, they kept borrowing against the equity in their home and kept refinancing their mortgage. They're still several years away from paying off a small house they bought over 30 years ago. They also couldn't save for our college education so me and my siblings all had to take out loans to go to college.

You can argue whether or not that was a smart decision on their part, but one thing is VERY clear - my parents really valued a yeshiva education for me and my siblings.

What you sacrifice for shows what you value.

Anonymous said...

Instead of meddling into people's personal choices and deciding whether your grandmother's menorah is more or less important than some other item, why can't the schools come up with a system that says for scholarship you are allowed $x in home equity (I would adjust for age, with the limit increasing as you get older) and $X in other assets (car, jewelry, furniture, etc.). To not penalize the renters, allow more investments for the renters. Then, within those limits every family gets to decide for themselves how to prioritize.

A Muppet said...

JS,
I haven't read through the entire thread here, but the difference between the Yeshiva and Cablevision (who will, in my experience, lower your bill if you talk to their retention department) is that the Yeshiva's role is both to educate children and to enforce the communal norm that exists that kids in our community go to Yeshiva. That norm may be unsustainable, it may not be best for the community that it is enforced by the schools, or it may be protected at too high a cost to full-tuition parents.
However, that is not something that concerns the cable company and is something I imagine most parents in the schools do appreciate at least in the abstract.

JS said...

Another, simpler, way to not meddle is to simply say that yeshiva tuition is a bill like any other bill and a family needs to pay that bill for the service provided just like they have to pay any other bill.

Why all the nonsense with allowed equity and allowed assets? I can't think of a single bill I pay that would require such a calculation.

I look at my budget/income and I look at my savings. I consider something I want to buy. Does it fit in my budget? Am I willing to take money out of savings to pay for it? Am I willing to finance it with debt? Are there other sources out there that can help me pay for it?

I make choices every day on what I can and cannot afford. I have a FiOS triple play because I can afford the monthly charge and I value the service it provides. I choose to save up money to have work done on my house and in order to save up for that I choose to not go on vacation and put off other items. If there was no room in the budget and no savings to pay for it I'd have to ask myself how much I truly value FiOS or just how badly I want to have work done on my house. I'd have to make a hard decision.

Why is yeshiva any different?

JS said...

Muppet,

The yeshiva's role in education is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that it charges a certain amount and provides a service that people want. In this sense it's no different than the cable company. It's the communal norm issue that is relevant because it somehow gets twisted into we must allow everyone to attend yeshiva even if they're not willing to sacrifice to do so - simply saying you want to attend is enough.

The cable company will offer deals and incentives and certainly doesn't charge everyone the same price (much like airlines or hotels), but this is not akin to the yeshiva scholarship. I can't call the cable company and say "I can only afford to pay half of what you're asking" and genuinely expect a positive response. Further, if I don't pay on time, I can expect my service to be cut off. Or, if I am truly delinquent I can expect to be sued and potentially have my property repossessed.

With the yeshivas I can buy a house, lease new cars, have cleaning help, not work multiple jobs, enjoy luxuries from relatives, etc. and show that I don't have enough income to pay what they are asking in full. I will then be given a scholarship. If I don't pay on time, they won't kick my kids out, they'll just keep waiting. If I skip on the bill they won't sue me. Better yet, if they did the community would view them as monsters (see outcry when some yeshiva in LI did that).

There is an entrenched attitude that everyone is entitled to live an upper middle class life (and no, upper middle class is not earning $150k+ it's a whole lot less than that). That attitude is in direct conflict with the notion that yeshiva is for all. Unfortunately, the former has taken priority over yeshiva.

The correct way to go about creating a community where everyone must attend yeshiva is not uniformly expensive schools and scholarships - it's creating schools the community can actually afford.

A Muppet said...

No one is twisting anything. The communal norm in much of the New York area is that we must allow everyone to attend yeshiva even if they're not willing to sacrifce to do so. It's also not irrelevant that the person benefiting from the Yeshiva education is not the person who is refusing to sacrifice.

That norm just does not exist by cable television. If it did, your relationship with the cable company would be much closer to your relationship with PSE&G, which is, in fact, somewhere in between. (If you can't pay your electric bill, they will work with you. If they can't several local charities offer help. Turning off someone's power is very rare in practice.)

That is a distinction and it's one that matters. That some parents and all schools take advantage of that norm, either by abusing the scholarship system or by failing to provide an education that is within the community's means doesn't change that.

JS said...

Muppet,

I think we're agreeing. The norm is what got us into this mess and is what is going to prevent us from getting out. I wouldn't think the norm was such a problem but all you hear is how tuition is killing people and is increasingly unaffordable. Who knows? Maybe people just like to complain. We've heard those complaints for years now.

But, if the complaints are genuine and if the current model is really unsustainable, this is the area they need to look at if they want to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Js: I think there needs to be more incentives to reduce tuition and make sure parents are both working to pay as much of the tuition that is reasonably possible for them to do. Having said that, I don't see the analogy to a cable bill at all. Your approach of pay up or your kids are out simply will mean that a lot of kids are out. You sound like you are coming from an upper middle class perspective. You assume every family can make 150-200K. That is not so in the real world. Suppose a family is closer to the family median (but still above it) and makes around 80-90K and has 4 children. Even at the least expensive tuition option, how are they supposed to pay? What are they supposed to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars against? Are you saying you don't believe in a yeshiva education for all (or a at least not one that might provide a semi-decent secular education)? Are you saying we don't want those who aren't smart enough to figure out a way to earn 150K plus even in a recession?

Anonymous said...

JS: What is your definition of an affordable school for a true middle class family? How would you structure a school to get to that price? Do you think that a school that is good enough to prepare students for college and to compete in the marketplace enough to get a decent job can be had for 6,000? 8,000? 10,000?

tesyaa said...

Anon 11:33 and 11:38 (can't tell if you are the same or different): are you saying that universal yeshiva education (including decent secular studies) for all is an imperative, regardless if the community can bear the cost? Let's take your lower earning families as an example; we agree they have to be subsidized or their kids could not go to yeshiva.

Imagine, now, that the community as a whole can no longer bear the cost of sending all kids to yeshiva. What then? What does the community borrow against? I know there's a lot of thinking that current wealthy donors are bottomless pits, or that billionaires should swoop in and save the day, but realistically, that is a choice that they may not make.

If yeshiva for all (which you believe is inviolable) is unsustainable, what's the end result?

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Anon 11:33.

IMHO the yeshivas have ways to lower tuition for many, but it would not allow for the "equality" that they want to have between children of different means.

In a previous thread I mentioned the "Detroit solution". That may be where we will have to go.

In addition, I don't see a newer family in 5 years struggling to pay full tuition when another older family not paying, while still having the gold watch, silver liechter & candlabra & tray (could be 200-300 OZ right there).

Miami Al said...

Anonymous,

First of all, a family earning $80k-$90k should probably not be sending their child to the same private school as JS.

The Catholic school system provides the best example for how to run a dual system.

The Diocese run schools are subsidized from Diocese level donations. Generally down here, they run from $4500/year - $6000/year. They often have a family cap of 4 times that. There are third party scholarships available for the indigent, but everyone is expected to contribute something.

There are also Catholic Prep Schools, these are classified as Independent Schools (the official and non elitest name of Private Schools). They ran in Tuition from $12000 - $27000 per hear. They are Catholic, but not subsidized. The schools are populated with the rich Catholics and "scholarship kids," where Scholarship kids are scholars, athletes, and others recruited by the school for a special skill, NOT middle class families that simply don't want the Diocese schools.

At $4500/child, $18000/family cap, a Catholic family that wants that education for their children can get it. For lower wage earners, it means both parents working, possibly a third job. It means cutting out everything else. But if that's the education you want for your children, you can make it happen.

However, that would mean establishing ACTUAL communal charities. The Day Schools are sucking all the Tzedakah money out. Trying to hold tuition down for a $200k Lawyer family seems like a poor use of communal charity money. Affordable education for all seems more reasonable.

In addition, while the Catholic Church does close under performing Parishes (the local house of worship), for both financial and attendance levels, they also do have Parishes in lower income areas. The money flows around from richer area to poorer area.

They do a LOT wrong. But, they learned a lot of the lessons that we did. They set up American private schools about one generation before American Jews did. They achieved financially affluence about one generation before American Jews did. Their model, if adopted by the OU, could probably help dramatically. They are having trouble with schools as well, but they are 20 years ahead of us in confronting this issue.

JS said...

Anon 11:33 & 11:38,

Let's start with the assumption that there must be yeshiva education for all. If you had to build such a system from the ground up, how would you do it?

I'm not coming from any perspective of income earned. It's immaterial whether you have a community that is rich or poor or with a broad spectrum of incomes. The community needs to analyze what its make up is and plan accordingly. If you have a community where everyone is rich and they want an exclusive prep school yeshiva and everyone can pay, great. If you have a community where everyone is poor and they decide to use the spare room in the shul and have the shul rabbi teach Jewish subjects in a schoolhouse setting, that's great as well. But, when you have a broad spectrum of wage earners, neither of those approaches exclusively is going to work.

Unfortunately, the way we've decided to address the problem of disparate incomes is to treat everyone as equal. Everyone attends the same school regardless of income or ability to pay. We spurn the notion of a "rich" school and a "poor" school we have an "everyone" school (which inevitably looks like the "rich" school). Now, if there was communal consent to such a model and everyone agreed that we want to subsidize regardless of ability to pay, that would be fine - but, there is no such consensus or agreement. Further, such a model would be more workable if it was a "middle-income" school where the middle 50% could afford it and the top 25% supported the bottom 25% (for example). Instead, we have a rich man's school where only the top 25% or so support everyone else. Again, this wouldn't be a problem if everyone agreed with this model (or if it was actually sustainable).

It's not a tragedy that different schools may be better for families with different incomes. With one school for all regardless of ability to pay there's no incentive within the system to actually be a full payer (there may be incentives to earn enough to be a full payer if you earn more than enough to pay tuition and have extras). If I'm going to be on scholarship anyways, why kill myself to make more money for the yeshiva? If the yeshiva isn't going to ask me to give up all luxuries why should I? Why shouldn't I buy a house like everyone else or have my spouse work part-time or stay at home? Why should I be the one sucker who suffers?

I have no issue with scholarships if this is what the community really wants to do - I just see no evidence it's supported. If scholarships were eliminated, the current model of one ("rich") school for all would collapse. In its place would be schools people could actually afford and/or a push for other educational models and/or an affirmative decision that we really do want to subsidize certain people.

Just to further clarify, my parents were middle class, they struggled very hard even without tuition. Yet, they found a way to pay for yeshiva because they really valued it. They sacrificed for years to pay for it and we really had no luxuries growing up (no, we weren't deprived, just no luxuries - e.g., going camping and community day camps, not Jewish sleepaway camps). Then again, the schools back then didn't give scholarships to families with their (low) income and didn't load up the schools with expensive extras because who cares if things are expensive, we'll just give everyone a scholarship.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al: I hear what you are saying about the Catholic school model. However, I don't see that happening without a very powerful, centralized body like the Roman catholic church (or at least like it used to be). It's doable within some RW or chassidic communities where there is a rebbe that calls the shots, but I don't see it happening in other communities where there is no agreement on things like whether classes should be co-ed and at what age, what type of kippa and whether jackets are required for davening. I would also note that even many catholic schools are closing. Many catholic schools also have the benefit of being around for a long time with buildings long since paid off and priests and nuns as teachers at far lower pay than rabbis and jewish school administrators command.

Anonymous said...

JS: I suspect that when you were growing up and your parents were able to swing tuition, albeit with great effort, that the average tuition was a smaller percent of average earnings than it is now. In other words, tution has increased faster than inflation. Add stagnating wages for the middle class, expenses that weren't around in the 1970's and 1980's (i.e. 5K taken out of your paycheck for employee contributions to health insurance) and the average middle class family would have a much harder time than your parents did.

Miami Al said...

Anon 12:35,

Sure, the Catholic Church closes schools. That's a good thing. They are closing schools where there aren't Catholic youth using them, and opening them where they are.

The Priest/Nun labor issue hasn't been substantial in 20 years. They've had massive clergy shortages, and almost their entire school system uses professional educators.

However, if you consider where someone lives not where they can afford, but rather their entire religious viewpoint, you have a problem.

A Modern Orthodox School should have Modern Orthodox Rabbis. However, since we have very minute ideas, a "Teaneck Rabbi" vs. a "Passaic Rabbi" (please note, this is what I've seen on blogs, I have no idea about various New Jersey suburbs, I think I've seen an exit on the Parkway for Passaic, but I have no idea where it is, and I've been to Teaneck once and got lost on the way, substitute different towns if you want). Therefore, you want to hire Judaic staff that live in your city. Therefore, you have to pay enough to support them living there.

A business associate is considering the $27,000 school for high school, his local high school isn't very good. I'm pretty certain that the teachers at the $27,000 Private Catholic School don't live anywhere near him. I'm VERY certain that they don't live near the parents who have had their children in the Independent Catholic system since Kindergarten. They simply can't afford to live there.

The easiest solution would be use an umbrella group like the OU and fund Shuls in cheaper neighborhoods. It would be much more cost effective for Teaneck Jews to subsidize a Shul in a nearby city than instead pay double for teaching staff and more tuition to subsidize people that can't afford Teaneck.

JS said...

Anon 12:38,

I did say, "Then again, the schools back then didn't give scholarships to families with their (low) income and didn't load up the schools with expensive extras because who cares if things are expensive, we'll just give everyone a scholarship."

I have no doubt that tuition is a greater percentage of income now than it was when I was growing up. As I said above though, I don't think that made it any easier for my parents to pay it. I also don't see too many families sacrificing the way my parents did: small house, driving cars into the ground, taking equity out of home, no sleep away camps, no vacations other than camping trips, no cleaning help, renting for many years before buying, etc.

Regardless, costs couldn't have risen at the yeshivas the way they did if parents and the community weren't right on board. This is what happens when the costs of those increases are borne by a smaller and smaller number/percentage of families.

Further, if yeshiva costs so much more of a percentage of a family's income now than it did then, shouldn't we be recognizing there's something seriously wrong with the current model?

Abba's Rantings said...

i think JS and Al are on target.

i think a big part of the problem is that people are not careful enough in choosing where to settle. they think of affordability strictly in terms of housing costs and expect all else just to fall in place (if they even think about it altogether–i mean who really thinks about tuition when they have just one baby and they’re buying that house?). but just because someone can afford the house, doesn’t mean they can really afford the “community.” . i don’t think there is any shame in that.

gil (hirhurim) once had an intersting post about seeing a kid in shul with torn pants. until then he never would have imagined that the parents couldn't afford new pants, and it demonstrates how wonderful it is that "rich" and "poor" can sit next to each other in shul without really knowing the other’s financial status (or something like that). i though it was a very nice post with an important message. it is something special about us. but i think the flipside is that it creates unrealistic expectations and standards for those not on the higher rungs, and this is the mess we are dealing with here.

Anonymous said...

JS: I suspect that families didn't start complaining much about tuition being a larger and larger portion of their income because until the past ten years or so, it looked like the pie was getting bigger and bigger and many people, at least by their late 30's and 40's had a better lifestyle than their parents and grandparents, at least if measured by material goods, home size and things we take for granted now. Alth not ancient, I'm old enough to remember when a long-distance call was a big deal, only the really wealthy had air-conditioning and color tv's and no one had ever heard of granite counter tops or 50 varieties of coffe, much less lattes or cappuccino and 1200 square feet was more than enough for a family of 9. It is only now that the pie is shrinking and we don't have the expectation of ever increasing wealth and goodies that we've come to a rude awakening. The bubble has burst, but no one wants to admit we are going to have to live more simply than our parents did instead of more lavishly. Its especially hard for the jews who live near and work with the top 3% for whom the pie is growing because it fuels unreasonable expectations and parents want to get their kids into that top 3%.

Abba's Rantings said...

ANON:

"Its especially hard for the jews who live near and work with the top 3%"

that is the other half of the expectations problem that i wrote about in my previous comment. there i noted that jews of various income levels all live together creating unrealistic standards and expectations.

now it's bad enough we can't really live the way some of the richer people in our shuls do, but we can't even live as well as our coworkers who make they same $ (or even less!). but we don't realize this and expect to enjoy the same things in life as do our coworkers who don't pay tuition. this is the second set of unrealistic standards/expectations we need to learn to deal with.

i.e., just because the guy next to you in shul is going to israel for pesach doesn't mean you can. and just because they guy in the next cubicle at work is going to jamaica off season means you can.

Anonymous said...

JS: One would think that the result of immersion in a religious community would make people less materialistic. Being completely nonaquisitive and nonmaterial is entirely unrealistic - after all we are human, but shouldn't purportedly religious people be less into spending money? Instead, there seem to be religious justifications for lots of spending, whether its summer camp, new clothes for holidays, big weddings, or silver.

JS said...

Abba,

Beyond that, we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that many things that we pay for are luxuries. This is bad for 2 reasons: 1) We think they are necessities and 2) We don't appreciate just how good we have it.

Yeshiva is private school and as such is a luxury. Calling it a religious necessity just mucks up dealing with the issue in a rational manner.

Going back to the silver issue - calling it hiddur mitzvah skews how we view things. Having a multi-thousand dollar candelabra and other expensive silver items are not religious necessities, they are religious luxuries.

Same with having a stay at home spouse, sleep away camps, trips to Israel, bar/bat mitzvah parties, wedding ceremonies, etc. These are all luxuries.

Yet, we fundraise and collect charity for luxuries. To explicate one example: Getting MARRIED is a mitzvah, having a wedding ceremony is a luxury.

So, because of this, we have families with one spouse at home, thousands of dollars in silver sitting around, kids in private school and going to sleepaway camps, 3-4 bedroom home in a nice suburb of NY, etc. and not only do they not realize or appreciate the tremendous luxuries they enjoy, they claim poverty, seek communal tzedaka, and complain bitterly about how all these religious necessities are bankrupting them.

aunt of nephew, aka frum actuary 2 said...

I know I am weighing in late, I simply didn't have time before.

When the school comes and tells us "we are in dire straits would you sell some of your silver to pay your tuition" I look around and see the head of the school in a mcmansion and that he just bought his son a house, and that the budget of the school is totally not transparent. I think if the schools would open their books and allow someone to come in an clean up shop (I know this was offered to a large school in one of our (non NJ, NY metro area) schools he was flatly turned down. I think people are looking at the schools and thinking that they are being fleeced, so why should they pay full tuition. Paying full tuition must be for suckers. (disclaimer - I pay full tuition, but that is because I have a smaller than average family size and a larger than average income since I am older than most of you and bought our house before prices skyrocketed.)

We need to rearrange our priorities. But I don't see that happening as long as the schools administration has a lifestyle far above the average parent in the school. On the big snowstorm day some of my relatives were stuck. Who comes driving a 4 wheel suv and rescues them? The head of the school. I don't know but the school seems to be paying him very well. Makes you wonder if what they are charging is at all reflective of the costs (maybe it is, who knows)

OK I think I rambled enough, but my nephew was upset that I didn't comment.

Ariella said...

This sounds rather like a Purim post. I have news for you, even with silver at over $35 an ounce, most people who have a few silver candy dishes, bechers, etc. are not sitting on a fortune. The silver coins we bought for my son's pidyon haben, for example, were just above $7 a piece. So they've increased in value 5 times. But we only have 5 of them. (BTW the cohen kept the coins we gave him, but I told my husband to buy an extra 5). We also have various silver gifts -- some more useless than others -- but the value of those would not have increased fivefold, as the cost of such objects depends largely on the workmanship, not the value of the material. All of them would not amount to anywhere near $10K. (Perhaps the person envisions the type who must set up a home with only sterling silver flatware, silver mezuzos on every door, silver seder plates, gigantic solid silver kos shel Eliyahu, etc., etc.)

But the flip side, I would say that it is preferable to sell the things for whatever they would fetch to pay bills due before resorting to begging via email posts or even going door to door, if the utilities are going to be shut down or if a family is on the verge of eviction due to nonpayment. I've seen posts asking for a few hundred dollars on that basis, and I wonder if they really didn't think about what they can sell to get the money without demanding tzedaka.

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Ariella:

I think you would be surprised. You may be an exception because you husband? got "bar mitzva"ed too early (by the last boom) but you (or others) could have easily gotten 20 pieces (more if you include Bar Mitzva presents of one's husband), each now which could sell at 200-300 each. Add Silver Menorah, Liechter & Tray, and you see how it gets there.

I would be curious, actually. If you could weigh your silver (in total) if it would be over 250-300 OZ (approximate 10K) or close, or totally not. I know I am over the 10K amount (and I think I am typical).

My Aunt has a good point. That is why it may force that will show exectly how much yeshiva day school means to you. It is possible that many will say "nothing doing" and leave.

Anonymous said...

Nephew: 20 silver items for a bar mitzvah boy points out more folly in some circles -- excessive simchas and elaborate gifts.

Anonymous said...

Can someone please explain to me, what is the deal with the frum community's obsession with silver? Please?

Nephew of Frum Actuary said...

Anon 9:33:

Not 20 just for the Bar Mitzva, 20 - 30 total between Bar Mitzva (lets say 3-7) and wedding.

My Brother was just going through the various Bar Mitzva presents that he had placed in storage. A few Heavy Bechers (that he showed me, there may have been more (I remember getting 4)). Add his Menorah and Esrog box, and we are already talking a couple of thousand.

10:35: That is what is was in Europe as well. I don't know why.

Miami Al said...

Anon 10:35,

It's a precious metal, therefore a storage of wealth.

It's a relatively cheap precious metal (much cheaper than gold or platinum), making it appropriate for the not wealthy Jews.

Makes sense in Europe, where metals as storage of value would still have been prevalent in the boonies where the Jewish communities would be.

In America? Makes little sense, free coinage of silver was a 19th Century Rallying cry, not the 20th. But the family heirlooms would be silver, so somewhat makes sense than the "new heirlooms" would be silver as well.

tesyaa said...

In India the obsession is with gold. Even relatively poor brides get gifts of 24 karat jewelry (and 24 karat only).

Does anyone realize that one purpose of giving an engagement ring is so that the bride has something to sell if her husband dies or walks out on her? It's the DeBeers ads that made it a token of love (and the larger the token, the greater the love - obviously)! It stands to reason that if an intact family is having trouble making ends meet, they should consider if they need the ring or its monetary value more.

I've got silver said...

Funny story from a divorce lawyer (I heard it second hand, so I can not verify): A couple had settled on everything except the huge heavy silver lichter, which was his grandmothers and ended up being used by his wife. Each side wanted it; the finally were told to sell it (Cut the baby in half?) The store owner saw how heavy it was, opened the plate on bottom and removed a rock that was placed in the hollow section to give it heft.

Rochel said...

Just received a journal ad request from my former day school. I have a silver becher that is sitting in my cabinet not being used. Idea! I will sell the cup and use the money to put an ad in the day school journal (i.e., a donation). Any other positive ideas to help day schools?

Anonymous said...

Chaim - I feel terrible for you. The administrators (probably rabbis?) at you kids school are gazlanim, corrupt in the most vizcikus of ways. I would seriously consider taking them to a beis din. I hope you can find a way to escape their clutches and save the remainder of your sentimental cheftzei mitzvah.

Dovy said...

>Even if everyone sold their silver (most families do not have more than 3/4k worth of silver) to pay for tuition, well ok, that would help towards tuition for one year. What happens the next year?<

Ummm, did you ever consider selling the kids themselves?