Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Financial Impossibility": Stop with the Excuses Already

There is an editorial up by a Matzav columnist and Rabbi declaring frum living a "financial impossibility." I have dedicated a lot of space on this blog to trying to empower people in Orthodox community to take the bull by the horns and create financially viability for their family. I find it frustrating when the message that comes from all sides is that being frum = poor. I imagine that many of us have family members from the "old country" who weren't particularly fond of being poor and blamed it on religion. I find it highly irresponsible for people in positions of influence to put out a message that we are doomed by virtue of adherence to Torah, when in fact we are largely doomed by our own dysfunction and foolishness.

Part of that dysfunction is that we spend money like poor people. We have no clue how to prioritise, not at the communal level and often not at the individual level. The author of the editorial lumps simcha/wedding expenses and parental support together with food, clothing, and shelter. That is telling and it is exactly where the problem lies. He prefaces this list of expenses with the disclaimer that "most of these expenses cannot be considered luxuries by any stretch of the imagination." Pretending that this, that, and the other thing are necessities is exactly why far too many families in frum community are way in over their heads! We are spending like fools on an individual and a communal level and instead of taking an honest look at our spending habits, we declare most of it "necessary."

I have a brochure from a known tzedakah sitting on right here (I plan to scan it soon) which places Hachnosas Kallah on page one. The donations being sought for the kallah's package include (this isn't a complete list, just what I'm reprinting):
$3,600 for apparel
$300 for classes
$1,800 for 2 wigs
$900 for bed and bath
$2,800 for bedroom furniture
$840 for 2nd night sheva brochos
$2,500 for the shabbos sheva brochos catering expense and $800 for the hall
$1100 for the melava malkah

Following hachnosos kallah are pages regarding collecting for medical expenses, clothing families, food, and helping people in business. Yes, hachnasat kallah is a mitzvah, but the priorities in spending are beyond foolish. A couple that can't even dream of supporting themselves (the charity is also collecting for 18 months of rent for these couples) is doling out $3,600 for apparel!

The habits I see in the frum community are habits I see in many disadvantaged areas and in 3rd world countries (see this article on Egypt's average wedding cost in comparison to average family income). We have tons of smokers (and drinkers). We have families dripping in "bling" that don't make even $20,000 a year. Here is a clue: if the price of all your jewelry, the price of all of your silver, and the price of your sheitel exceed your yearly household income, it doesn't matter who provided all of these goodies, you have a consumption problem. We have families in section 8 housing who hire cleaning help. We borrow as a way of life (and are told that this is the way to survive). We marry of teens and 20 year old children to the tune of mid-five figures who have yet to pay an electricity bill of their own. Of course, we don't invest in their education because we already spent the bank on everything else. We spend on designer gear and clothing as if it was the 11th commandment (thou shalt dress children in matching clothing, buy shoes at Stride Rite, and push a McClaren, Peg, Valero, or Mountain Buggy stroller).

Our habits look pretty bad and it is time to take an honest assessment instead of turning a blind eye and calling most of the expenses "necessary." Enough with the excuses!

Recommended reading for every frum family should be Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover (reviewed here) and The Millionaire Next Door (to be reviewed). No, these books won't tell you how to pay for day school/yeshiva, chassunas, and sleepaway camp. But they will let you in on how financial success is built: a hate of debt, a willingness to step outside of the box, and a low consumption lifestyle, and savings to help generate security and eventually dividends. We have to remember that expense begets expense and that savings generate income. From Rav Salanter to the Ben Ish Hai, I have yet to see an endorsement of the crazy spending that we are told is necessary.

We need to deprogram ourselves from all of the bad financial advice we have been fed from the importance of household help to the necessity of everything under the sun and start to make adjustments. I sure don't need my children getting the message that living a Torah life means poverty. Our kids don't want to be poor and neither do I!


Anonymous said...

I could not agree more. I noted a few months ago that we have priced ourselves out of our own lives. I just put up a post with the average expenses for the average family of 6 living in Bergen County and making $200,000 which by all intense and purposes is a lot of money. The final number I came up with is after everything is factored in, before tuition and extraordinary expenses or savings that family is left with $24,000. The tuition bill alone is around $56,000 (14K a kid). I did not factor in camp either which with both parents working full time to make ends meet is a necessary expense. It seems the frum community has lost sight of reality.

Anonymous said...

The frum community is very materialistic, which was one of my biggest shocks upon becoming religious.

The Bald Guy said...

I agree as well, see the infamous "sell a kidney" sh'eila. I do think though that frum living has become almost prohibitively expensive, starting with housing - you pay a ridiculous premium in price and property taxes to live in a frum area, no matter where you live in the USA. Add in tuition and kosher food and you're already behind the curve.

gavra@work said...

Just attempted to post on Matzav:

The author has left out some points:

1: Supporting married children - must be stopped
2: Foresight: Not college for all, but an idea in HS how you plan on raising a family (college, family business, whatever).
3: Out of town.

There is no reason why one can't live within their means, even with full tuition, IF they planned ahead. endpost

Your point is why I stopped giving to "Hach'nosas Kallah" (let alone Apartments!). They just don't need it more than the Rabbaim in my local school, or the local jewish food bank, or the couple who is trying to conceive.

Miami Al said...

Sorry, the problem is not Frum living, the problem is that the Frum community has become socialist.

Our problem is that poor frum Jews are encouraged to living in the slums surrounding nice Jewish areas, instead of establishing funds to help poor Jews have their own communities. Private schooling has moved from something the middle and upper middle class Jews struggled with to an entitlement of the poor.

Kosher food expensive? I suppose it is... meat is double priced and hard cheeses are more expensive... there isn't a HUGE gap in the rest... but we've decided that poor Jews need to eat a LOT of meet.

Quite frankly, set up tzedakah to help Jews that live in income appropriate areas have appropriate resources, instead of encouraging them to glom onto wealthier areas and leach off the system.

Shut down scholarships (except AS raised from tzedakah for TEMPORARY set backs) for the schools, and instead raise communal funds to help poor Jews receive a Jewish education, IN THEIR communities.

The wealthy Episcopalian family down the street doesn't share a Church, school, or store with the poor Baptist family... but their charity might setup a food bank in their neighborhood.

Or, for a more relevant example...

The wealthy white Catholic Diocese may fundraise to help poor Latino immigrant Catholics get a Catholic education, but NOBODY is suggesting the the wealthy Catholics at the 20k/year Independent Catholic School should admit them into their school for free, they pass the collection plate and the diocese moves SOME money to supporting a school for them IN THEIR neighborhood.

Being Frum doesn't require you to be poor. Not making income requires you to be poor. Telling a family making 60k that they should live in a neighborhood with people making 200k and dress the same and attend the same school as them makes them poor. Telling the 200k family to pay double tuition so the 60k family goes to the same school makes them poor.

Bklynmom said...

Two points--
1--You can have a very good wedding for less that the cost of shabbos sheva brochos and melava malkah quoted here.
2--The Jewish community is very good a both applying peer pressure and succumbing to it, and the community leadership promotes it. It's seen in everything, from food choices to clothing, to housing and furnishings, to places they shop, to choosing the "appropriate" schools and camps, to calling on the "right" shadchanim. Until religious Jews learn to think for themselves, everyone will expect brand name clothes and granite countertops.

Anonymous said...

Orthonomics - We need to deprogram ourselves from all of the bad financial advice we have been fed from the importance of household help to the necessity of everything under the sun and start to make adjustments. I sure don't need my children getting the message that living a Torah life means poverty. Our kids don't want to be poor and neither do I!

Right on!!! I only wish there were more normal people like you and me in the frum world.


Shoshana Z. said...

After six years of home-schooling, I wouldn't trade it for any other way of educating my children. And I can give you many tens of reasons why I find it an ideal and pleasant path. But when we started, the number 1 reason we made the decision was because we could not afford to pay for private school. And we were not (and are still not) prepared to go into debt that we knew we could *never* repay based on our earnings. Plain and simple.

Dave said...

When the Madoff scheme hit Jewish charities, did you note some of the comments on sites like VIN?

They were attacking Jewish charities for having endowments, rather than simply spending every dollar the moment it came in.

Orthonomics said...

See this post:

The dysfunction runs deep.

rosie said...

brooklyn mom, you just said what I have said for a long time. It is peer pressure. I believe in takanos where community leaders make it prohibited to spend more than a nominal amount on simchas. Of course, many frum Jews make a living off of simchas so it may be somewhat of a vicious circle.

Bklynmom said...

Rosie, then those frum Jews who make their living off simchas will either have to price their services competitively or find other ways to earn a living. They might even have to expand their circle of potential clients to include non-frum Jews or non-Jews
I don't think you need takanos; you just need common sense and ability to think for yourself.

Orthonomics said...

There have already been takanot and they have been largely ignored by both those who wrote them and those begging for them.

Adults have to just start acting like adults.

Anonymous said...

It would be appeciated for a an Orthodox economic Committe to be started. Orthonomics should be on it.

Anonymous said...

Where is the Orthodox leadership? Both Rabbinic and Lay.

Anonymous said...

I also think it is time the kiruv movement comes clean with people on the costs of being frum. Instead of people entering the religion starry eyed and dazzled, they could be more realistic about parnassah, how much they earn vs. how much will be going out, etc. I hate to say it, but I think a lot of people will be turned away/off. I am a convert, and this new sheitel/outfits for the family/kiddush vs. lunch vs. catered affair for the smallest occasion is not what I signed up for. Don't even get me started on tuition. (I don't do any of this which makes me more of an outcast in my chosen religion)Does Hashem fit into any of this?

Anonymous said...

I get the sense that most of the people who post here are not the ones with the lavish simchas and excesses on clothes and baby buggies, etc. and that many posters do have a college education and are working. Even with that, you can't get around the fact that tuition (even if at a no-frills, well-run school)for multiple children is still going to be a huge expense. (I don't buy that anything besides tuition is or should be different for the average frum family as compared to the average american family. Even kosher doesn't have to be that much more if you don't eat a lot of meat/cheese)

So while living an observant life doesn't and shouldn't mean poverty, there is no denying that there are choices to be made and if private school is important to you, then (a) you are going to have to work hard and for many families, that means both parents working; and (b) you are not going to be able to afford to buy the things and/or have the household help and vacations that someone with the same earnings and not sending their children to private school can.

rosie said...

My daughter and her husband live in Crown Heights and she said that their crowd really economizes. They don't have much of a choice anyway but They ration the meat and chicken and cheese and the children wear clothes handed down from older cousins. One thing that I think they should not buy though is cheap, junkie kid's shoes. They fall apart in record time or they cause foot problems.

Hand to Mouth said...

"I sure don't need my children getting the message that living a Torah life means poverty."

1) It's probably too late for that. You can't turn a community's economy on a dime; people with low earning power due to not having gone to college can't suddenly get great jobs.

It may also too late in another sense: the generation may already have gotten the message. Read some autobiographies from the century of mass exodus from frumkeit (1850-1950). A constantly recurring theme was the desire to not live the life of economic burden that they saw their parents live. If frumkeit lowers the standard of living (and it hasn't really) yet, expect mass defection to resume.

2) There's some truth to it. After all, the point of your post is that you can economically manage to be frum--if you live with less. The latter may not mean "poverty" but it's certainly means something.

If being frum means living a lesser lifestyle than what you see around you (i.e. at the same income level) then there will in fact be (some) truth to the idea the frum = "poor". Keep in mind that people's perception of their wealth is almost totally relative to their surroundings--and we live in America. Remaining frum would mean being willing to make large lifestyle sacrifices. My grandfather's generation was and did; I'm highly doubtful that the current and upcoming generation are or will.

mlevin said...

Anonymous 8:32

I take affront when you say that most people who read this don't spend a lot on lavish wedding.

I just married off my daughter and I'd like to think that it was a lavish wedding. Ok, we didn't spend $200,000 on it like a wedding I've been to two weeks ago, but I think ours was nicer at one fifth the price. It was in a nice hall with good shmorg, top shelf alchohol and 6 choices of meals for a reception. Everyone was happy.

Why was I able to do it? 1. Both my husband and I have been working hard and we never went into debt. The only debt we think we had, was when we bought a house spending 100 percent of our money, and borrowed $20,000 from his aunt to keep in the bank so we won't have to pay penalties. It was a slow process, but we economized and paid her back that $20,000 as quickly as possible. 2. My children went to public school and 3. we went without a lot of things. 4. Our idea of a night out was either coming to our friends house (with the children) or they came over to ours. We took turns. 5. We had poor quality furniture, and it fell apart fairly quickly. We did not buy new furniture, we invested into duck tape and it held until we were able to afford new.

6. When my children were older I needed to dedicate more of my time educating them. Public Schools are very competitive and if you (parents) don't keep up, your children will fall behind and will end up in the class full of dummies. Plus my children needed Jewish education too. They attended Hebrew school three time per week and I supplemented it on my own. All of it is time consuming, so we hired a cleaning lady to help once a week, because cleaning help is a lot cheaper than tutors in either Jewish or Secular studies.

Now, my house is paid off and we have a tenant. I lost my job back in January and my husbad had to take a pay cut and we still have a tuition for one in Yeshivah. (Last year, thank gd.) But we were able to afford a good wedding. Friday night shevah brochos we did in our house. I cooked everything myself. Total cost including desert was $160. Saturday afternoon sheva brochos we threw a regular kiddush for entire shul in shul. Chulent, kugel, chicken fingers and challah. Total cost $1200.

I remember being told back then that by the time I will save enough for a new furniture, that person will be buying a third set, on credit. I responded "But I will pay for it once and forget about it, you will be paying for it over and over again, even after you replace it." That person was making fun of my mindset, but I think that I have the last laugh.

Lion of Zion said...


"Add in tuition and kosher food and you're already behind the curve."

why should kosher food be a factor? staying away from the jewish groceries and cutting meat out of a diet essentially erases any differential between jewish and non-jewish food budget. (assuming cholov stam)

Inconvenient Truth said...

I think we need to be more realistic about our lifestyle choices. If you can't afford to provide, educate, and life the lifestyle you want to live in with a family of 6, then you need to make hard choices. Either change lifestyle, educational choice, or family size.

Why do we refuse to talk about public school?

Why do we refuse to have a frank, albeit uncomfortable, conversation about family size?

JLan said...

"cutting meat out of a diet"

Loz- I'd say you have to cut kosher cheese out as well, to make things more even.

efrex said...

All valid points, but this is also part of the general American consumption culture which has affected us, no matter how insulated a community is. Financial responsibility is far too often viewed subjectively, not objectively, and it takes a strong will to firmly state that everybody else is crazy. See the still-ongoing housing bubble for a classic example.

Being frum does not have to equate being poor, but being frum and financially astute almost always equates having less than your non-Jewish colleague. If you want to have a large family and/or send your children to yeshiva, then be prepared to bunk them in small homes or (*gasp*) be a lifetime renter.

You don't even need to read the recommended books. Simply spend 3 minutes to watch the classic Saturday Night Live sketch Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford, followed by reading Scott Adams's Unified Theory of Everything Financial, and you're well on your way...

Miami Al said...

Efrex, that's NOT true. Your lifestyle is equivalent to non-Frum Jews and non-Jews with similar lifestyles.

Is our meat more expensive, yes. How much meat SHOULD a normal person eat in a week (health-wise, not cost wise)? There is a premium there, BUT the Frum family brings lunch with them to work instead of going out to lunch. Nobody holds it against the Kosher guy who brings a lunch, but everyone else is expected to go out for lunch semi-regularly, and those that don't get perceived as cheap. I'd bet food is more or less a wash.

Entertainment: if NOTHING else is cut, the Frum family doesn't go out to dinner Friday nights, Saturday lunches, or usually Saturday night (expect DINK families in urban areas, or older empty nesters), or do other activities then that burn up money during that time. The Shabbat Seudah isn't dramatically different in cost than an Italian family's Sunday night dinners.

Holidays: Pesach CAN be a fortune if you throw money away, but if you are reasonable for the week, your premium costs is probably WAY less than your Protestant co-workers spend on Christmas each you.

Our cost structure isn't that high EXCEPT "private school for all." However, our private schools are less expensive then the prep schools in the area. If your co-workers are struggling for prep school with 3 kids, they have a similar struggle to 4 in Yeshiva, and for the Modern Orthodox Jew that works with a wide variety, there is usually a 1.5 child premium, it's not 8 kids vs. 1 like its made out to here.

What I find bizarre, and maybe its a function of this site's cross section, but you aren't Apples-to-Apples comparing families.

A family with an income of $75k should compare themselves to families with an income of $75k and the choices that they made. Plenty of families in that income range send their kids to Catholic schools, but NOT Prep schools... look at the RW Yeshivot that are similar. However, the families in the $150k+ range... they may not use private school (though some do and live modestly), but they have PLENTY of entertainment and childcare expenses you don't have. It probably isn't mandatory for your children to be in Boy/Girl Scouts, Karate/Tae Kwon Do, and a sports league AT ALL times.

But I think a lot of the bitterness is the $100k-$150k families that grew up in the $50k-$75k range, and are comparing their expenses to their recollection of middle class life, NOT the costs of modern upper middle class life that they would otherwise have.

The expensive wig as requirement? Sure, it costs money. My non-religious mother had a closet full of expensive dresses/gowns for all the various functions that she had to attend. The observant woman isn't expected to be in a dress nobody has seen her in.

Sorry, if you're "expected" at Shul dinners and School dinners, you'd otherwise be "expected" at equivalent events in the non-Frum world that have similar cost structures.

mlevin said...

Miami Al - bravo!!!
I agree with everything you said.

There a few additions: Sweet sixteen party, if catholic there are two religious milestone (can't remember the name). Most religion require 10% charity donations.

Anonymous said...

Miami Al -- Good point about the entertainment. I have a close friend who is not Shomer Shabbos whose daughter is on a figure skating team (think synchronized swimming, only on ice) and all her expenses add up to about $25K per year!! That includes rink time, private and group instruction, equipment, clothing, travel to competitions, etc. Just an example to corroborate what Miami Al is saying.

Dave said...

Also worth noting. Kosher meat is more expensive than other factory farmed meat.

It is not more expensive than the free range/gress fed/etc meats that many people in the same income brackets choose to eat.

The same is true for milk and cheese as well.

What is true is that someone who prefers higher end meats has room to "downsize" their tastes and still eat meat.

mlevin said...

And kosher meat is not more expensive than shrimp and crab and lobster. When I was looking for wedding halls for my daughter, none-kosher are more than twice the price of the kosher wedding.

Offwinger said...

There are so many areas that the frum community has adopted a "necessity" mindset to something that is a luxury, I find it baffling to know where to begin. I also recognize that a decent amount of these consumption-oriented habits are merely an adaptation of what is happening in America more generally.

Here are some examples of things that are perceived as needs, but are wants/conveniences:

(1) Presumed dual-car ownership vs. use of public transit and/or making due with one car per family. A car for every adult driver in the house? Are you sure it is really necessary for your household? Could you take the bus? Have home delivery? Car-pool with a neighbor for errands? Use a taxi or car service when it is really needed? Unless you have two adults who each must commute by car to work, then you likely are paying for car insurance, gas, maintenance (not to mention the cost of the car) as a convenience.

Yes, I realize that certain frum areas are car-necessary suburbs - guess what? Living there is an expensive choice if it means you must have two cars! American development from 1950-2000 revolved around the car and a car-centric culture of living, and we're paying the price by adopting this in the frum world. Yet since so many frum people live in more concentrated urban clusters (even our suburbs tend to be connected to major metro areas), this is a financial cost we just presume, without considering carefully.

(2) Perfect climate control/central air & heating: Too much A/C & too often the minute it gets hot, thermostat too high when it's cold. Whatever happened to using a fan, opening windows or the reverse, having good insulation & putting on another layer. Also, when choosing between homes, more sq. footage is viewed as an essential +, rather than an additional drain on heating or cooling costs.

(3) Paying for cable/satellite TV AND internet (non-charedi): Yes, the internet is necessary for many of us to work. It's a common convenience we expect. So is television (and it's true that many people can not receive 'free' t.v. anymore where they live). Guess what? You can use old computers and your internet connection to watch many television shows, find quality programming for children, etc. You can borrow DVDs and media from the library. TV was never a need, but at this point, there is no *need* for regular cable/satellite tv even as a basic convenience!

There is nothing wrong with having multiple cars or central air/heat or cable tv if you can afford it. But a whole generation of young people have grown up with these luxuries, thinking that they are necessities, and they can't even fathom doing without, even as they remain mired in debt.

A fan said...

Miami Al, If you don't open your own blog and regularly post your insights, I'm going to fly down to Miami and make you.

Or just say please. Please?

Miami Al said...

Tesyaa, Dave, Mlevin,

ALL very true... that's what I mean about the Apples-Apples issue.

My co-workers and business partners AREN'T going to the ghetto super market and buying cheap cuts about to be thrown away to throw in a stew likes its Eastern Europe in a famine...

They are at Whole Foods spending the same or more per-pound that I do.

There are CERTAINLY income brackets where Frum is prohibitively expensive, but that's mostly because the Orthodox world has only recently gotten big enough (population wise) that it should have communities in all income ranges.

The Latino families have a quinciero (sp?), Catholics celebrate Baptism, Christening, and other milestones. We all have milestones.

For historical reasons, Jewish milestones and Catholic milestones are most similar, and the Italian Catholics are probably the most "Orthodox" of them in terms of having similar events to us.

But, the real thing is that you HAVE to live in a neighborhood that is around your income range. If you "reach" for a more expensive neighborhood (VERY common in the secular world, because they get a better school system), you are GOING to feel poor because you have less than your neighbors. However, that's a choice you make.

The guys whining about Bergen County that make $150k and can't live there... well, they should move. I can't live on Star Island, Fischer Island, or any of the playgrounds of the rich and famous, not because they don't sell property to Jews, but because I can't afford it. I have to live in a neighborhood filled with people around in my income range or I can't afford life... I need to make similar schooling choices to those in my income range...

There are some HUGE structural problems in the religious world, I'm NOT a defender of the status quo. However, the family making $150k that thinks that if they weren't Frum they'd have the cost structure of a family making $50k and spend $100k on vacations is OUT OF THEIR MIND.

It isn't the "housing is more expensive in Frum areas," it's that "housing is crappier in Frum areas..." If you bought a $500k house in a Frum neighborhood, you'd have probably otherwise bought a $500k house in another neighborhood. We can fool ourselves and say "I could get this house for $350k in another neighborhood," but you wouldn't, you'd have spent $500k and gotten a nicer house.

Some things are nicer being Frum (Shabbat, close knit community, etc.) some things are less nice, but let's not pretend that the struggling middle class would otherwise be kicking ass elsewhere, you'd just be struggling in a neighborhood with nicer housing.

Re: my blogging: not going to happen. I waste enough time commenting on this one without having my own soap box.

Anonymous said...

In the 60's my brothers and sisters and I grew up in an economically privileged home. My father, born in America into typical poverty, had attained a college degree. My mother, also from a poor family, used to frequently tell us children, "You kids are so lucky Daddy has a college degree and a good job." My father was a bureaucrat in a federal agency. How he valued that job, as it made possible our prosperous lives. How it lifted us from the norm in our town, where we were among the most privileged. Other fathers, Eastern European immigrants, were storekeepers or had very limited employment. A chasidic rabbi had no visible income but 10 children. (When my mother bought me a new dress when I was 7, she bought an identical dress for the 7 year old girl in this chasidic family. We enjoyed our matching dresses!) My mother would tell us how wonderful it was that my father had a college degree. That we had a car, a 1953 Chevy, which we used throughout the 1960's.

My great unfulfilled want was a popsicle of my very own. My mother would buy one popsicle for me and my sister, then cut it in half carefully, and each of us would get one stick. I longed for a double popsicle to myself! That was one of my mother's economies. But as she told us, we were lucky children.

By now you might realize that we were not prosperous at all, but we believed we were, because our frame of reference was European immigrant families where there was no college degree and no government job. And often little income.

I learned when I was older that we were well off because my mother was exceedingly grateful for what my father provided. We were well off because we were rather deluded, because we had a limited perspective. If we had known how strained our family finances were, we would have been unhappy and stressed.

I asked my father recently, "How did you manage to support five children and pay tuition?" He answered grimly, "By the skin of my teeth!"

And here I always thought we were one of the richest families in town. My parents never ever said a word against poor families who were receiving tuition breaks. We felt this was the Jewish way. Tzedakah was a must, a penny a day in the pushka.

My parents always wanted to move to Brooklyn where their family was. This was impossible because we couldn't afford housing there, even if my father could get a job in New York. So we lived in small town USA, where houses were cheap and life was affordable, at least for well to do families like ours!

Why am I telling you this? Because I feel you are all very dissatisfied because you are comparing yourselves to the wrong people. You live with a sense of undeserved want in the midst of a wealthy enclave. You would not dream of living in a small town. You have great demands, great needs, and you feel deprived. Sorry to leave you on a negative note, but I do not feel you have the least sense of gratitude for your truly privileged lives.

Anonymous said...

Great comments anonymous 12:54 and Miami Al. I've always thought that one of the issues with chosing to live places like BC is not only that prices are higher, but that you then are comparing your situation to that of some of the wealthiest Americans in the U.S. so you feel poorer.
After the basics -- food, shelter, heat, clothing, medical care, are taken care of at a basic level, everything else is relative.
What is it about human nature that we look at the guy who is (or appears to be) wealthier and feel cheated, rather than look at the person who is poorer and feel grateful?

megapixel said...

great post, and excellent point by miami al - that we jews have become socialist. Most obviously in the Hachanasas Kallah brochures. (one of my pet peeves) Why does a poor kallah need a $3000 bedroom set when she can get one from craigslist for $700.00?
Why does a poor kallah need two $300.00 sets of linen? I think the people that run these programs are socialists - they are wealthy ladies who want to provide the same as they would for their own daughters. thats sweet but wrong in so many ways.
in any case my dad always says, I married off eight kids and never spent more than i wanted to. you cant let yourself be pressured into spending money you dont want to spend. you have to be a big girl or boy and say NO! Dont wait for rabanim to come out with takanos.
and yes, if we hang out with wealthier people,we start thinking we need what they have. My grandmother told me that in Europe, the rich people socialized with other rich, and poor with the poor. She - poor- would never dream of hanging out with the rich folks. They had a different set of standards that the rich people. In some ways we have come a long way- the rich kids and poor kids all go to school together and play together and even wear the same uniforms,but that has it's down side as well - my poor daughter is going to want Uggs in a couple of years and she is going to get Payless!
but the earlier commenter that made lavish wedding because she saved money by sending her kids to public school in my opinion has a distorted sense of priorities. Give your kids a jewish education and make a simple wedding!!

Anonymous said...

We live in a small very affordable town and daven at Chabad. There is a Chabad in many small affordable towns. We carpool with the rabbi's family to yeshiva. Due to the more modest cost of living here, we can pay full tuition. I don't begrudge the rabbi's family the steep tuition breaks they get. We are blessed we can pay full tuition. I'm extremely frugal. I put decorative bars on my windows so in summer I use zero air-conditioning now. My woodstove not only delights the family but drastically cuts heating bills. Average heat bill in a snowy/cold state in my modest home is $100. month. I could move to the city and pay double for my mortgage, but I have clean air, beautiful mountain views and walking trails. My children really enjoy it here and their friends feel like they are visiting a vacation retreat when they come. Gotta think outside the frum-box people.

mlevin said...

Megapixel - you missed a point. My children went to PS not because I wanted to throw a lavish wedding, but because I couldn't afford yeshivah at that time. When I was able to afford it, they went to Yeshivah. Another thing you missed or assumed that just because my children did not go to yeshivah they didn't get Jewish education. That is simply not true. I sent them to a hebrew school and supplemented on my own.

Now that I am able to, I provided a "lavish wedding". If I wasn't able to afford it, I wouldn't be begging haknassat kallah or anyone else. Shul's backyard with challah and grape juice does the trick.

And guess what my girls with their PS education are frum and are not going OTD. How many people could say the same after cheating and lying and stealing and sending their children to yeshivahs.

Miami Al said...

Anyone have any stats Re: OTD rates of Yeshivot in general? A breakdown of MO Day School, Community Day Schools, and RW Yeshivot would be nice, but even a general one.

This growing black bit of finances that is sucking up more and more of the communities money should be able to demonstrate success, right?

I mean, the community is facing financial collapse, the Jewish people, envied by the gentile world for frugality (notice the recent flap from the Congressman whose letter out said that "it was said that the Jews who got rich were the ones that minded their pennies and the quarters followed"), education, and good decisions are increasingly broke, insular, financial basket cases, and otherwise a total disaster... for what purpose?

The kids may learn the Halachot of being Jewish... but if along the way, we've forgotten how to be Jews, what's the point? They'll know the rules, but not the purpose... and maybe that's the point, tear down the Jewish community that actually was and create a new one based on textual analysis and scholarship... where nobody has a Mesorah of being Jewish, but everyone can seek this ideal.

Commenter Abbi said...

mlevin, you're getting caught up in semantics. Take a chill. The earlier comment about lavish weddings, referred to "unaffordably expensive weddings" which clearly wasn't the case in your circumstance.

mlevin said...

Abbi - megapixal said "...but the earlier commenter that made lavish wedding because she saved money by sending her kids to public school in my opinion has a distorted sense of priorities."

That is not getting caught in semantics. She is distorting my point. (probably because it makes her uncomfortable)

I once heard a rabbi saying at the shiur that every third child of a rabbi is OTD. His point was that rabbeim spend so much time being there for others that they forget their own children. But I remember that statistic.

Anonymous said...

it's all about the money. Those private schools are way too expansive. Beside, Orthodox families are creating their own problems with all those restrictions. Poor kids, ordinary schools would be much better for them anyway.

Offwinger said...

Welcome to 21st century America, where your kids do NOT necessarily stand to have more financial wealth and resources than you do!

Miami Al has written repeatedly here and elsewhere that people need to realize when they simply cannot afford to live in a certain place at a certain standard of living. I agree with him 100%.

Here is the other part of the picture that so many are not acknowledging:

We have more than our parents who had more than our grandparents who had more than our great-grandparents. And when I say more, I don't just mean money. We have a far, far higher standard of living. We have more educational opportunities, both religious & secular. We have more technological conveniences in our lives.

The growth that has led us down this path no longer exists!!! It no longer exists outside the frum world. It no longer exists inside the frum world.

There is simply no guarantee that your children will be able to have as much you do. Many of the young couples starting out now are already experiencing this. They can't start family life living in the same places that they grew up. They can't make the same lifestyle choices that they experienced. And if you want to have a close knit extended family, where grandparents and siblings live near one another, then you need to ALL pick a place that the *poorest* members of the family can afford.

The problem is that no one wants to accept this. In America, it's the land of opportunity and growth! What do you mean that a community can not continue to "get rich" at the same rate as it did in the past? People think that all it takes is education and hard work and Hashem's help, and you will have a "life" career with a decent income and a pension for the future.

Guess what? The rules have changed. The separation between the extremely wealthy and everyone else has been expanding, not contracting. Jobs and careers are more fluid. Unless you work for government, the pensions are all gone, and many of the government professions are not what they once were.

It is not a knock on you or your parents or your children to accept that you can't make your children be as financially secure as you are or were. No amount of gifting money and paying for yeshivah tuition can do this. It just ignores the giant elephant in the room. What's going to make the Jewish community financially secure is accepting that not everyone can or will be rich, and understanding that the economics now are different (& will change yet again with each generation).

I hear many Rabbis telling the community to be happy with what they have. I hear very few telling people to be happy with LESS than that. It's very hard, as a matter of human nature, to accept a "step backwards" in comfort. That's the reality we face. It's not a uniquely Jewish problem.

Miami Al said...

We don't have to "step backwards," we have to look at economic changes. The rule of the game is "do more with less people," use more technology, more automation, etc. While income disparity has increased due to increased competition and efficiency of distribution (500 years ago, a single singer/songwriter went from town to town entertaining, 80 years ago they went to NYC for broadway or LA for the beginnings of Hollywood, or their local equivalent, now a single movie can be distributed in a 100 languages within weeks/months, this lowers the cost of entertainment, but increases the profits to whoever distributes it).

While the high earners "earn more" than ever, they have more toys but less staff. The extremely rich may have a private jet and yacht, but they don't have a staff of people like the robber barons of the past. People here may have "cleaning help," and some have a "live in," but do the rich you know have a driver, a butler, a cook, etc? The well to do 2-3 generations ago had that. We may all have domestic services (distributed efficiently), but the well to do don't have staffs anymore.

The frum world has decided to move against the current. We have more Shuls in an area, giving us more buildings, janitorial staff, secretarial staff, and Rabbinic staff. Our schools have more "staff." While a business today has FAR LESS support staff than it did 20 years ago, our schools have FAR MORE support staff, in terms of assistant teachers, assistant principals, etc.


Miami Al said...

More and more people people decided that to "be Frum" you have to work inside the community. While the rest of the world has LESS domestic staff, we have MORE, we just don't have them in our homes, they are in our Shuls/Schools in make shift jobs.

We have more adult educational opportunities than ever, but increasingly they are run by "professionals" that expect to get paid for their labor, that's fine, but this move to MORE services is squeezing the community.

Combined with a perversion of incentives, we collapsed at the same time everyone else did, we're just deeper in the mess because the people whose livelihood depends on our mess are one of ours...

When the building boom collapsed, a lot of illegal aliens that worked in it went back to their home countries (net illegal immigration is down). Our "surplus workers" are Frum Jews that we communally encouraged to work inside our community, they aren't going away, and we need to take care of them.

Drastic actions to make drastic cuts could be done, but nobody wants to acknowledge them.

We have a finite number of dollars to educate Jewish youth. The cuts everyone proposes are the "frills" that they can do without, but the rich that pay 50% or more of the school's cost for 20% of the students don't WANT to do without that. Nobody wants the poor to bear any burden, but they are the only group that can.

Consolidation of schools, Talmud Torah (free via community) for those that can't afford day school, a Chevrolet Day School with no scholarships and affordable costs for the middle class, and a Jewish Prep School with the huge cost structure and limited achievement scholarships would do it. The Prep school parents can "do their part" by having their school resources, including teachers, run the free Talmud Torah. That would solve the "tuition crisis" tomorrow, but requires acknowledging that while every Jewish child is entitled to a Jewish education, NOT every Jewish child is entitled to a top of the line prep school education.

Hebrew Language Charter Schools could really help with the Talmud Torah, because the state pays for Hebrew AND you can do cool stuff like make the school lunches Kosher (charters can outsource the kitchen, outsource to a kosher caterer because it's part of the culture). It's NOT a free day school, but it's 80% of a free day school for 10% of the costs, which is perfect for those that can't afford day school.

The consolidation of schools and adoption of charters would throw a LOT of people out of work. Hopefully with our newfound wealth, we could provide tzedakah dollars for helping them retrain.

That status quo has hidden costs, the MO Family that pays full tuition with 2 or 3 children that wants 1 or 2 more and can't afford it... but we don't see that cost. We WOULD see the cost of an Orthodox kid going to a public school with a Kippa on.

mlevin said...

Miami Al - I agree with what you wrote.

Offwinger - there are many opportunities to get rich with the new rules. The frum community just doesn't want to acknowledge them and anyone looking for them is shrugged off as goyish. What are they. They are in the technology and science sectors. One must have a masters in these fields and get great paying jobs. America is still number one in these fields. Yes, they're are outsourcing, but the top scientists from all over the world are not in other countries. They are here in the US.

What is the solution? Get schools to start teaching math and sciences. I think it is disgraceful that our six year olds can not add and our high school students have difficulty passing bio and chem regents. These tests are so dumbed down that it's ridiculous.

Offwinger said...

Miami Al,

I don't dispute your analysis one bit. I was oversimplifying what I meant by changes in wealth over the generations. We're on the same page.


You misunderstand me.

There are plenty of opportunities to get rich. They are NOT available for everyone. In fact, they are not available for the AVERAGE frum person.

If it is so easy to get rich in science and technology, then why isn't everyone doing it? Believe me, it's NOT because of our regents exams and the "dumbing down" of American curricular standards, in general. Top students are excelling in elite private schools or admissions-only public schools.

And in the MO world, it's NOT because these careers are "goyish." How many frum engineers or computer programmers or science researchers do you know? I know many. Easily more than a dozen, just in my circle of family and friends, not even counting acquaintances. How many yeshivahs and day schools support students participating in Intel or Siemen's competitions? In my world, it's common.

Note, though, that depending on the chosen field, the financial reward differ. Science and technology - like many other growth fields - are not "get rich" careers. They are stable, bread-winning professions.

The frum world is living in Lake Wobegon, where we want to believe that every child is above average. Everyone is above average academically. Everyone is above average in terms of having their choice of career. Everyone is above average in the potential to earn wealth.

The fact that there are opportunities to get rich does not mean that everyone CAN get rich. And acting like it's just a matter of valuing certain academic fields MORE or raising our school curricular standards to MAKE our community wealthier does everyone a disservice.

Dave said...

Science and technology - like many other growth fields - are not "get rich" careers. They are stable, bread-winning professions.

I can meet every single one of my needs. I can meet an astonishingly large selection of my wants. And I can put money aside for both retirement and other expenses.

That's "rich" in my book. It isn't "never need to work again", it isn't "go buy an island or a sports team", but I still feel pretty rich.

Offwinger said...


One can most certainly feel rich without extreme wealth. One can feel rich while living in extreme poverty. I am referring to wealth bechmarks as a statistical matter, in pure dollars and cents, not to Pirkei Avot.

The fact that I feel rich doesn't pay my bills. The fact that I can pay my bills makes me feel rich. Neither statement is relevant in this dicussion about how people need to accept that they do not have the dollars and cents to make all their needs AND wants a financial reality.

Miami Al said...

Offwinger, it's pretty easy to make $60k - $85k in Science and Technology, that's not early Google stock options filthy rich, but double that for a couple and that's comfortably upper middle class. Keep in mind that getting there requires a solid undergraduate degree and often a Masters degree, but the Masters in that area is usually free. I assume that in greater NYC, those numbers scale up to $75k - $100k.

What I don't know is what career paths safely get you to $75k for people that lack a technical aptitude... Public school teacher in the humanities probably gets you close to there. No academic talents? Auto mechanics, HVAC repairment, plumbers, all are able to get to the $60k+ range. The fact is, for most sets of Gd given talents, there IS a reasonable career path to making $75k+ provided a willingness to get the appropriate education, put in the effort, and generally deal with a lower status profession.

Anonymous said...

People put much more "effort" into looking good for shidduch dates than into their education/career path.

Offwinger said...

Miami Al,

Yes, I know what these careers earn. It is a comfortable life, not what most people define as rich. This is especially true once you're counting on needing a dual-income household, which means that you'll have to deal with paying for child care or one of the income-earners being out of the labor force for a few years.

At the core, though, I think you're wrong about "most sets of G-d given talents" creating the opportunity to earn $75K+ with education, hard work, and a willingness to deal with a low status profesion.

First off, some people just aren't mechanically inclined either. More important, though, how many women do you know who are in auto mechanics and HVAC repair or plumbing? I'm not even talking about FRUM women. Women in general. I think what you mean to say is that there are solid-earning career paths for a MAN who works hard & is willing to learn and lacks academic skills. There *aren't* the same equivalent jobs for women, and to the extent we're assuming a household needing TWO incomes, it's an issue.

Anonymous said...

Offwinger, I know women who are not geniuses who make decent money in crafts, clothing design, even as office managers. Not to mention executive assistants, where a pleasant manner, an ability to type and use email, and organizational skills can command a lot of $$$ in the corporate world. You don't start out there, you have to work your way up, but it's possible.

Anonymous said...

It seems that not only is there economic poverty, but also a poverty of values. This is quite amazing in a community that places such emphasis on spirituality. The work ethic is scorned, financial resources are wasted, dependency is not only accepted but sought after, looking good for the neighbors is more important that doing the right thing. Poverty of values must be dealt with before we can eliminate economic poverty.

Anonymous said...

Many write about the steep costs of a frum life. It seems to me that any costs a frum life entails are a bargain if they result in a meaningful, fulfilling life. What people should be concerned about are the costs, which do not lead to a rewarding life but are a burden. Maturity involves making choices about what is best for oneself, not what others deem is best for you.