Wolf,I can tell by your comments on Matzav that you took the man seriously, but I doubt that mentioning suicide was meant as anything more than a plea for attention.As an aside, if a man is properly insured, his suicide WOULD take care of his family for a long time if not indefinitely (of course, most people would need professional advice to make the money last). Life insurance does pay claims after a suicide provided the policy is beyond the contestable period (2 years normally, 1 year in Colorado).The issue is indeed about living out of our collective means - both at a personal level (leading to credit card debt) and at a school level (leading to exhorbitant tuitions). NOTHING is going to change until we get Howard Beal to put on a yarmulke and tell us to yell,"I'M MAD AS GEHINOOM, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE"I think if we saw with our own eyes the sheer number of people who are struggling, we would actually make some progress towards lightening the load.
How do people get to this point? Why do people spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need? You can get by in NYC without a car. It’s a pain, but I did it for years. You don’t need to send your kids to camp. If money is really tight, eat a lot of pasta and have chicken for Shabbos instead of meat. Rent out a room in your house. Shop for clothes at Walmart and Target instead of the boutiques in Boro Park.And that’s all without touching the cultural/religious stuff, like not having more children than you can afford and living in expensive frum neighborhoods.
G*3 - You are pointing out some money saving advice, but the end result is that this trivializes the crisis that exists today in the frum world, almost entirely due to tuition costs. Your advice regarding family size is irrelevant unless directly to young folks just starting out. And do you think that people can just pack up and leave for less expensive neighborhoods?Now answer this: how many kids do you have and how much is tuition for them?
zachWhile you are right that it is too late for the advice about family size to help out the letter writer, you are wrong to use that logic to dismiss the argument. What would be the point of broadcasting this man's situation if not for the sake of lessons learned? If we can agree on what errors were made we can help those who are starting fresh from heading down the same path.
To paraphrase your title...I don't know what's scarier, the fact that so many families are drowning financially like this, or the fact that so many people seem to think that tefilla and emuna are the answer.
There is a way out. 1. No more Day School.2. No more camps.3. Clothing as needed only. 4. Bankruptcy if necessary to remove built up debt.5. A real budget, with real liquid savings.6. Step down on food -- in parts of interwar Lithuania you were well off if you could have butter with your potatoes during the week. We can step down from meat every day.
Zach, it’s true that once the kids are here there’s nothing to do about it, but young families are continuing to have children they can’t afford, assuming that it will just work out. My wife works with a young woman who just came back from a six-month maternity leave a couple of months ago and is already expecting another kid in a few months. He husband is learning is kollel, and about a quarter of her take-home salary goes towards babysitting. In a few years this will be another family struggling to make ends meet on a middle class income.And I think money-saving advice is something the frum community desperately needs. Americans in general, at that. How does someone run up thousands of dollars in credit card bills buying noodles and produce? They don’t. As for neighborhoods, yes, you can pack up and move. Living near the projects isn’t great, but rent is cheap. There are cheaper neighborhoods with frum communities within a reasonable commute of jobs in Brooklyn and Manhattan. If the problem is tuition, send your kids to public school. Or arrange to homeschool them. Or at least put them in a cheaper yeshiva.
G*3: I don't think what is needed is money saving advice. it isn't that people don't know how to save money--it is that they feel obliged to be exactly everyone else in their community. It is the stifling pressure for conformity that is at the root of the financial crisis in the frum world, the shidduch difficulties, and the feeling of powerlessness that makes people despondent. the letter writer has control over his affairs if he is willing to break out of lock step; what he doesn't have is the power to change his community (at least all by himself.) If enough people stop listening to the gossips, and threats about shidduchim, and the like the pressure to conform will ease.In short, what is needed is moral courage, not financial advice.
If he can afford camp (which he mentions in passing), but can't afford urgent dental care for a child, that is borderline child abuse if not actual child abuse and social services should step in. I agree with Mike S.'s observation about social conformity, but I don't have sympathy for people who ruin their lives because of social conformity - however much it is ingrained in his society.
Question: Is there a point when people say "'ve had enough of living a life that places massive financial demands on me - I'm going to cut out a lot of the Jewish stuff", e.g. kosher food, private jewish schools, expensive jewish neigbourhoods etc. I get the feeling that a century ago this was quite common. Could we see this happen again? Is some form of this liable to happen in Charedi communities in Israel, or do people only feel the financial difficulties when it's too late for them to leave? Or perhaps we just have stronger Jewish education/communities/emunah than people 100 years ago did.Question 2: Does the Rabbinic leadership view the general unaffordability of frum life as a problem that they (or others) should solve? I have heard Rav Hershel Schachter say that you shouldn't have kids if you know you can't afford them (he was talking about a case where P'ru U'revu has been fulfilled already), but I can't imagine any Rav to the right of him saying this. Will that change? If it doesn't, what gives?
LW2: You are dead wrong (no pun intended) about suicide being covered by life insurance. The non-contestable period generally simply means that after the period is over the insurer can't void the policy due to a misrepresentation in the application about your medical history (what non-contestability means is different depending on the state). It has nothing to do with the clause in virtually every life insurance policy that says that no death benefit is owed if the death is caused by suicide (as well as by certain other things like accidental overdose of an illegal drug, war, etc.).
FWIW, I took (and passed) the exam to be licensed to sell insurance in the state of New York about twenty years ago. At that time (it may have changed since then), if an insured person committed suicide within the first two years of the policy being in force, the premiums were refunded. After the two years, the policy was paid.The Wolf
Mike S: I fully agree with you, but it's also important to consider that, up until recently, "following the herd" meant "being reasonably financially intelligent:" the community as a whole didn't buy housing beyond their means, luxury items and vacations were eschewed, and there was a general awareness of one's financial abilities. Being financially intelligent nowadays requires independent action, and that's signficantly harder. It's necessary, and I hope that people realize it quickly, but "simple" is not the same thing as "easy." Scott Adams's nine-point financial plan is succinct, simple, and almost universally appropriate, yet I doubt that more than 5% of the general population follows it completely. For the frum community, I would add two more points: (1) There's no mitzva to have more children than you can afford, and (2) public school education does not guarantee that your children will be apikorsim. Stating such things aloud, or acting on them, however, requires a breyte pleitze (broad back), as my ancestors would have said.
I think the bigger problem is that most of the community can not set reasonable priorities and learn to live with them.Yes it does mean that some choices will have to be made, and some of them will be hard choices. But if they are not made then they will be made by others (which will be worse)
Anyone claiming tuition is THE sole problem is overlooking an awful lot that is both fiscally irresponsible and repugnantly materialistic about our de facto lifestyle. There's the standard Newlywed Sterling Starter Set---2-ft.-high sterling leichters; 3-ft. menorah; 6"-wide atarah for tallis, designer esrog box, plus lots of expensive furniture. There's the Jewish Travel Triangle: Florida, Israel and Eastern Europe---the latter 2 of which many people honestly---if absurdly--view as a holy pilgrimage, not merely an indulgent junket. There's the long--and growing---list of 'obligatory' jewelry gifts that are ritually (i.e., with little feeling or input on the part of the chassan & kallah) exchanged between the engagement & chasunah...it goes on & on.
Sadly, it's very hard to imagine anything changing anytime soon (esp. w/o the rabbonim declaring, for the benefit of the unsophisticated masses, that poverty, joblessness & debt are not valid expressions of Torah values after all). Everyone kvetches---but no one will be the pariah who deprives their kids of......"quality" outfits for yom tov (w/a little taste, you can dress a small child quite nicely w/stuff from Target or Kohl's---but that hardly compares with the typical long-sleeve, ankle-length, black or grey flannel dresses they can get from Schmaltzy Schmottes or Balabatishe Babies in BP or Flatbush for $105)......or piano, ballet, art lessons (almost none of which skills these kids will *ever* stick with or use; it's not like they're actually encouraged to seriously persevere at a hobby or skill in the long term--it's just another mindless feature of our lifestyle to perfunctorily send them to these classes)......or going to Israel for a year or 3---and flying back home for each major yom tov ("It's very hard, learning away from home for so long!")A generation or two ago, most parents knew how to say No! to that which they could not afford, and to discount the classic plea from their kids (or for that matter, their own yetzer hara!) that "EVERYONE else in my class is doing/getting/going...."This basic bit of parental seichel is almost totally lacking now.
Another question: I have seen it claimed that part of the reason day schools in America are so expensive is because they have to hire staff for half the day. There is a solution to this problem, which many Charedi schools in the UK are fine with, but seems to be considered problematic even by some RW MO's in the US (the way it works in the UK is somewhat different but that's beside the point): Have each boys school twinned with a girls school. In the morning the Torah teachers teach in the boys school and they go to the girls in the afternoon. The limmudei chol is the reverse. All the teachers are employed for a full day, and you need far less teachers overall. Is this already done in the US?
Large families and private school education mean you have to be rich.Small families and expensive private school education mean you have to be rich.I expect the Day School movement to have collapsed within the next decade, the finances just don't work.
So here’s a question. We all think that the lifestyle described by the letter writer is untenable and even irresponsible. Presumably, we’re all financially responsible and live within our means. I would assume that the readers of this blog are a semi-random sample of the centrist frum community, with probably some from the right and left. If that’s the case, who are the people like the letter writer? And, aside from the humanitarian aspect, is there any reason we should care about their what they do?
J. asked: "who are the people like the letter writer? And......is there any reason we should care about their what they do?"Interesting question. They are us. Even if you or I do our best to live by some personal principles of common sense, these folks are, for better or worse, our community. No man's an island, observant Jews even less so. Living in constant tension with the habits and conduct of your & your children's peers in shul, school and the neighborhood is also untenable, albeit in a different sense.
I work at a major life insurance company, and I was in the compliance area for nearly two years. Not that Wolf's endorsement didn't settle the challenge anyway.
to LW2, mentioning suicide has to be taken seriously, not as a "plea for attention." Someone who is despairing sufficiently to mention it as an option needs mental health support and should not be dismissed.
Post a Comment