Tuesday, December 22, 2009

what financial crisis?

The ads for the trips to Israel, the cruises (glatt kosher, daf yomi, all included) etc. for midwinter vacation are old hat. What caught my eye this year was the ad for an African safari. I think it was for something like 10 days in the bush where you can see the jungle and animals, and I apologize for not recalling if a daf yomi rebbe would be travelling along with this one as well.

We hear so much about the financial crisis currently affecting families, institutions, and schools, but if I didn't know better I would be asking, "What financial crisis?" With so many ads in "heimishe" publications for vacations that can easily set a budget back by a few thousand or tens of thousands of dollars, one is forced to either assume that a lot of kosher tour companies are going to go under soon or that hundreds of frum families have a these extra thousands of disposable income to toss away. The news I heard after Sukkos about hotels being packed pointed to the latter rather than the former.

Do people who work hard and reap the financial rewards of their efforts deserve a nice vacation? Absolutely. But I can't help but ask myself why some many institutions are toppling today when communally we have (or seem to have) so much more wealth and success than any prior generation? Undoubtedly the answer to that question is complex and multi-faceted and cannot be answered in a short post, but it's a question that begs asking on the commual level.


  1. What I get from this is that when people vacationed in the past it wasn't simply due to reaping the rewards of hard work. It was based on dedication to an indulgent lifestyle which carries on in troubled times as well.

    This is exceptionally frightening when you consider that their kids are learning that no matter what, vacations and other luxuries are necessities.

  2. Your last sentence captures exactly what I think the problem is. I had written more on that idea but then decided to delete it.

    I don't think the level of indulgence in previous generations came anywhere near the level we accept as normal today. My parents and in-laws are from a generation one or at most two steps removed from the immigrant experience of stepping off a boat with nothing. Making it meant having a decent job and a home (instead of an apartment) in a place outside urban squalor. Today we take that lifestyle for granted and both want and expect more out of life. Those who make it get what that "more", those who can't make it are sinking, and the middle is vanishing.

  3. Here's another possibility... The population is growing, but thanks to the current economic turmoil, the wealthy population less so than the rest of us. We're talking about a community that appears to be tripling this generation. That can be a lot of gevirim even while the percentage falls.

    Another issue is distribution of wealth. 100 people with a moderate amount of disposable income have less available total for tzedaqah than one gevir who personally has that kind of disposable income.

    A last issue, not in solving the question but in asking it... I'm not going to make my POST-scholarship tuition bill of $96k this year. My kids will either have jobs or do nothing this summer. (Except for the one in special ed 12 months/year.) Can I even discuss this topic with any hope of sufficient freedom from qin'ah to be objective?


    PS: I took the liberty of referring to this post on Areivim. Assuming the moderators approve it.

  4. >>>the wealthy population less so than the rest of us.

    I don't know that that is true. I don't recall 20 years ago seeing as many advertisements of the type I mentioned as I see today. There must be a market out there.

    As to your second point, I remember the good 'ol tzedaka box. Those coins actually meant something to both the giver and the recipient. Institutions did rely on the mega-gvir, but everyone else's nickels and dimes made a difference. These days it seems that we are dependent only the mega-gvir and there is no appreciation for the little nickels and dimes from the 100 other people and no ideas as to how to use those little resources to grow community institutions.

  5. RCB,

    Here's what I'm proposing... There are more wealthy people today in the yeshiva velt than in the past. However, not 3 times as many because the rate didn't increase at nearly birth rate. Absolute number of gevirim up, but percentagewise fewer.

    When it comes to fancy lifestyles, there are more people able to do things I can only dream of.

    When it comes to people who use the resources we give tzedaqah to, that is growing at a rate that exceeds birth rate -- birthrate plus the children of gevirim who didn't stay in the wealthy class, the gevirim who lost their jobs or too much of of their wealth, etc...

    And so tzedaqah could also be increasing -- but not in pace with increase in demand.

    As for the loss of the tzedaqah box, it's not entirely true... The person who pays full tuition even though full tuition includes part of someone else's scholarship is not a mega-gevir. Besides, we're all giving tzedaqah, that money is going somewhere. Doesn't it end up totalling more than the mega-gevir's, even if it's not the one lump sum that builds a building?

    But I do think we're losing our middle class. I think it's because our fastest growing community usually doesn't prepare its children for a profession. In business or with trade school education, you either make it big or your the hamon am earning less than a college grad, perhaps with an MS. And then, that wage earner is supporting that larger family than in the 70s and 80s too, meaning less money is disposable.


  6. Anonymous9:36 AM

    These days it seems that we are dependent only the mega-gvir and there is no appreciation for the little nickels and dimes from the 100 other people

    I'm not sure if this 100% accurate, but will note that the CC writes that the reason Yeshivas are always cash strapped is to avoid the above situation and allow all of K'llal Yisroel the zchus of being Tomech Torah

  7. Micha- 96K? Consider yourself lucky. Every month I muse that the money I just sent away would buy a new kitchen, or a cruise ship ticket to Australia, or a good chunk of a fancy new car. Meanwhile, I drive through the tundra in a vintage 97.

    So here's the question. Assume that the gevirim could not solve the problem. All they could do is ease the crisis a little. But the problem would remain critical. Do they have achrayos to do it? It is, after all, their money. They have not obligation to give it away.

  8. By the way, Micha, you might want to enhance your children's education by not posting sarcastic comments about what you call "daas teireh." You have a problem with the Russian pronunciation of the cholem? Or do you mean to denigrate the entire yeshivishe worldview along with their ignorance of your preferred pronunciation of hebrew? Yes, gedolim are often misled by the people they meet, even by family members. Sometimes, they err on the side of dan lekaf zechus. Reb Reuven, while a very shrewd and wise man, tends to be a big melamed zechus and ma'amin. So that's how he uses his middas hakrumkeit, by being melamed zechus too much.

    I'm sorry for using this forum to complain. The others, those filthy rotzchim, were making me nauseous. Chaim, go ahead and delete this.

  9. The cheilem I'm referring to is Litvish, not Russian, and I'm using it to box in which usage I mean, not to ridicule the Hebrew of my own grandfathers. I couldn't really call it "Daas Torah", since that's the name of the blog where that comment appears, and there the term is used closer to its 18th cent meaning as coined by R' Yisrael Salanter. I'm not referring to a quality we should all try to develop within ourselves, and should turn to when seeking ethical structure beyond halakhah. BTW, I explained all that there.

    I'm talking about an invention of early 20th cent Lithuania in which authority beyond halakhah and aggada was given to a board of gedolim, which then developed in post-war US and Israel into a belief of a low rate of fallibility. Or, when asked about the gedolim who recommended not leaving Europe before the Holocaust, that the advice of gedolim only fails only when Hashem sends the gedolim this message to get us to our onesh/nisayon -- and thus not really a failure.

    I frankly don't believe R' Reuvein actually buys into the concept I'm doubting. For that matter, my guess would be that few in the moetzet do. Rather, I would be that they believe, as R' CO Grozhinsky articulated it, and more recently R' Dovid Cohen wrote, that we are obligated to unify Torah and communal leadership. Not because of some concept of Torah-shaped thinking being infallible in other domains or siyata diShamay. The latter is a 20th cent invention, and people who spend much time learning would know that.


  10. I linked to this on my Facebook page. I wonder if any of my budget-oriented FB friends will comment.

  11. Note, though, that in certain neighborhoods there are different assumptions. For example, I recall a student I had at YU who stated "everyone goes on vacation." Well, that was not my own reality, and I was not yet a full generation older then. But really when yeshiva schools have to struggle to pull cell phones out of the hands of kids who have their own from the age of 10, the parental perception of what constitutes a necessity for a child is really out of whack.

  12. There's a lot of variation in the cholem among Litvaks. My father, having grown up in an area that shifted between Lithuania and Germany, said Oh, almost Ow. Telzers mostly say Oy, although Reb Elya Meir sharply insisted on Oh. Reb Moshe, who was Russian, said Ey, as does his son Reb Dovid. When Reb Reuven first came to Telz, he read a passuk saying Meisheh, and Reb Elya Meir yelled at him "es iz nit toh kein Meisheh, es iz nit toh kein Moysheh, zayn nomem iz gevehn Moshe."

    Yes, the prewar gedolim were wrong. The million Lithuanians that went off to Canada and South Africa may have been more prescient, but almost all of their descendants are assimilated. But a real gadol, not merely someone who knows a lot of Gemara and Halacha, is a phenomenal and precious resource to use when life questions arise.

  13. You're having this discussion on the wrong blog.

    However, since you raised it here... Yes, going to a gadol is helpful. As I wrote there, you're going to a genius, who has ahavas Yisrael and therefore deeply cares for your success, and who can handle the "ought" side of the question quite well.

    It's when the bigger question is in the situation -- How unsafe was Europe? Which job will take more time from learning and parenting? etc... -- that a different expert might prove more valuable. It's only after knowing one job is more time and the other is more stress that I would agree with you.

    But not because of some belief in siyata diShmaya or that learning Torah makes one a better thinker when it comes to engineering or finance than someone who spent the same time in the field itself. Now the question better overlaps the gadol's expertise -- would a calmer daddy who is around less often be better chinukh? Or is it more important that the child see me go to more sedarim? (And even then, if someone knew my children better, perhaps that would be an advantage over asking a gadol.)


  14. I told you, I can't post on the other blogs because when I click over there I feel like I'm on a pornographic website, where humans are commodified such that they don't have any intrinsic value beyond their ability to be solipsistically exploited for the satisfaction of vile and cruel lusts. What they are doing is basically being dahn a man dinei nefashos, actively participating in the utter destruction of a man and his family, without bothering with all those picky dinei eidus. This website, on the other hand, is a beis va'ad le'chachamim. But I do think that the rosh vaad probably ought to just delete the whole conversation.

  15. chaim b.9:56 PM

    Hey, you can delete your own comments. And I appreciate the compliment.
    If you insist, I will do the deleting.