We reviewed this short list of items and my advisor said, “You realize the greatest expense to your life is your religion. It is consuming over half of your post tax take home pay. You are paying almost $150,000 a year to ‘do Jewish.’”
And that’s when I realized I had forgotten to include Passover on the list.
This was the wakeup call of the century for me. I was raised to believe that religion came first; that everything was ‘holy’ and a ‘mitzvah’; that the more you spent on your Judaism the better it was in God’s eyes. And I now realized I had been completely neglecting the financial health and future of my family.
The first thing I did was to ask around how other people were managing it. Word on the street was that to do everything on my list in a “second tier” community, not something in the greater New York area, one would have to earn more than $500,000 a year. Now I work very hard and I do pretty well, but I will most likely never make half a million dollars a year. Granted, some people in the community do, but not many.
What I saw was far more people who were – if they were willing to admit it – getting steady monthly checks from their parents to survive. Adult children 50 years old still living off handouts from their parents in order to “do Jewish.” Some parents had large fortunes and were easily able to afford to help several adult children, but some were slowly being bled dry. I had one grandmother tell me, “It’s wrong that the day schools are now trying to fund themselves off the backs of the grandparents, now that they have already broken the parents.”
Even more concerning, were the large number of families, doctors, lawyers, investment professionals, who, when asked in confidence, replied that they don’t have two pennies to rub together. And that was before their children were setting off to years in Israel and very expensive college in New York.
The day I left the synagogue forever was the Saturday the rabbi preached that day school tuition does not fulfill the obligation to give 10 percent of one’s income to charity — and that from a rabbi making $350,000 a year, along with free tuition, free housing, and free food expenses. As I angrily began to walk out of there for the last time, my neighbor grabbed my tallis and told me “The day the rabbis pay full tuition is the day that the tuition crisis will be solved.”
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