Thursday, June 09, 2005

Cost of Jewish living

The Connecticut Jewish Ledger is running a series on the high cost of Jewish living. Part I from last week didn't include anything terribly new, but some figures are worth repeating:
According to Professor Gerald B. Bubis, founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and vice president and Fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, who has spent years studying the cost of living a Jewish life, today's American Jewish family with two school-age children requires $25,000 -- $30,000 of discretionary income for an intensive Jewish experience -- one that includes synagogue and JCC membership, Jewish day school and camp experiences, trips to Israel, charitable donations, kosher food, etc. Taking into account findings from the 1990 National Jewish Population Study that puts the median income of the same size American Jewish family at $75,000-$80,000, only one conclusion seems reasonable: living a full-bodied Jewish life is out of reach for most middle-income Jewish households.
Not to mention that most Jewish families, certainly most Orthodox Jewish families, have more than two children. Gulp -- I truly do not understand how people can afford to have families.
This week's installment includes some interesting observations and suggestions.
One is that members of Jewish community organization Boards are far wealthier, and less representative of the community financially, than they were 50 years ago. 52% earn in excess of $200,000 / year.
Another is the claim that price is no barrier to the Orthodox community, who will participate Jewishly no matter what the cost. According to Bubis, this means that "cost is really a barrier to Jewish living for the other 90 percent of American Jews who are not Orthodox and who are middle-income." Well, not necessarily; he hasn't actually measured the number of Orthodox people who have had to or have chosen to leave or reduce their involvement in the community because they're priced out of the 'frum' areas, the schools, the summer camps, etc. and can't keep up. Nor has he measured the number of people who would like to be more Orthodox, but can't afford to send their children to Orthodox schools, etc., and so never make the social jump. Last, but not least, implying that everyone could afford it if only they were willing to make enough sacrifices is simply untrue. It's one thing if you have the choice between a big house and a Jewish education for your children. What if the choice is, for example, a Jewish education -- or putting food on your table or having somewhere to live, full stop? The cheapest Jewish areas are still relatively expensive.

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