This post appeared on the once-great Just My Very Humble Opinion blog in July 2012. Reprinted here with permission.
Scholar in Residence in da house… Please welcome Harav hagaon Shragi Getzel, who has some booba masses to tell you in regards to the chassidish financial problems. It is written in the perspective of a Williamsburg yingerman.
Yiddish Lifestyle Blues by: Shragi Getzel
This morning I woke up feeling very crabby. I had gone to sleep late last night because my wife and I were busy looking over our budget, which is non-existent, and our finances, which is non-existent. Now I’m putting on my talis feeling like it’s shavuos morning with a night of tikkin under my belt. Budgets, tikkin, they both engender the same feelings the morning after.
I don’t know how this is going to work out; I earn $50k a year which is pretty good for a yingerman from Williamsburg, but it’s not nearly enough to live on. I know that the kollel yingelaat are paid only a few hundred dollars a month, a portion of the money that the kollel gets from the Federal Work Study program, they have a few hundred dollars worth of Food Stamps, Medicaid covers their medical expenses, the shver kicks in a little bit, and the rest is taken care of by the tzedukes in town. I think that for the most part they are doing fine; they may not have a lot of money but whenever they need, some good soul will step in and arrange for money to materialize for them.
Then there are the few shaina yidden in shtut who do “business” and we all know that “doing business” magically makes people into millionaires. They are of course the biggest tzadikim because without them all the moisdes would have to lay off all their extraneous staff and then what would those poor people, whose fathers and mothers worked for the moisdes and who can’t do anything, do for a living? So these few gevirim keep the city running smoothly and keep so many people from having to deal with the terrible goyishe world that I have to deal with every day in Manhattan. What would they gain by going to work anyways? If they made the $50k a year that I’m making they wouldn’t have the programs, and it makes much more sense to have the programs than to have money.
Meanwhile I’m stuck; even though I do have health insurance from my job, we have to make co-pays and shmo-pays every time we go visit a doctor; on Medicaid you don’t have to pay anything. We have to pay for food out of our own pockets which is a ridiculous way to have to buy food. The cheder forces us to pay some schar limid which is a big chitzpeh, the administrator of the cheder drives around with a leased Acura RDX and his wife with a brand new Honda Odyssey Touring edition, they say that his shver has money but everyone knows that he rips off the cheder, while I can’t afford a car altogether.
My wife refuses to work, she says none of her friends work, she has to do exercise every day with the other bored vaibalach on the block, she has to go shopping, she has to bring the kids to the babysitter so what are we supposed to do? Continue going to the shviger for yom tov forever, pretending to have forgotten to buy a liliv in esrig so that my shver buys me one? My wife doesn’t have a problem with that but I sure do!
Anyways, let me get back to davening before they get to shmoine esreh.
Well they’re almost up to ashrey ivu l’tzion and I’m fully caught up and now I better run or I’ll be late.
What’s this? Who’s this guy going up to the bima? Another appeal where they’re going to stop the chazzan while they make their announcement? Ich hub nisht kain gedilt.
“Birshis di gabuim we’re collecting for a chushive yingerman vus iz avek recently and who left behind 11 yesoimim and an almuneh, he just made his 5th chassineh and his next daughter is engaged and she’s supposed to get married in two weeks, the chosson’s family said that they can’t make the chassineh if the kallah’s family doesn’t come up with $35,000. Rabbosai it’s a matter of pikiech nefesh, the father died from a heart attack because of all his choives and the poor almuneh has no way to repay them and she’s been sick lately. Please be generous and give more than you can afford and hashem will pay you back, you’ll have yiddishe naches from your children and einiklech. Umein.”
I leave the shul during this speech and I’m scratching my head in wonder; I know for whom they’re collecting; R’ Yankel Fruchthandlermaster was a big businessman, one of the gevirim who supports the whole town. I know that it’s him they’re collecting for because Moshe, the guy who made the announcements, has been in touch with my brother-in-law about it.
My brother-in-law co-signed a gemach loan for R Yankel’n last year before his first heart attack, Moshe said not to worry about a thing; the askunim are going to take care of the loan for him. So it looked like they were trying to raise a lot more than the $35,000 needed for the chassineh – as if that’s all they’re collecting for the chassineh either, I bet it’s more like $70,000, they just don’t want people to realize that they’re making a baalebatishe chassineh with tzedukeh gelter.
You see, Yankel’n wasn’t the groiseh oisher everyone thought he was; yes he owned a business and made more than a most shlemazels do but he couldn’t keep up with the expectations everyone had for his money, he gave the cheder, the yeshiva, hachnosas kallah, kimcheh d’pischeh and every meshilich who came to his door. That was all fine until he started making chassineh; as soon as his kids got into shidichim the expectations from the michitunim, who were thrilled to have him as a michitin, and from his children, just became more than he could handle; he had to pay for the whole chassineh while the other side usually only paid for the flowers or the photographer, he had to buy his married children everything they could possibly think of spending money on; a bungalow in the country once they had more than two kids, a minivan once they had more than three, a trip to Israel for two of them and schar limid for all the einiklech. It was more than he could afford, he tried to give less to the moisdes but they wouldn’t stop demanding that he continue giving what he always gave, they would honor him at their dinners so that he was boxed in and didn’t have a choice.
Finally he started the downhill slide of borrowing from gemachim in order to keep up his lifestyle and his level of giving.
And now they’re collecting for him in shiel like every other nebech.
I sat down at my desk and thought about my $50,000 salary wondering how many years I have left…..
Shragi Getzel is a recovering yeshiva student, he has started an ambitious project: chronicling his yeshiva days, from preschool all the way through kollel. His disjointed memories can be found at www.yeshivadaze.wordpress.com