Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Israel's Gain, our Loss

Conversation on Shabbos brought to light that an acquaintance's son and family were moving to Israel this summer. Now in our community hearing about someone making aliyah is not all that unusual. However in this case the son was very clear as to why they are moving and moving now--tuition for his kids.

The son owns his own business and is doing well in it, if working very hard. But in his business there is a saturation or cap point--he can do only so well and not really go beyond that. By most tallies he should not be having any major financial problems. However, he has four kids with the first heading to high school next year. Yes, this couple owns a home, but not a palace. Yes, they own two cars--both husband and wife have to drive for business. No, they aren't wallowing in luxuries. They also aren't able to put away any money either, and their expenses only go up.

This family is quick to point out that the move to Israel is not going to make their life problem free by any means. The husband is going to be a commuter from Israel to the States because his business is not transplantable to Israel and parnoseh is needed. This is going to cut into family life as they know it now--daddy won't be home for every night nor for every Shabbos. The full responsibility for family life will fall on the mom's shoulders, and she will be working full time. The kids won't have their grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins around. They will be leaving all of their friends behind. BUT they will be cutting their yeshiva tuition bill by more than 3/4 of what they pay now. Their insurance bills will also be cut. The difference will give them some financial breathing room.

Yes, at least in theory, we should all be making plans to head to Israel to live. And we also know that for many reasons and for many people this just isn't possible, at least now or in the forseeable future. I think it's a sad commentary on what is happening in our frum communities that the decision to make aliyah may be based on the cost of tuition in yeshivas here in the States. What's more, I expect that we'll be hearing a lot more stories of young families making just this type of decision. Those who head up our yeshivas are far too sanguine about continued, steady applicants to their schools. If this one family can be making the decision to move because tuition has become ghastly, there will surely be others.

While I wish this family hatzlachah with their move, I can't help but think that our communities need a real wakeup call. With all the talking and yelling going on about tuition there has still been almost nothing or very little done not just to address the problem but to solve it.


Abba's Rantings said...

"This is going to cut into family life as they know it now--daddy won't be home for every night nor for every Shabbos"

i know plenty of people who *never* see their kids during the week. if you friend's son is typical of commuters, he will be home for a week at a time every other week or every 3 weeks. not ideal, but could be worse. in any case. best of luck to him.

"I expect that we'll be hearing a lot more stories of young families making just this type of decision."

i doubt it

tesyaa said...

How is the 8th grader taking the news of the move?

Miami Al said...

We have priced Modern Orthodox life to require earning in the top 2% of American incomes year in and year out to make it. Most people in the top 1% are NOT there annually, they had a great bonus year, sold a business, etc.

Income in the top 1% is rising faster than the general population. But when studies look at income from people that were top 1% 10 years ago, income has dropped. Some of that may be retirement, some of that bad luck, you rarely ride high forever.

If you are modern Orthodox and not able to earn enough to support your four children plus four more in private school, you have 3 options:

1. Keep your non-religious life, drop out of religious life, become a wealthy Reform or Secular Jew, this is an absurd option with older kids, obviously, but it's a mathematical option.

2. Keep your religious life, drop our of your non-religious portion -- become some manner of Chareidi, at least educationally and whatever social changes that they demand to enroll your child.

3. Keep your non-religious life, keep your religious life, change your citizenship -- move to Israel where tuition is a fraction and you don't really have to pay for college.

If you want a fourth option, there needs to be a way to bring down the cost of being Modern Orthodox. At a minimum, anyone earning above the median income should be able to swing it, which would cover Kosher premiums. Demanding Shomer Shabbat/Shomer Chagim life AND top earning power is a recipe for disaster.

JS said...

I think the real crisis here isn't tuition per se, but the fact that we've turned yeshiva education into the be all and end all of Orthodoxy. Maybe that's not a problem for the RW or Chareidi set where tuition is far more affordable, but it's a HUGE problem for the Modern Orthodox where 4 kids with 1 in yeshiva high school will set you back around 70k annually not even including various building funds and other per school/per family charges.

If the family wants to move to Israel, kol hakavod. But, it seems to me they're putting yeshiva in front of family. I would never exchange time with my kids or my kids' exposure to their family for some lousy yeshiva education. I'd find another way to give my kids a yeshiva education. Maybe home schooling is the answer with one spouse staying home. Maybe you hire private tutors. If you're shelling out $70k a year for tuition, you have a LOT of options. $70k is practically 2 yeshiva teachers salaries - you can find another way.

To me this solution is the height of insanity. You give your kids a yeshiva tuition and you take away their father and connection to extended family. A lousy tradeoff in my opinion.

Azriel said...

We tried this a few years ago and it should have worked for us. We have extended family in Israel and had a support network there. We had friends living there. We worked out all the details for months in advance. Then we moved. We lasted 17 months and moved back. The kids were the wrong ages to uproot them from all their friends and what they knew. Truth is we were also the wrong ages and in the wrong time period of our lives.

I totally hated the commuting. I wasn't really living there or here. My wife hated having a marriage that was long distance. Seems like emergencies only happened when I was here and my family was there. And please don't kid yourselves either that it's simple to adjust to living in Israel because we are all Jews after all. It's a whole different way of living and thinking in Israel.

Sure, we had to make some real changes when we came back because tuition didn't disappear while we were gone, but family life is better for all of us now that I'm only a train ride away instead of a plane ride away.

My recommendation? You make the move when you are first married and kids aren't there or are very young or you wait until your kids are all out of the house and you're heading into retirement.

Miami Al said...


But look at the responses on the "other" blog. If you aren't in Yeshiva, you will always be "suspect." Who views a Shomer Shabbat Jew that makes a different decision as suspect?

Put another way, the guys considering Charter + TT or Charter + Tutoring or Public School + Tutoring are seen as sacrificing their child's Neshama, being worse than Hitler, or other such nonsense.

The guys that are open about "eating Dairy out" or the people in the community that don't keep Shabbat while traveling or other nonsense? You know, actual non-halachic behavior?

Different strokes for different folks.

You can lie, cheat, steal, adulter, or commit any sin, major or minor, and still be an Orthodox Jew. You can even desecrate Shabbos or eat non-Kosher food and you're still an Orthodox Jew.

You cannot choose a non-Yeshiva educational model and be an Orthodox Jew.

Aaron S. said...

"And please don't kid yourselves either that it's simple to adjust to living in Israel because we are all Jews after all. It's a whole different way of living and thinking in Israel."

So true. I don't understand moving halfway across the world to save on tuition- you're giving up one set of problems for another. Sure, your bills will be less, but the husband will have a horrible commuter lifestyle and never see his family, the wife will have to become a single parent, and the kids will never see their father. Plus, they'll all have to adjust to a completely different country, language, school system (big potential problems there!) with no family and friends.

If you want to make aliya because you genuinely want to live in Israel, great. But doing it to save on tuition? The height of idiocy. Such a drastic solution to your financial problems that isn't guaranteed to work. Sorry, but I'll bet this family will be back in the USA within 2 years.

A Fan said...

Maybe you'll see more of this, maybe not. What I think you will see more of is more of those people who want to make aliyah but concerned about finances taking the plunge as they realize that they're not going to be any better off financially staying here. My husband and I wanted to make aliyah right after our wedding but did not- mostly for financial reasons. It's now 3 years, 1 baby, and one helluva national economic crisis later, and we're going to do it this summer because living here is no longer a guarantee of financial security, and if we're going to struggle, we'd rather at least be living where we want to live :-)

Mark said...

JS - $70k is practically 2 yeshiva teachers salaries

No way, not even near 2 salaries. I mean total expense, not just the regular wage part. Add in social security, medical coverage, various other taxes (UI, etc), and you are much higher than $35k per teacher. Not to mention that $35k isn't a living wage and non-Charedi yeshivot haven't paid that little for a qualified full-time teacher for quite some time.

Miami Al said...

The less Aliyah is a financial sacrifice, the more you will get. If you lower the cost of something, people buy more.

As it stands, per-capita income in Israel is approaching European levels. Do you think it is a coincidence that there is nearly zero Jewish migration to European countries anymore?

Most people tend to stay put, but some percentage of them moves. The percentage that moves have normally followed economic opportunities.

If per-capita income in Israel became 10% higher than in the US, you don't think that Aliyah would become more more common?

For the Modern Orthodox, Israel looks more and more appealing on an after-tax, after-Yeshiva basis. Why wouldn't that prompt more?

Anonymous said...

We are planning to homeschool, and to hire private tutors for the Jewish education. It is not ideal, but it is affordable and we can choose who educates our children directly, and supervise too.


mother in israel said...

I am curious where this couple is planning to live, and how much they intend to spend on housing.
Of the commuting couples that I know, the wife works part time or not at all. Especially the first year, when the kids are adjusting to school.