Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Those Golden Years

It's stating the obvious to say that the composition of Klal is changing and changing in major ways. What I'm specifically referring to is the ratio of older people to younger people present in Klal.

Obviously the horrendous events of WWII decimated a great part of the generation before mine. Those of that generation who survived procreated sufficiently to produce a generation much larger than that war time generation--what is generally known as the Boomer Generation. That was a good thing--the numbers for Klal were being re-generated. But it is not only the number of people in each of these two generations which are important to look at: it's the longevity. The war-time generation underwent horrific deprivations, deprivations that would affect them many decades after the war. Many from that surviving war-time generation died fairly young given today's longevity tables. Many of them suffered a wide variety of illnesses and medical conditions that could be linked specifically to the tremendous physical and emotional stress they were under during the war. Their systems had been weakened and never fully recovered.

For that Holocaust Generation the celebration of a 50th wedding anniversary was truly a momentous occasion; for that matter, celebrating a 40th anniversary was also a momentous occasion. For many of that generation a spouse or both the husband and wife died before such milestones could be reached. [Note: my mother tells me that it was not just the Holocaust Generation that did not see this longevity of marriage. In going back over her grandparents' and great grandparents' history, none of them managed as a couple to come close to 40 years, never mind 50 years.] Look around at those from that generation who are still alive today and the number of couples who have survived together is miniscule.

Now come to the Boomer generation. That generation's ages span from the 50s through the 70s. We have friends and family across that age spectrum. And the vast majority are, B"H, still alive and are part of a couple. Hitting a 40th anniversary for this generation is not unusual at all; neither is hitting a 50th anniversary. We have a couple of friends who have already achieved that milestone and many more who are within a few years of it.

So why mention what is surely a wonderful thing to have happening? Apparently it needs to be pointed out that the Boomers are no longer youngsters and most are sitting on the cusp of leaving middle age or have already left it. Yes, this generation is aging. And because of the size of this generation and because of the longevity of the members of this generation, some serious planning and consideration needs to be taken care of if that generation is to continue to thrive as it enters the golden years.

There needs to be some thought given to what kinds of activities and programs will have to be in place for this generation as it grows older. And yes, there needs to be some thought as to what type of living accommodations might become necessary, for those who are still capable of being independent and those who might need some type of help. I've heard a number of times that the "obvious" solution is that parents will move in with their children when the time comes that they might need some help or not be fully independent any more. Oh boy, not! That might be an answer for a very few of the Boomers but not for the majority. Look at you and your spouse if you are the children of Boomers. Are you both working? Do you both plan on working until "official" retirement age? The answer is most likely yes. So then, just who is it that will be at home caring for those parents that are going to move in with you? Your kids? The ones who are married, working and have kids of their own? And let me ask you this--do you have parents in their late 50s, early 60s? So, do they have the exact same energy they had when they were younger? Probably not. So just when these children of the Boomer's are themselves slowing down a bit we want to hand them 2-4 aging parents to be fully responsible for on a 24/7 basis? [Note: there is a reason why in Yiddish there is a saying "Och und vei ahz elteren darfen unkimmen tzu kinder."]

Even in this geographic area chock full of every type of medical specialist there are relatively few whose specialty is geriatrics. What we have in place for the seniors we presently have is insufficient, never mind that it certainly won't cover what the Boomers might need. Senior care programs are woefully inadequate, with some areas of the city having none or just one. Assisted living facilities are also inadequate and have long waiting lists. Nursing homes also have long waiting lists, and there aren't enough of them.

Now add in that there are some in the Boomer generation who have been shelling out megabucks to help support their children and grandchildren, particularly as regards the payment of yeshiva tuition, not to mention donations and support of every other type of organization. Every penny that these Boomers are spending on succeeding generations is a penny that they won't have in savings to cover their non-working, older years. There's this as well: things get more expensive as time goes on, not less. Economic turndowns are cyclical and occur about every 10-15 years. What might seem like adequate savings now might well not cover what needs to be covered way later on. Even those who have diligently saved towards their eventual retirement may well find themselves with money problems in their later years. At that point they are going to need community financial help, and just where is that going to come from? Yes, some children might be able to help out their parents--and some won't be able to.

In short, what I'm advocating is that Klal needs to broaden its outlook of what services it must have in place for its members, and it needs to consider ALL of its members, both now and in the very near future. Any solution for yeshiva education that counts on all/most/the majority of the money in Klal going toward it is not a sustainable nor workable solution. Solutions to Klal's problems that count on continued large infusions of money from the Boomers is doomed to failure, sooner than later. Whatever complaints there may be about the Boomers--and yes, there are many--they give and gave while the money is and was available. Now the question is, what is Klal going to do for these Boomers when they become our elder statesmen, when they are the oldest generation, when they need Klal's help? Are we going to help them have truly Golden Years, or is that gold going to be heavily tarnished?


Anonymous said...

You raise important issues that no one seems to be talking about. It angers me to no end to see the current debate about Medicare and the attitude that the elderly are disposable (Ironically, from people who purport to support "family values" and a "culture of life" which, of course, means whatever they want it to mean. More Cynically, the push to get rid of Medicare and replace it with for-profit insurance companies who can chose to insure only the healthiest is to get even more profit to insurance companies and divert even more to administrative costs.) But, I digress. Shouldn't Klal be better than that? I'm afraid that as long as private school for k-12 is a must, and big simchas, excess spending on Yom Tov, year in Israels, etc. are all considered necessities and not the luxuries they are, then forget about funds being left to take care of the elderly.

Abba's Rantings said...

1) this is not a jewish priority because this isn't specifically a jewish issue (yes, even though the problem is compounded because of factors ostensibly "unique" to the jewish community).

2) people focus (right or wrong) on dealing with the most immediate needs first. and while the retirement will be a problem tomorrow, the tuition is what people have to deal with today.

3) many people (by no means all) will suffer greatly due to having made the same poor financial and lifestyle decisions (in general and with regards to jewish "requirements") decade after decade after decade. draw your own question from this.

Anonymous said...

The oldest boomers were born in 1946, so they are turning 65. You have boomer friends hitting their 50th anniversary? I guess fifteen year olds getting married was acceptable back then.

Bear in mind that the composition of the frum population is not exactly the same as the general population. You must be familiar with the birth rates in the frum world. An elderly couple can easily have 30-40 great-grandchildren who reach adulthood while they are still living. Why not create chessed opportunities for these young adults to help with their grandparents' physical and possibly financial care?

Of course, young couples can't help their elderly grandparents and great-grandparents if they don't work (studying Torah instead) and are supported by their own aging parents.

tesyaa said...

Any solution for yeshiva education that counts on all/most/the majority of the money in Klal going toward it is not a sustainable nor workable solution.

Agreed; but ProfK, you yourself have come out vociferously against public schooling as a substitute for private yeshivas. Without employing public school solutions (and without invoking the pipe dream of vouchers), exactly how do you plan for there to be enough money to go around.

Even "bare bones" yeshivas rely heavily on donations (which are being diverted from other needs); and no one wants a bare bones education for their children anyway, even though occasionally a few people may pay lip service to the idea.

Education is very expensive. The government is available to pay for all secular programs - a huge expense. Why not find a way to take advantage?

tesyaa said...

Economic turndowns are cyclical and occur about every 10-15 years.

Downturns are occuring more often than that, and I'd expect that trend to continue.

In short, what I'm advocating is that Klal needs to broaden its outlook of what services it must have in place for its members

Don't you realize that there is no "Klal" making communal decisions for all members? At best, the Orthodox community is a loosely knit confederation of people with some (not all) common interests. You won't find the kollel crowd suddenly going to work in order to pay for elder services, because their guiding principle is that Torah learning is what's really supporting the world.

tesyaa said...

I guess the solution is that people should buy long term care insurance, despite the fact it's extraordinarily expensive.

Leahle said...

Anon #2--Technically the Boomers are counted from 1944 on not 1946. But there are a lot of authorities who say that any children born during the war years can also be counted as Boomers. These kids have more in common with the Boomers than with the older generation. They were on the border between the two generations. There were children born in Western Europe and in the US during the war years. Those kids can be having 50th anniversaries and they didn't have to get married at 15.

There's also that there were people who had very young children right pre the war and those kids lived through the war. You can't count them in the same generation as their parents so you have to count them with the next generation which is the boomers.

Judy said...

Just what good is that Torah learning Tesyaa if those learning it don't seem to think that they have to apply what they are learning or practice it? Kibud av v'eim is a key principal of that Torah learning. We are also told that we must support the widow and the orphan. We are taught that respect for the elderly is a requirement. So how does all that learning compute with ignoring those elderly and making their problems someone elses problems?

Anonymous said...

Judy: You nailed it.

Anonymous said...

Tessya: The answer to your question is that some people think we are immune to economic realities and can have it all, big families, live in expensive areas, private school for all for every single year of their education, big weddings and still somehow take care of our elderly. It's a new form of buring the candle at both ends, not only have we moved to compulsory private school, but we now have elders living much longer and with medical conditions and disabilities that require years of expensive care.

Trudy said...

Abba, the concerns of what to do about our aging Boomers is just as immediate as what to do about tuition. Many Boomers have already retired and a huge number of them will be retiring in the next year or two--that is not a long time into the future. Especially since any programs that will need to be put in place take more time than a day or two to develop.

If you run out of milk when you want to eat breakfast then it's fairly easy to just go out to any store and buy some. Consider the Boomers as that running out of milk--no place to run out and get programs and help for them if no place is 'selling' that help.

I'm guessing you're not a Boomer Tesyaa because the first place you took this discussion is right back to yeshiva education and tuition. I think that's the point of the posting--it's time to broaden the discussion and it's time now, not in some distant future.

A sad commentary on us if we can't discuss and come up with solutions to more than one problem at a time.

Anonymous said...

Trudy: I don't think you are being fair to Tessya. She was making a very valid point that if we can't find an alternative to yeshiva education and tuition sucking up every spare cent, what is going to be left for the elderly and the needy? Believe it or not, folks both education and taking care of the elderly to a standard that provides some dignity and enjoyment are very expensive. If we choose to put all our money in private schooling because we are so afraid of public schools (even in areas with excellent public school systems) even for a few years because we don't trust families, then we are making a choice not to spend our money on other important things. The money supply is not limitless.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that so many orthodox Jews support a certain political party that would love to do away with (or at least for the time being severely erode) Medicare and Medicaid because making sure that gays can't marry is much more important than caring for the sick and elderly.

JS said...

As a preliminary matter, the reason many of the "older" generation died young has more to do with lack of modern medicine, access to food, and nutrition. Life expectancy has increased significantly in the last 50 years. Keep in mind penicillin wasn't even discovered til 1928! I'm not saying the war didn't prematurely age people, but their younger deaths weren't just a result of past trauma. That said, good genes go a long way - my wife's grandparents are nearing their 70th wedding anniversary and her grandfather only retired at 89 because his wife insisted.

As for taking care of the elderly as a communal concern I'm not too optimistic. It's going to fall on each individual family to come up with a solution. This is truly unfortunate because I think, as a rule, the old are forgotten and neglected. My grandmother had Alzheimer's in her last years and we visited her regularly until her death long after she no longer knew who we were. Every time we went, no matter what day or time, the place was deserted. None of the other Jewish residents had visitors. This was confirmed by the nurses who would say how lucky my grandmother was since most of the other residents got a single yearly visit if they were lucky.

I find this highly upsetting. To me, it's a basic Jewish value if not a basic human value: your parents cared for you when you were helpless, you care for them when they are helpless. Even if it wasn't in the Torah it's a fundamental truth like "do not murder."

Our modern religious practices have turned this on its head and we now seem to believe in "Honor thy son and they daughter so that their days shall be lengthened." Or, maybe it's more accurate to say we've extended childhood and childhood's helplessness far into what would traditionally be considered adulthood. A person can be 30 years old and married with 3 kids and still be a helpless child in need to parental support. That's not just backwards, it's sad.

Further, we've taken American consumerism and made it a religious value. When the economy tanks our fellow Americans cut back - but we have "minhag avoteinu b'yadeinu" - we make consumerism required for observance. Recent data shows increased savings and decreased debt across America as a result of the recent downturn. Think that trend is true in Orthodox communities? I'd bet we STILL have decreasing savings and increasing debt. Look at the yeshivas and shuls. Have any of them restructured or come up with new funding models? Despite the downturn tuition and fees continue to rise and there's more intense pressure than ever to conform and not seek out cheaper alternatives.

Secular education continues to be denigrated. Even in modern orthodox crowds this is true - talk of saving money on yeshiva is always related to cutting on the secular side rather than the religious (not to mention talk that secular universities should be avoided or spending heavily on K-12 education so there is no money left for good secular universities). So where's the money for the next generation going to come from?

The next generation is screwed and the past generations are screwed. As someone said before, we're burning the candle at both ends. The old pay for the young and the young won't even be able to pay for themselves.

The ones who "make it" will be those who did their own thing and were highly successful. Even small tweaks that would make a huge difference will never be advocated by the "leadership" such as delaying marriage 1-2 years or delaying kids a few years (again, mindset is that we're all gonna be dead by 40 not that life expectancy is 70+ and medicine routinely allows child birth through late 30's and early 40's).

Oh well. I'm doing my best to make sure my family will be ok. I hope others here are doing the same.

JJ said...

It's not an either or situation anonymous. You can't say that since we don't seem able to solve the problem of yeshiva monies there will be nothing left for our elders. That is making the yeshiva problem primary and the elderly problem not even secondary.

Yes you are right that money is not limitless, but what money there is needs to now be looked at differently. It's not that yeshiva education has some right to whatever funds are available.

And maybe yeshivas and those who run them and parents in those yeshivas would finally do some real thinking about practical solutions if they knew in black and white that "more money" wasn't going to be available--that less money would be.

Our elders deserve a lot better from us then we seem to be planning--not--to be giving them.

Anonymous said...

JJ: You are correct. I did not mean to make the issue of caring for the elderly secondary. I was referring to what seems to be the current mindset, or lack of thought. If I were king, the priority would be needs first - i.e. care for the elderly, sick and disabled, and luxuries like k-12 full time private school would come second. After all, what good is all that learning if it doesn't translate into caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

Anonymous said...

When I used to give to the Jewish Federation, I would always earmark my donations for programs for the elderly. In recent years the donation form doesn't let you choose (and I can never reach anyone on the phone), so I stopped giving through the federation.

Allan said...

A sad commentary on priorities in our community that a post like this is even necessary. You would think that a sakonah would take precedence over yet another yeshiva funding problem.

And I'm not equating them exactly, but there are points to wonder about when you consider that not preparing anything for our older generation could be considered a form of genocide. If we do not consider and fund the programs necessary, the facilities necessary for this aging generation then aren't we basically telling them go ahead and suffer, go ahead and die?

Anonymous said...

Remember folks its not just a priority of how money is spent, its also how time is spent. How many of us spend a few hours a week volunteering at a nursing home? Do you know how many nursing home residents never even get outside because there are no staff to push their wheel chairs outside? How many never even have a visitor? How many of us do the grocery shopping for an elderly, shut-in neighbor who is not a relative? Ditto for driving to a dr's appointment. I know I don't do my share.

tesyaa said...

Who will come right out and say public schooling (with appropriate supplementary Judaic programs) is OK, given the great level of communal need? I don't see any other solution, and it's mindboggling to me that 99.9% of the community refuses to consider public schooling options. Can ProfK weigh in?

Just taking away "frills" from current yeshiva programs and asking big donors to step up and give even more won't solve the tuition situation. And if you ask why I'm talking about tuition on an elder-care thread, it's because tuition is what's draining away communal resources (and so is kollel, to the extent that healthy, able-bodied men are not working and bringing money into the community).

I am on board with appropriate public schooling.

We have to face the painful realization we should have realized as youngsters, that we can't afford everything we want. Needs come first.

Miami Al said...

The natural human condition is to ignore the old, sick, and enfeebled, and focus on youth and the future. Evolutionary Psychologists love to explain the reason for those sort of things, but essentially, the more you help the young, the more your genes continue, the less you help the young, the less your genes continue, so humanity evolved to serve the young.

Why is this relevant? What makes Jews special? Torah.

The Torah tells you to honor and fear your parents.

Sure everyone can tell you about how it is listed separately as honor your father and mother and fear your mother and father, since that instinctive reaction is the opposite, and that's a neat point.

But not NEARLY as important as: provide for the needs of the elderly.

This was a radical concept, at LEAST as radical at monotheism and a non-corporal divine force.

Do not send the old to mountains to die. Do not abandon them in the desert. Honor them.

We are crowding out funds needed for actual communal needs, the elderly, the widow, the orphan, the poor, for this.

The MO leadership have said, 75% of Tzedakah must be kept local and your should fund local Yeshivot first.

Okay, if you choice is: fund a Yeshiva in your town or fund a Yeshiva in Jerusalem, no question it should be the former.

However, there are ACTUALLY poor Jews in this world.

The poor don't live in the same town as the rich. Poor retirees living in retirement communities and nursing homes where land is cheap. Demanding 75% of Tzedakah stay local is demanding that we stop funding the poor and the elderly.

Who helps poor Jews from South America come to America, learn English, and join society? They go to the public school system for ESOL, and non Frum Jews may try to bring them in. No money for that in Frumland, too busy providing money to a private Day School the serves the children of wealthy American Jews.

How about someone saying, "the elderly need support, it is NOT acceptable to use Masser to pay for scholarships for summer camp?"

This is NOT Jewish behavior.

This behavior is distinctly pagan.

tesyaa said...

Since I believe the seminary/yeshiva year is a complete luxury, why not a gap year taking care of Alter Bubby or Alter Zayde instead? Sadly, I feel that spending this time taking care of an elderly relative would be bad for shidduchim.

JS said...


You're 100% right that there is simply no funding model or way of taking out "frills" that will make yeshiva sustainable. Maybe a solution for private schooling exists that is affordable for all, but it would be so bare bones no one would want to send there. By necessity it would have to have severely limited secular and/or Judaic studies and would thus be "unacceptable" to one group or the other. But, that's just academic. The trend, even in the worst of economies since the Great Depression, has been bigger and better campuses, more extras, more administrators, more teaching assistants, more differentiating based on hashkafa, etc.

The amount of money spent raising a child in the "accepted" way is astronomical. I'll use the modern orthodox prices since that's what I'm most familiar with. K-8 education at around $15k-$16k per child per year. 9-12 education at around $24k-$26k per child per year. Sleepaway camps for $4k-$6k per year. One or two years in Israel at around $25k per year. Also you have your requisite family trips to Israel (can't be the only one who never went). And, of course, your $20k or so bar/bar mitzvahs and your $40k or so weddings. I'm sure my prices are low, if anything.

So, yeah, nothing left over for the elderly. But, hey, I'm sure our kids are all SOOOO much more frum than previous generations and SOOOO much more committed to Orthodoxy.

It's just more and more money for the yeshivas. Tuition for the yeshivas. Scholarships for the yeshivas. Building funds for the yeshivas. Endowments for the yeshivas. Big donors for the yeshivas. New, bigger, better campuses for the yeshivas.

When was the last time you even heard the elderly mentioned once by a local rabbi or fundraiser? My shul and all the others around it will advertise open houses for the yeshivas and high schools to get enrollments up. Do any shuls even visit nursing homes? Do any yeshivas? If so, do they do it more than a token one time per year?

My experience is that the yeshiva kids will visit if they need "mitzvah points" or maybe if they're part of a "Chessed group."

How quaint.

A. A said...

Tesyaa is correct
There are a number of causes of the impending senior/retirement crisis. We can't do anything about certain causes (can't stop people from living longer)
But without tackling tuition nothing else with help

Anonymous said...

That last comment was me, abba's rantings

Anonymous said...

So, ProfK, after totally depressing us, what specifically do you propose?

tesyaa said...

It's not that I think tuition is an issue that needs to be solved, or one that can be solved; rather, unless there's a way to convince people that yeshiva is not an absolute necessity, tuition will continue to suck up resources.

We constantly hear inspirational stories about how past generations in this country sacrificed for yeshiva; I don't think people will be giving up the notion of universal yeshiva anytime soon. All of which will make things more painful when the ability to provide universal yeshiva inevitably collapses, and other charitable organizations are seen to be severely compromised.

JS said...

Maybe we need to start telling inspirational stories about people who took care of their parents and grandparents in their old age after their estates were wiped out by yeshiva tuition and expensive weddings.

Mark said...

As many have mentioned, behind the way we allocate money are our attitudes toward what is important. And with regards to funding education more (much more) vigorously than eldercare, it's really quite simple - The shadchan asks you where you attend[ed] school, where your siblings attend[ed] school, where your parents attended school, where you live, and where you daven. They NEVER ask which nursing home your grandparents live in.

So, it's clear that the things that are important to us are: school, shul, neighborhood. And not eldercare all that much.

Shua said...

What this all comes down to is a lack of planning on the part of our communities. We look too myopically at one particular thing that suddenly comes up and rush to do something about it without ever asking ourselves how this will fit in with everything else we need to support. And if something we put into place turns out to not be the best thing we just leave it there because I guess the thought is that better something then nothing. (Some of our yeshivot fall into this category.)

In some areas we have overduplication of services that come with overduplication of expenses to run. Just how many clothing or kallah gemachs does a community need? How many different types of simcha funds? And yes, how many different yeshivot that are all basically providing the same type of service but with overduplicated costs for administration, salaries and upkeep? And then when other services are needed, like help for the elderly, the answer is always "where is the money going to come from?" instead of looking at already existing programs and institutions to see which ones should be cut down or cut out.

For me it doesn't speak well for our communities when designer gowns for a wedding party are more important then providing care and services for older people who really need those services.

It's also a matter of chinuch l'banim. If our kids are going to see us ignoring the upcoming needs of our parents, making shtuss more of a priority then parents, putting schools ahead of needed services then we shouldn't be surprised not all that many years down the road if our kids won't give a darn about providing those services for us.Children learn by observing what we do not just listening to what we say.

Tali said...

An interesting thread on the comments here. My personal experience shows me that ProfK is right. Over the last 3-1/2 years my boomer parents have both faced medical problems that needed community services as part of the treatment. The hospital wanted my dad out and in a rehab center but all the frum centers were full and we were on a waiting list. The hospital insisted he leave so we had to take a rehab center which didn't have fresh kosher food and minyanim and other frum people. And it didn't get visitors from the bikur cholim groups either. It was hell for all of us until we finally found someone who could move us up on a list and he got into a frum center. It was almost identically the same problem when my mom got ill. And this is only the beginning of the boomers.

Anonymous said...

I know many boomers, and I agree that it's all linked into money.

For my grandparents, their friends, my friends's parents and their friends, I'll gladly help them when the time comes. Honestly, I'm nervous about total strangers, maybe that makes me mean, but it's the truth, at least I admit it.

As a teenager who has one parent working at a relatively high-paying job and another working at a middle-earning job, I have no patience for other people telling me to go to Israel for a year and (should I ever get there) have an expensive wedding and have kids right away. I see my parents working hard and it's just bratty behavior to DEMAND unnecessary things. Time is of the essence with money- if everyone got married at around 22 for girls and 24 for guys, and put off kids for 3 years, and both husband and wife finish college before marriage, it makes a difference.

Boomers deserve our services- they frikkin CREATED the world as we know