It’s no secret that we live in troubling, turbulent times. Anti-Semitism is growing worldwide, the threat of a nuclear disaster is becoming more and more of a reality and, to top it off, the economic downturn has shattered families and institutions and ruined some of the heaviest hitters on the world financial scene.
There is much to say about every one of these challenges, but I will stick to the timely theme of this issue: coping with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Of course, the crisis is affecting everyone—Jew and non-Jew; those at both ends of the economic spectrum and everyone in between. Nevertheless, I feel that our Orthodox world has been hardest hit by this economic disaster in many ways. And this is not difficult to understand. Even in times of great prosperity, Orthodox life was slowly but steadily becoming unaffordable. In 2005, long before the current economic crisis, Jewish Action devoted an entire issue to Jewish life in small-town America. We highlighted numerous small but growing Jewish communities because we recognized that the cost of living in an established Orthodox community had become too expensive for many, if not for most. How many young couples can afford to spend more than half a million dollars on a starter home? How many families can spend 50,000 after-tax dollars on tuition annually? The current crisis has only intensified the economic woes in the Orthodox world.
And yet, there is a silver lining. This financial downturn can bring about unbelievable positive changes on both an individual and a societal level. For one thing, it inevitably forces one to rethink priorities and direction in life. It is only too easy to fall into the trap of materialistic overindulgence, of identifying oneself with one’s professional and economic status, of submitting to the destructive “keeping-up-with-the-Schwartzes” mentality. Moreover, all too often when one enjoys financial success, it’s easy to succumb to the false notion that one’s achievements are due to one’s intelligence, skills and charisma. This crisis cannot help but remind us Who really is in control.
On a communal level, we have much to evaluate as well. In his brilliant analysis, Mark (Moishe) Bane, a corporate restructuring lawyer who is also chairman of the Orthodox Union’s Board of Governors and its Institute for Public Affairs, urges all of us to engage in a community-wide financial “cheshbon hanefesh.” Calling for a “financial restructuring” of the Orthodox world’s non-profit infrastructure, Moishe makes a powerful case for “seriously consider[ing] institutional mergers to reduce overhead and eliminate program duplication.” While he concedes that the process of restructuring may be painful, he stresses that the community can no longer afford to “remain oblivious to the bleak . . . economic realities.” This article is a must-read for those interested in helping our community achieve financial security.
This issue also tackles other topics of critical importance, such as life on the college campus. Joshua Reback, David Elmaleh and Beverly Kramer—three students with very different experiences on very different campuses—describe their struggles being Orthodox in the mostly irreligious, ultra-liberal environment of the college campus. While focusing on campus life, we take the opportunity to highlight the exceptional work of the OU’s Heshe & Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), a highly successful program that assists frum college kids on campus. In addition, JLIC Founding Director Rabbi Menachem Schrader offers some helpful and insightful questions that wise parents and graduating high school seniors may want to ask before choosing a university.
As usual, Jewish Action offers informative articles on a range of relevant topics—food, health, the latest Jewish books and so much more. I hope you enjoy this issue, and I encourage you to send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would like to leave you on an optimistic note: The Gemara tells us, “Galgal hu shechozer ba’olam—the world is repeatedly cyclical” (Shabbos 151b). Coming on the heels of an extraordinary period of prosperity, the economic downturn took many of us by surprise. But it shouldn’t have. Chazal teach us that life is cyclical—there are inherent ups and downs, times of joy and times of sorrow. The comfort therein should be apparent: no downturn can last too long. The cycle of life continually changes. To quote an expression that, according to legend, Shlomo Hamelech had engraved upon a ring he wore: “Gam zeh ya’avor—This too shall pass.”