The Cost of Jewish Living

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We are very spoiled here in Los Angeles. Within footsteps we have an abundance of kosher markets, countless kosher restaurants offering food for almost any palate. You can choose which mikveh to visit with a handful of choices in a matter of a few miles. Generally speaking, in the United States a community is lucky if it has even one Jewish day school. In Los Angeles we have tens of schools ranging for every age and level of observance. Not sure what synagogue to attend? You can literally spend months, Shabbat after Shabbat, trying out new places every week all within a matter of blocks. In the U.S.A., other than possibly New York, it doesn’t get better than to be a Jew in Los Angeles—and we even have better weather than New York! So perhaps we could even rank first among all as the top place in the United States to live as Jew. However, as most of us know, and as I see in my private practice over and over again, this luxury of living such a full and expansive Jewish life comes with one major complication: the price tag.

Families who wish to live a Jewish life and raise children in a Jewish context—be it a Jewish school or Jewish camp—must reach deep within their pockets to make it happen. For many, this takes a massive toll on the stability of marriage and family and the ability of schools and camps to financially accommodate their communities. Among divorced couples, financial stresses and pressures rank among the top reasons for fighting and eventual break-up, and our Jewish community is not immune to this. While discussing this with one of my clients currently going through divorce, he made an astute comment. He said, “A religious (defined by keeping kosher, sending kids to Jewish schools and camps) Jewish couple or family earning $100,000 a year is equal to a non-religious or non-Jewish family earning $50,000 a year. The money simply doesn’t go far due to the additional financial burden affiliated with expenses for Jewish living. It can be almost impossible to make ends meet.”

This time of year is particularly stressing for Jewish families. At this time many people are going through the financial aid process for the following school year while also having to make arrangements to pay for summer activities. I see an increase in arguments between spouses which always leads to an increase in general dis-ease in the family’s home. But these things are not new, and chances are if you are reading this you may personally be impacted by similar challenges. The question becomes how do we as a community work to alleviate some of these financial burdens? I’ve seen some amazing work done by schools and camps in offering financial aid. I know the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles helps to support Jewish schools and camps through various programs making it easier on families. However, I recently had another idea, and it involves truly seeing if people—specifically our communities’ business establishments—are willing to step up to the plate. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of Jews supporting businesses up and down Pico, Fairfax, LaBrea and all of the other heavily Jewish neighborhoods. Perhaps one or more of them would consider helping out if they don’t already do so.

Here is what I propose: I’d like to see every single kosher market, Judaica store, kosher restaurant, and other shops up and down our major Jewish streets where the Jewish community supports commerce to commit 3% of their gross earnings towards the Jewish day school or camp of their choosing as a donation to support the financial assistance programs at those respective places—without raising prices for goods and services. I’d like to see our consciousness here in L.A. be one of understanding that raising Jewish children is indeed a community affair and that in order for families to be able to do so with less financial stress our neighborhood establishments can step up and support us just as we support them as patrons. I’d like to see a sign in the window of each establishment that says, “We donate 3% of your purchase to (fill in the blank) financial aid program to support our community’s families.” If you are the owner of such an eatery, shop, or market, I’d like to know you are doing it so that I can shout it from the mountain top and let everyone know. If we are going to be able to continue to raise Jewish families without being crushed by the financial demands of doing so then we must, as a community as a whole, support one another.

I look forward to receiving emails from readers and business owners letting me know about signs going up in windows up and down Pico, Fairfax, and the rest about the 3% solution of helping one-another. Establishments who prove they are doing so will be recognized in future columns. We do have the power as a community to lessen the burden. My email is mia@bhcounselingcenter.com and your comments are always welcome. Wishing you a successful end to the school year and mazal tov on any graduates in your families!

By: Mia Adler Ozair

Mia Adler Ozair, MA, LPCC, NCC is a licensed clinical psychotherapist and educator with a private practice in Beverly Hills, California. Mia is licensed in both California and Illinois and she can be reached through her website at www.bhcounselingcenter.com or followed on Twitter @MiaAdlerOzair.

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