Inherited Wealth and the Cost of Living Jewish

A September blog post in The Times of Israel, written anonymously by “A Jewish Father” received a lot of attention in the day school world and on social media. Steve Freedman, Head of School at Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit, wrote a well-circulated response on our sister publication JeducationWorld where many chimed in with comments. A comment posted in recent days looks at the cost of day school from an entirely different perspective. We share the comment with you, in full:

DaySchoolParent says:

“It’s confusing to me that no one discusses the role of generational wealth in upper middle class Jewish communities. Everyone talks about income and assets but no one mentions the transfer of wealth through down payments, payment for college and graduate school, paying for camp, preschool, weddings, bar mitzvahs, vacations. It’s wonderful that Jewish families are willing to help establish their adult children and to pass their wealth down during their lifetimes. But these invisible transfers are rarely fully accounted for in tuition calculations.

If I make the same income as Person A but Person A has no debt and Person A’s parents are helping to pay for preschool and Person A also received a down payment from her grandparents and Person A expects help with college tuition for her kids and to inherit substantial wealth by the time Person A retires, Person A has a lot of invisible assets that are not on the form. I may make the same income and have the same housing cost as Person A but we are not in the same class.

Truly middle class people pay for everything they need and their children need from their salaries. There is no expected help from outside sources – you’re it. It’s up to you to create and earn everything you need and everything you want to give your child.

If day school means that neither Person A nor I will have much extra money, that’s actually fine for Person A because if the car breaks down, it will be taken care of, if there is a medical emergency, it will be taken care of, and if the kids need anything, it will be taken care of. If a lot of money were unexpectedly needed, some stock or real estate held by the extended family can always be sold. Person A may not have thousands of dollars in her savings account but her extended family has access to tens of thousands of dollars for the right kinds of expenses.

In contrast, I have to save for my children’s college and pay for the bar mitzvah on my own and for summer camp and for orthodontia and for everything else my children might need. If I can’t save because I give almost all of my extra income to the day school, then I am passing down my class problems to the next generation instead of building wealth so that my child might someday be more like Person A. Most responsible middle class people still have debt. Financial aid calculations assume that you will make minimum payments on your debt. If I do that, how will I ever get out of debt?

So let’s talk about values. Does it make sense for me to put myself into a situation of ongoing financial instability simply because I really want to give my child an intensive Jewish environment? Shouldn’t I really be saving my extra income and then paying the dentist and the mechanic and getting ready for the bar mitzvah and for college? Isn’t that exactly how Person A’s family became the people that can now afford to help Person A? I mean … most Jews are not descended from European royalty or slave traders.

Maybe day schools – even with financial aid – are an elite experience that is really meant for the children and grandchildren of someone who made it, regardless of the income on the form. Those of us descended from the Jews who never really made it should perhaps be trying harder to improve our lives economically instead of trying harder to fit in with the Jews who already have.

Basic rules of getting ahead: work hard, save money, don’t buy things you can’t afford. Jewish life has become a very expensive commodity. Maybe those of us who can’t afford it should create our own communities instead of continuing to use other people’s resources in an unsustainable way.”