By Zach Morrow and Benny Smith
Over the last 20 years, real estate prices in Pico-Robertson and the surrounding areas have ballooned, outpacing inflation and local salaries. Taken together with rising tuition costs and the price of keeping kosher, real estate prices mean being a part of a Jewish community (whether it’s in West LA, North Hollywood, Encino, Tarzana, or most other Jewish hubs around the city) is simply no longer viable. If you do manage to afford to live in those areas, and you’re able to send your kids to Jewish Day School, saving for retirement or a rainy day becomes exponentially harder.
On Sunday, July 26, our synagogue, B’nai David-Judea, hosted the first of a series of difficult conversations. Throughout the morning, we discussed what it was like raising a family in a neighborhood that costs more than you can afford. We discussed financial aid at Jewish day schools, the changing real estate market, and what that means for local families. We acknowledged that these are the current solutions for many: getting help from family, taking loans for Jewish day school, and putting off saving for retirement. One middle-aged participant even confessed that it had been years since she contributed to her retirement fund. We discovered a community that knows there needs to be a change but is at a loss for how to make that happen. Thankfully, we are willing to think outside of the box to make it work.
Since then, a group of young professionals has begun to gather together in search of an answer. We’re nonprofit professionals, engineers, doctors, lawyers, educators and more. We sit together and discuss what our current reality is, what we’re looking to accomplish, and how to line up what we need to get it done.
While each family’s needs are different, we’ve identified our biggest struggle as balancing ‘the triangle.’ The three sides of the triangle are: owning our dwelling spaces, affording Jewish education for our children (when we have them), and building a strong financial future or saving for retirement. We recognize that living in LA means choosing one side of the triangle and being happy with losing the other two. Alternatively, we can take a significant risk and start something new.
As we see it, there are a few options:
- We can stay in Pico-Robertson, West LA, North Hollywood, Encino, Tarzana, and most other Jewish hubs and keep rolling with the status quo, maybe we can make a choice later on between Jewish Day School, owning a home, and some type of financial security past our working lives.
- We can stay in LA, but move progressively further east/south, to areas like Boyle Heights, Faircrest Heights, Mid-City, and Long Beach. We could probably eventually afford a home, but we still might not get an affordable Jewish education for our kids, or be able to plan for retirement.
- We can find a new place and build/attach to a community there; Houston, Denver, Phoenix, or any number of other locations have been discussed. Many others have made the move before, but there is a growing interest in making the transition as part of something greater than our individual families. Perhaps together, we could afford our own housing, afford Jewish day school and most likely build our retirement savings.
- We can make the ‘Moonshot.’ We could work with communal leaders to create groundbreaking solutions to these issues. These may be synagogue young couple fellowships, endowments, or working with new partners. All we know if that if something doesn’t change, we don’t know how sustainable the future of the Los Angeles Jewish community is.
Our first meeting was incredible. What started as a few people wanting to participate in a conversation became 12 people in a room discussing our potential options. No one complained or belly-ached that someone else should fix the problem for us. We simply looked at the complexity of the issue and said to each other: ‘There has to be a way to make this work.’
Inside two weeks, we nearly tripled the number of people involved. We’re now pursuing answers to our conundrum by speaking with Jewish professionals across the country. Small towns in need of new Jewish families, entrepreneurs with a zeal for the Jewish community, and big-picture thinkers who want to affect real change are all a part of our vision.
To answer your question, we don’t know yet where or even if we’re going. What we do know is that if we don’t do something soon, we’re putting our families’ financial futures in jeopardy. What we need you to know is that LA’s Jewish community is already in jeopardy, and that we want to help fix it.
What can you do? Are you worried that you, your children or grandchildren won’t be able to make it work? We invite you to join our conversation. We want to work with you – millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers, philanthropists, and working professionals, to explore solutions that will impact future generations of Jewish Los Angeles.
Zach Morrow is a Jewish communal professional, with an MBA from American Jewish University. He and his wife serve in leadership positions in their local modern orthodox synagogue. Get in touch with Zach through email: [email protected]
Benny Smith has a BS in Business with a focus in Marketing from Yeshiva University. He works at Fraser Financial in the insurance and financial services field, helping families plan for their future. Get in touch with Benny through email: [email protected]