Opinion: Start Teaching Real Skills l Baruch Rivlin

Financial struggles is part and parcel of many people’s lives. Look around Lakewood and you will see people having difficulty paying for basic necessities like clothing, food and a mortgage. Lakewood has some of the highest rates of people on WIC, food stamps and other welfare benefits not just in New Jersey, but in the entire country.

This isn’t because Lakewood residents are incapable or lazy – in fact, I can confidently say that the majority of our community is highly intelligent and ambitious. Nor is it because many in Lakewood decide to devote their first few years of marriage to learning – most Americans make very little when they are in their early and mid-20’s. So why is it that so many Lakewood households find it so difficult to earn an income that would allow them to live comfortably and without significant stress?

From my research on this matter, it has become clear that there are two primary causes of this, and each of those reasons exacerbate each other.

The first is the cost of living. Living as a religious Jew simply costs more than living a secular lifestyle. Our food costs more and we have to pay for education; even our housing is more expensive because we tend to congregate together in specific areas, driving up the price of land. Of course, the average Orthodox Jewish family has more children than non-Jewish or secular homes, driving up the amount one needs to earn to get by. Because of these additional expenses, making $100,000+ is often not enough to be able to live without worrying over one’s finances.

The second cause is that we are very uneducated. Let’s face it: yes, our schools provide a religious as well as a secular education, but in no way do they square up with the education non-Jewish and secular children receive in their elementary, middle and high schools, and of course not college. Very little thought is given to how well a child knows how to do basic math and other subjects.

To be clear, I have no issue with the religious education our children receive being at the forefront of our children’s education concerns. Teaching them to live by and for the Torah is supreme to anything else. But we also cannot ignore the fact that most people do not end up earning a livable wage when they are not well educated, and even more so when we have higher expenses to begin with. Expecting our boys to learn in yeshiva until they have to earn money is in some ways reckless, because when they need to actually start bringing in an income, they are completely, utterly unprepared.

Some inroads have been made in getting our population educated. The most notable advancements have been made by PCS Careers, a division of Agudath Israel that provides training on a variety of subjects. While it has definitely helped improve things, those positive changes have been marginal because there are still very few career options provided. Being as such, too many people go into the same fields of work, flooding the market and leaving many qualified individuals (who paid tens of thousands of dollars for a degree) unemployed. As a side note, the same goes for women’s programs, which I will address in a separate article.

So we have two problems on our hands: the cost of living is prohibitive, and our population is poorly educated. They exacerbate each other because due to the costs of living, Jewish vendors often have to charge more so they themselves can get by, while the uneducated masses can’t pay for their goods.

So what is to be done? I can’t really say I have the solution. But I think it’s critical that our kids start getting a real education that will provide them skills that are useful in the real world. Yeshiva high schools should offer advanced classes in math, science, etc. that, if necessary, can be turned into college credits. They should also be taught how to balance a check book, how a mortgage works and given a basic understanding of how investing works. None of these things need to take away from their learning – it doesn’t have to be any different than the English classes they are already taking.

Some might argue that a bochur’s only concern should be his learning. I don’t disagree necessarily, but you can’t ignore the fact that chances are that he will need to learn how to earn a living. And beginning an education that would enable him to earn a solid income at 27 is not a good idea. Working is not a bad thing, and we need to stop acting like it is. Hillel Hazaken was a wood chopper. I rest my case.

The job market for people with few skills is not good. Many have told me how they are finding it nearly impossible to get a decent job without having connections. This isn’t right. I don’t believe it is fair to our children for them to be taught that they must learn and only learn, and oh, by the way, you have to figure out how to make money without an education.

If anybody has some good ideas on how to tackle this problem other than what I am proposing, I would love to hear about them.

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  1. Let hashem run the world

    More gevirim in town that are high school dropouts then well educated ppl that know science & algebra

    parnasah is a nisoyan to promote tefillah- try it it WORKS! pardon the pun

  2. Education is a good thing but for those boys that are really accomplishing and using their time correctly. Torah should be their only interest. You may not have noticed how well the self employed are doing. Those that have the money to open businesses are thriving. Their gemara learned gives us analytic skills way ahead of the general population. The chalange is how to help get the money one needs to start a business. There has been some limited help from some organizations but way too little. When we could come up with the money our community will become self sufficient. I HAVE A FEW IDEAS U CAN CONTACT ME THROUGH THE SCOOP.

  3. courses are great for intellegent pplz

    besides pcs, you can learn a new trade a@ chessed of lkwd,@ tti @ nyrecourse.com @ many businesses willing to hire interns

    quick education is available you dont need to know science & algebra

  4. It is almost a certainty that TANF, SNAP & WIC households will be implementing a minimum hours of work requirement for able bodied recipients. Be prepared.

  5. Earning a honest living is one of a person’s biggest test in life and it involves many tests in its midst. From honesty to Faith and trust in Hashem and not in the weekly-avoda zara of today’s generation-paycheck to a yearly total. Causing our corrupted minds to fool us and think that this money is all mine cause I worked very hard etc… When in truth every penny belongs to Hashem and it is just a loan from Hashem to get a person through the year and support his family.

    We need to stop putting our trust and dependence on physical people and put our trust in Hashem the king of kings who runs the entire world and every tiny aspect of a person’s life.

    Take out a siddur and daven from your heart for all your needs (versus reading from a siddur book without knowing what the words mean) karov Hashem lchol…. “Hashem is close to those who call out to him with truth from the inside of their hearts” rather it’s for livlihood or a shidduch or a refuah shleima etc….

  6. the owners of B and H didn’t get no fancy shmancy degree and our very successful and give much tzedekah., reb Aron was against college, and Lakewood was built to be a yeshiva town.

  7. real simple. Those heading to kolel don’t want to hear about preparing for parnossa. Therefore secular studies are not encouraged. When things get to difficult they can either rely on the shverr, go to the aguda to become an accountant, go into chinuch, or hashgacha. they have no intention to do anything else. Remember though, the schools will still demand their tuition no matter what.
    as to dovid’s comment. You are correct. Lakewood was Originally built to be a yeshiva town. It has now turned into a mini version of new york with lots of working people here.We need to live in today’s world, not 50 years ago as there is sadly no going back

  8. I know of a Rebbi who has been teaching for 25+ years. He lost his job (no scandal, but a lot of politics) and cannot find another. He’s been told that he’s too old and therefore too expensive – even though no one asked his salary requirements. If someone has any practical ideas, please post them.

  9. @dovid 12:16pm
    Two points:
    You say: “Lakewood was built as a yeshiva town”
    B’mechilas Kovodoch. I agree with this opinion piece written by Reb Boruch.
    Yes. Lakewood WAS built as a yeshiva town.
    Unfortunately, it is no longer. We rival Brooklyn. Sorry. That is the reality.

    In other words: we can’t have it both ways. If this is really a Kollel community then our gashmius standards would be lower. Now that it is so high, if someone wants to have the high gashmius standard shouldn’t he be educated?

    You talk about B&H
    Ashrei Loi. He had Mazel and Brocha and HatZlacha and the RBSO should Bentch him further for all the chesed that he does. But, remember,
    Lav kulom Not everyone is B and H.

    Of course,
    If the bochur or youngerman doesn’t want this gashmius lifestyle then of course.
    Kee heim chayeinu

    The problem is, the way I understand it the letter writer, is that those that are not soichrim. What should they do?

    Moreover, Even Those that don’t want a gashmius lifestyle need some form of education if they are not salesman and can’t be kolu Lashem.

    Point 2.

    You speak of Reb Ahron Zatzal
    Who is taking about college?
    What about high school?
    Philadelphia had English in high School and was run by one of the biggest talmidim of the Rosh Yeshiva.

  10. There is a problem with parnossah, but it has more to do with expenses than it does with earnings. As stated in the article, simply earning an average, or even slightly higher than average salary will not cover the expenses of a frum family. for this reason, the “solution” of teaching college accredited courses in Yeshiva will not solve the problem. Additionally, when looking for Jobs outside the community, it really doesn’t matter if you are “highly educated”, if don’t have a valued degree, thy won’t look at your resume. If the point is to use those credits to get a marketable degree later on, an undergraduate degree from BMG will accomplish that.

    As far as some of the courses you mention, not all courses are created equal. Most courses are for the most part worthless. The exceptionbeing those that lead to degrees, most notably the PCS Masters in accounting. It is a real degree that can leadt to a CPA, that can lead to a solid career. I know quite a few people that have done it ,

    As far as flooding the market with a particular profession, there is a huge difference between men and women in the community. Most women, rightfully so, do not want to deal with long commutes, so they are limited geographically in where they work, which limits their opportunities. For men, who are willing and able to commute, they aren’t going to flood the job market in Manhattan or other areas,

    Personally, I think that Yeshivas should have a good secular high school education. Most high school bochurim don’t, and can not learn every waking hour of the day. There are very few who do not have 3 hours of the day when they are not learning, may as well use that time wisely. That has been the excepted practice in the U.S. for decades, and it has worked. As far as teaching college course in Yeshiva, I disagree. We should not re-define what a Yeshiva is and dilute its focus, and as I stated earlier, I really don’t think it will solve any problem.

    I do think their is a real solution to the issue. After a long period of colleges trending toards offering useless degrees that saddle students with high debt and no marketable skills, there has been a trend in the opposite direction. Many universities now offer online courses in advanced degrees, where you can graduate with the same diploma as those who attend onsite.

    These include degrees of hot degrees like MS with a focus on Cybersecurity, MS in Data Analytics among others, and it includes highly ranked universities including Duke, USC, UofM, UNC, Rutgers, Umass, Temple etc. Colleges are doing this to survive, as people in general want a better return on their tuition investment than they have been getting in the past. This trend has been increasing, and more Universities are continuously jumping on board. In many cases, colleges use the revenue from the online programs to subsidize scholarships for their shrinking on-campus enrollments.

    This provides an opportunity for people in the community to obtain valuable degrees in diverse fields while either working in a entry level job after leaving Kollel, or even while still in Kollel (many spend their last year or two in Kollel, trying to figure out what they are going to do next anyhow). It also provides a solution without trying to re-define what a Yeshiva is, and you can use your BMG undergrad degree to start in a Masters program which can lead to a financially comfortable career.

  11. Thank you R’ Boruch for addressing this serious problem we are facing but doing much about. Many in my generation of yungeleit in their low forties are struggling mightily to provide for their families. The wages being paid locally are very insufficient to raise a large frum family. Those that commute to NY only see their children on Shabbos, it’s a churbon Norah. Real estate requires a lot of money upfront & is quite risky in today’s market. Selling on Amazon remains the last resort for us & many are successful though I don’t know the statistics. This should be the topic at the Agudah convention & any public discussion involving the Klal. This problem is affecting sholom bayis, schools can’t collect tuition, daughter’s can’t be married off, children aren’t going to summer camp, & Tomchei Shabbos is feeding 100’s of families. There are no easy solutions to this problem but at least we should start talking about it.

  12. I can’t thank you enough for saying this. Things need to change if people want to survive. First, we need to add more job-related education to our schools. More importantly, we need to focus on long-term education instead of rushing into marriage. If kids could wait until 25 to get married, our girls could have a good degree and a stable income. Our boys could either go to school, work, or be much closer to finishing kollel before starting a family. The problem is that so many girls want a learning boy, and then end up on a limited income while starting a family.

    Next, we need to include finance classes for all young adults. Not only a checkbook and mortgage, but everything that makes up a monthly budget. Have you added up the rent, utilities, car, grocery bill, clothing fund, and daily expenses? You can afford $200 for a car payment. But did you factor in gas, tolls, and repairs? What about healthcare?

    We definitely need to make changes so that our children can afford to live in today’s world.

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