(Belated) Thoughts on the Tragedy

What does the Leiby Kletsky tragedy have to do with the topic of this blog? Absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, there is not a Jewish blog out there that has not wrote something about this senseless and heartbreaking story. Why this happened to us, we cannot know, and there is no point in speculating. But one interesting observation to make is how everyone reacted to the story. As soon as the events became known, everyone knew everything there is to know about the story, in spectacular detail.

How did everyone become an expert in every minute detail? Simple. Because everyone was so touched by this tragic story, they became emotionally involved. And when one becomes emotionally involved with something, they internalize the matter. Scrape every website out there for any bit of news and hearsay, listen to every broadcast, and read every newspaper just to get the latest update. As if that would somehow help the situation.

Of course it won’t bring back little Leiby, but nevertheless we all were glued. Being emotionally attached is a super powerful force. From the countless conversations held in yeshiva hallways, businesses, and street corners in the days following the story, simple laymen were transformed into criminal law experts.

That is a small lesson that can be taken out of this tragedy. If we want to really achieve excellence, we must become emotionally attached to what you are doing. Whether you are learning or working, you won’t become an expert unless you connect emotionally to it. All you need to do is to discover what that “thing” is. And then you’ll be the real expert.

How a 20 Yr. Old Yeshiva Guy Gets $100k Job With No Education

I was recently speaking to a friend of mine who is does very well in the various businesses he oversees. He told me how he got started in business at the young age of 20. At the time, he was working in a yeshiva doing odd jobs, never having been the biggest masmid. He was newly married, and got the “itch” to go out and get a job. Through a series of (un)fortunate circumstances which will not be detailed here, he never managed to graduate high school…or elementary school for that matter.

A friend told him of a sales job opportunity in a nearby city, at a huge Fortune 500 manufacturing company. Their campus stretched for blocks, and when he entered their immense building he was overwhelmed. At the interview, the no-nonsense hiring managers peppered him with questions. Then came the moment of truth. “We noticed you didn’t fill out the education section of the application. What is your education?” The young yeshiva guy is ready. “My education is NONE. No college, no high school, no elementary school.”

The shocked managers recoil with horror. “What do you mean by no education? Without education you can’t possibly be successful.” To that he replied smoothly, “I always felt that to be successful in business, you have to be in business. Give me a chance and I’ll show you how even a guy like me can prove himself.”

After a stunning interview performance, which he did without the benefit of any education, he landed the job. And boy did he prove himself. He dove into the work, calling purchasing managers and scheduling meetings all over the area. By the end of the year he was earning well over $100,000 with his bonuses and commissions. And he was on tap to be the highest growth sales rep in the Northeast.

Anyone can get themselves an education. But to be really successful, you have to go in and kill it. And for that, you don’t need a whole lot of education.

(Did you hear that, Reb Kollel Yungerman? Think just because you are 32 with no degree you have no chance of being successful? If he did it, why can’t you?)

Peer Pressure – Keeping Up With Friends & Neighbors

Another negative consequence of parental support to young kollel families is the tremendous pressure it places on everyone else. This problem is readily apparent in Lakewood, but it occurs even in Eretz Yisroel.

It is hard enough for an idealistic young couple to begin marriage with the plan to “live with nothing” while learning in kollel. But it becomes almost impossible to do when his chavrusah, her best friend, their siblings, and neighbors are living a “comfortable” life while also learning in kollel.

30 years ago, it was unheard of for a young kollel couple living in Lakewood to buy a house. Who could afford buying a house while being in kollel? But over the past 10-15 years, it has become standard practice for young families to buy a house after just a year or two of marriage. Obviously, they cannot afford to do so on their own. The money for their homes come from the parents.

Most parents do not have the financial ability to purchase homes for their children. But due to the tremendous peer pressure placed on their children and back up to them, they are forced to struggle even more than they were expecting in order to fund their children’s homes. Yes, they rationalize the purchase by saying things like, “A home is a good investment.” And “They are anyways going to need a new place to live soon.” Or, “Why waste all that money every month on rent when it can be going towards paying on a mortgage?” But the real truth is parents would not extend themselves to such an extent if not for the fact that their children are being subjected to terrible peer pressure from other parents that have extended themselves.

And so the cycle of debt and “spend more that I make” continues way past the age when kids grow up and move out.

Supporting your kids in kollel sounds like a noble deed. But when you consider that your generosity causes great strain and harm to others that aren’t able to do so, it starts taking on a different meaning.

The Unbearable Stress of Supporting Kids in Kollel

The most obvious problem with the practice of supporting children in kollel is the great financial and emotional stress it places on their parents.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that a typical Jewish family of 6-7 children making anywhere from $70,000-$140,000 a year cannot afford to give their married children $1200-$2500(!) a month. The math just doesn’t add up. As it is, they struggle to pay their never ending mortgage, tuition and camp expenses for their children living at home. Add to that the existing debts they accrued from making chassunas, and sending the girls to seminary, and you can see how most frum families are being squeezed awfully tight.

Most people would not willingly promise money they don’t have for the sake of someone elses learning. But when it comes to kollel support, they do. Whether they work as accountants, lawyers, dentists, or computer programmers, they are promising sums of money for kollel support that they simply don’t have.

Why do they do this? Simply because they want their daughters to get married. And in today’s society, in order to marry off your daughter you are expected to pay for the mesirus nefesh of your future son-in-law.

That is why most often the support for the kollel couple comes from the girl’s parents, not the boy’s. Because of the great shidduch crisis, there are far more girls than boys on the “market”. That causes an imbalance in the supply and demand of the marketplace, which forces the parents of the girl to “sweeten the deal” by providing the support. In most cases, the motivation for offering the support has nothing to do with the value of the son-in-law’s learning. It is simply a way of getting their daughter married – at all costs.

Even when the cost is too much of a financial burden to bear.

How do they manage to come up with the money? Likely they do so by remortgaging the home, by working years longer than planned, by selling investments and cashing out retirement funds that were put away for their golden years, and by the mothers getting new jobs years after they left the workforce. (A relative of mine tells me of the many middle aged women taking special ed classes in Sara Schnerir together with all the young girls, which creates somewhat of a culture clash.)

Torah is surely a worthy cause to support. But when faced with a stark choice, wisdom must be used to tell us when and how to support Torah. That wisdom should give one the option of putting their own family’s needs first, where it should be.

Supporting Kids in Kollel – The Harmful Side Effects

Supporting kids in kollel sounds like a very noble cause. After all, by helping them financially, you are making it possible for them to live in an ideal situation, where the husband can spend his days fully engrossed in learning without worrying about earning a living. Financial support, together with the wife/mother working and some assistance from Uncle Sam are what make it possible for so many kollel couples llving in Lakewood to be able to “stay in learning”. 

But people neglect to notice the harmful side effects of support, which are causing great damage to our society which will have grave consequences on us in the not so distant future.

Each one of these side effects require their own post, to give enough attention to the details. I will list the negative consequences here, and detail each one in their own individual posts over the next few weeks.

  1. Financial stress on parents
  2. Peer pressure between couples
  3. Increased burden on women to work longer and harder
  4. Lack of planning for the future
  5. Forces girls to obtain ridiculous degrees for the sake of earning a “good” living
  6. Sour relationships between son-in-law and father-in-law
  7. Adds stress to the already difficult shidduch market
  8. Drains precious financial resources from worthy causes

These negative consequences are so intertwined with each other that they are not really separate. We will explore how the widespread custom of supporting one’s children in kollel is having negative ripple effects through our lives. What began as a noble endeavor has turned ugly, and we must realize how it is negatively affecting all of us before we will do anything about it.

This series will likely evoke strong emotions from many of my readers. There are so many players involved in this – from the parents writing the checks, the couples who cash them, the single girls who long for a shidduch, the children of supported parents, and just about everyone else in our frum non-chassidish society. Everyone has their own opinion about this matter, but I believe that this series will strike a chord with many of you.

Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments. After all, this almost certainly affects your life in more ways than one. 

The Truth About Shavuos and Matan Torah

Much like the “yom tov” of Lag B’aomer which has been hijacked byfrom it’s true meaning – the day when the talmidim of Rebbe Akiva stopped dying – so too has the Yom Tov of Shavuos been hijacked by zealous kanaim from it’s true meaning. The Torah doesn’t ever mention that Shavuos is a celebration of Matan Torah. What it does say is that Shavuos is the festival of the harvest – חג הקציר.

Why is Shavuos, which is certainly the time of when we received the Torah, referred to in such a mundane manner?

Perhaps there lies an important lesson. Celebrating the receiving of the Torah is only meaningful when it is done in conjunction with a harvest. Because if you just spend your life learning but never harvest anything, you haven’t really accomplished much.

What does it mean to harvest? Every person can define harvesting differently.

Harvesting can refer to someone like R’ Sender Dolgin – a person with average intelligence who has finished shas annually for over 15 years – and knows it!

Harvesting can refer to someone like R’ Chaim Tzvi Gorelick – who has mastered the laws of techum Shabbos, and has taught thousands of Lakewood residents where they can and can’t go on Shabbos.

Harvesting refers to R’ Moshe Pruzansky – who has created a massive chabura in Lakewood Yeshiva attracting hundreds of members who learn entire mesechtes – and master them.

Harvesting refers to making yourself a goal…and achieving it.

It’s possible to receive the gift of the Torah, and spend an entire lifetime learning it, but never harvest anything. In our contemporary yeshiva system, we are indoctrinated from our early years that we must devote our learning to “learning how to learn”. So we spend our days and weeks and months saying sevoros and learning more meforshim, without really getting to the bottom of anything. We get ourselves used to this method – and we end up spending our precious years of kollel continuing along the same path of “learning how to learn”, without ever actually starting to learn…and harvest.

Shavuos is the festival of harvest. What have you harvested recently?

And if you haven’t, it is not too late to plan for next year’s harvest.

A Bit of Resume Creativity

When seeking a job, one of the first things a person is told to do is create a resume. If you are a yeshiva guy or coming out of kollel, that resume usually doesn’t look too pretty. Most of the time, you have no degree to speak of (other than the bogus BTLs, which most employers recognize as worthless), no work experience, no college, not even a decent high school diploma.

The standard route taken in such situations is to “doctor” a resume using various underhanded methods – such as getting a relative or friend to write of “work experience at our company”, or to provide letters of recommendation, even though they would not think of hiring the person themselves.

The problem with this method is that it is deceptive, easy to discover, and not the way you want to really present yourself to a new prospective employer. Do you really want to give him reason to question your integrity?

A better route I have found is to avoid the whole matter altogether, by not having a resume in the first place.

It seems that more and more smart companies are ditching the whole system of job applications via resume. A resume gives reason to reject people by saying, “Oh, you only went to this school and not that school.” Or, “Oh, you only have 2.5 years of experience and we need 3.1.”

A better way is to let yourself be your own resume. What have you accomplished in your life that can demonstrate your capabilities? Do you have any of the skills needed for this kind of job? Well, prove it. Who cares if you never went to the “right” college when you have already proven that you have what it takes to get the job done right.

True, many big corporations will only hire through their massive HR departments which require the typical resume. But those are jobs where people are processed through like units of production, not as individuals. Your chances of succeeding in such organizations are slim, so your lack of qualifications for those kinds of jobs are actually a blessing in disguise.

But smart businesses – typically small to mid sized companies, are open to creative alternatives to the resume method. Here is a great example:

Jason Zimdars is a great graphics designer living in Oklahama, who got a “dream job” working for 37 Signals in Chicago. Yes he works remotely, and yes he got the job the job without any resume. Read more about how he did it here and how 37Signals accepts job applications here.

Bottom line – smart yeshiva guys can come up with a “chap” how to get hired without a great resume. Just don’t do it the crooked way, do it in a creative way. That is the wave of the future, and works well for us without the standard qualifications.

Lessons From a Chassidish Computer Whiz

I recently had my computers serviced by a chassidishe fellow from Boro Park who does computers. Not only did he know what he was doing, he was more knowledgeable than the technicians from the software companies that he spoke to on the phone while working on our systems.

Microsoft makes a very sophisticated and powerful database software called SQL. It is so complex that there are specialists whose entire job is to be a database adminsitrator who can properly manage the databases and the tables, where the average salary for a good database person can top $110,000. This fellow tells me that without taking any classes, he was able to pass 2 of the very difficult Microsoft exams on SQL, which he took “just for the fun of it”. (None of his heimishe customers would know or care if he is Microsoft certified).

Here you have someone who never went to college, never went to any vocational school, doesn’t have a high school diploma, but who is making a nice living setting up computer systems for businesses of all sizes, from small to medium to large enterprises. How did he get there? By applying his intelligence (which we all have) and drive to succeed (which we all should have) to a skill, he became an expert in what he does. An expert in any kind of field, whether it is law, construction, medicine, or even kriah remidiation, becomes the “go to” person that can make a nice living whatever it may be.

So next time you find yourself saying, “But what can I possibly do to make a living?”, just learn the lessons from this enterprising fellow (and the many others just like him). Believe that you can do it, and then get about the business of doing so.

Being Supported in Kollel is Not Free Money

Another tragic kollel story:

A 41 year old who learned in Yeshiva in the US and moved to Eretz Yisroel has been sitting and learning in kollel while being supported by his in-laws. They give him $2,000 a month, and he manages to stuggle along.

Of course, the in-laws fly the family in to America for simchas and Yom Tov. At a recent family simcha, the in-laws asked this fellow to speak. He wasn’t comfortable doing so, and he politely refused. The mother-in-law replied, “But we support you! And if you can’t speak, why are we spending so much money on your learning?”

Needless to say, this fellow was devastated.

There are lots of conclusions that can be drawn from this. My take is simply this – is it really worth 2 grand to take money from people who obviously don’t want to give it, and when they do they feel as if they “own” you? 

Just remember – there is no such thing as free money. Kollel support is no different. Even Especially when it comes from family. 

Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Buying Seforim with Maaser Money

I was recently reviewing a sefer on the halachos of Maaser Kesafim dealing with the different things one can do with his maaser money. There is an opinion in halacha that allows one to purchase seforim with maaser money if he makes them available for public use. The sefer then quoted from Rav Chaim Kanievsky who ruled that in today’s times one should not use maaser money for this as seforim are plentiful and this is not a good use of the money.

It would therefore follow that using maaser money to mass fund kollelim is also not a good use of funds. According to all poskim, the heter to learn and be supported from the tzibbur is only so that Torah should not become forgotten from klal yisroel. [The Rambam is well known for being strongly opposed to any kind of support for learning Torah.] Today, there is no worry that Torah will become forgotten due to the lack of support of Torah institutions. Just the opposite – by encouraging everyone to learn in kollel and not pursue a livelihood, there is a strong possibility that there will be not enough money within the community to sustain the existing Torah institutions in the future – including the vital schools & yeshivas for our children. As Rav Chaim ruled – not always does spending money on Torah justify the use of maaser money. Perhaps this applies to general kollel support as well.

If kollel would be exclusively for those super stars that are actually making a noticeable impact, then kollel would be a good choice for maaser money.

However, if one would truly be concerned about supporting Torah, perhaps leaving kollel and going to work would be the best way to achieve this.