Friday, November 28, 2008

Financial Sense for Chareidim: Mesila Gives The Tools

Being in the midst of a global economic crisis has brought home the point that individuals must take a more responsible approach to their finances. Unfortunately many households are already on the brink of financial collapse and lack the necessary tools to get their financial situation in order. I'm not only talking about economic collapse, but in many cases the strain this causes on their marriage is unbearable. Broken finances=broken families. What makes matters worse is A- the need for people to 'keep up with the Joneses' and B- the unbelievable ease with with anyone can access money. Both of these factors, as well as many others, have contributed to economic hardship and a culture of debt among many in today's society. While organizations like Debtors Anonymous have done a great job, many feel that due to special circumstances, Orthodox Jews need their own organizations to work with their own constituents. Mother In Israel had a great post, that appeared on Orthonomics, about Paamonim. I'd like to mention another group that does a lot of work in the Chareidi population.

Mesila works with families to provide them with the tools necessary to live within their means. It's not just another Gemach(Kindness organization.) Mesila tries to convey responsible, Torah-based attitudes towards finances. It's obvious that Chareidi society has different needs than other groups, ( feeding large families, Bar Mitzva's, marrying off lots of children..) and many people end up loaded down with staggering amounts of debt and spend their entire day running from Gemach to Gemach, rolling their debt.

As a volunteer for the organization,I have worked with tens of cases and can attest to the fact that their methods work. I'd like to share an example:

About two years ago I started to work with a young couple with 3 children under the age of 5. The husband was learning and the wife was a teacher earning a teachers salary. Wanting the same type of lifestyle that their parents currently enjoy, they bought a car, an apartment, and of course they could only furnish the apartment with the very best furnishings. Needless to say that their total income was about $1,000 a month, had expenses of $2,500 a month and had run up debt of $50,000. They were late on mortgage payments, municipal taxes etc.. You name it and they hadn't paid it. They were constantly under threat of being cut off from all utilities. ( Believe it or not this is actually one of the easier cases I have worked on!)

Well, we got to work. The first thing they needed to do was understand their expenses, both monthly and annually. Mesila believes that you need to separate your monthly and annual expenses from your debt. If everything s mixed up then you can't get a good understanding of the problem. Once the couple actually saw their income and expense line, they actually realized that they had a big problem. The husband immediately got a job as a security guard, and the wife started to supplement her income by tutoring. Then we worked on a budget. They would have to live within their means, and have money left over to start paying down debt.

A big issue for these couples is that they have no room to breathe. What do I mean? That even though they are making more and saving more they are constantly being chased down from people wanting to be paid back. So the couple made a list of all the individuals, and companies that they owed money to, and we starting calling them to re-work the payment plans. We also arranged for about $5,000 from a Gemach to pay back the most urgent loans; those of the local grocer, butcher and fruit store. The firms we called to re-work payments were so accommodating to the couple. I see it over and over again when it comes to charity. If people think that they are giving and they feel like the money is going into a black hole, they are less inclined to give. But if a family actually has a budget and they are doing their best to live within that framework, people are much more willing to donate. The same thing holds true for these firms. Once they heard that the couple is working with Mesila, they delayed repayment for a few months, and then made terms that the couple could handle.

I don't want to go on and on with this story but needless to say, the family is doing well. They have managed to cut their debt down to about $20,000, and are living within a monthly budget. The husband still works nights as a security guard but is in school studying to be a social worker.

Many of you will say that Chareidim should get out of the Yeshiva and get a job. First of all, Mesila believes in not judging anyone. You can do whatever you want to do with your life, just make sure that your expenses are no more than your income. Also, what you need to know is that in many families the husband works and may even work multiple jobs. The wife also brings in some extra money. They are very resourceful. It's just that if you have 10 kids, even if you net $5,000 a month you are going to be in trouble.

The need is great and they are inundated with requests to help. There aren't a lot of English speaking volunteers. There are hundreds of Israeli volunteers and they have branches all over Israel and are even trying to start a branch in Lakewood.

We could use more organizations like Mesila and Paamonim to enable people to get back on their feet economically. Any of you who think you could use your experience to help others are urged to call and volunteer.


SephardiLady said...

Posted. Thanks so much! I will try to contact you about helping with the US program.

Aaron Katsman said...


It would be my pleasure

unclmoishy said...

I was told that after you submit your application in Israel, it takes six months to hear from them. Is that true? I read your article but six months is a long time.