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Friday, April 28, 2006

Abramoff's Passover Plans

Why does the NY Times feel that the fact the Jack Abramoff spent Pesach at Turnberry Isles is a news story? Whatever law-breaking the guy is accused of doing, I can't see any reason that his wife and children have to be publicly tormented because they were taken away by their parents for Pesach. When a person is accused of a crime, even a high-profile crime such as Abramoff, does that negate any right that his poor innocent children have to privacy? I'm not saying I think that traveling to a resort with hundreds of people eating meals together in a large dining room is a paticularly low-profile way to spend the holidays. That said, it certainly isn't a crime. Especially when, as the article notes, the trip was financed not by Abramoff himself, but by a member of Abramoff's "extended family".

The fact that the article takes issue with Abramoff's pleas of poverty in court papers while someone else is footing his family's bill to travel to high-end resorts reminds me of an issue that often comes up in Yeshivas, albeit on a decidedly non-felonious scale. I've been told that cash-strapped parents who ask their children's Yeshivas for financial assistance with paying tuition are asked by the tuition board where and how they spend the holidays. If they admit to being taken away to some fancy resort by parents or other family members, some Yeshivas apparently ask them to request that parents instead put the same money toward tuition for their grandchildren. This tactic has always been a hot topic of debate when the shabbos table conversation turns to the ins-and-outs tuition assistance. Do grandparents have the right to choose to spend money and give gifts to their children and grandchildren in any way they see fit? If their children are struggling to pay tuition - or, to force the comparison, if their children are claiming poverty and inability to pay their court fees - are said parents and family members entitled to treat their children to a luxurious vacation? Or are they required to put any extra funds they have lying about toward their children's education (or lawyer's fees, as it were)?

I'm not sure.

I understand that in a perfect world, parents would feel compelled to assist their grown children with debts and costs that they incur, especially if said parents have extra funds lying about. But it isn't usually so simple. Parents often don't have wads of extra money lying around. If they have a choice to spend their hard-earned and saved funds on spending a relaxing holiday together with their children and grandchildren, particularly during a difficult time, are they entitled to do so?

34 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting questions you have raised. As much as Io find Abramoff reprehensible, I agree that the Times has not exactly taken the high road here with this article.

In terms of the question of parents paying for their grown childrens vacations: I hear both sides. As someone who is rapidly approaching the time when my children will have families of their own, and not being a wealthy man, I wonder whether I would be inclined to pay tuition (or lawyers costs) for my children and their families rather than be able to spend yontif with them. I don't think I would. But that doesn't make it the right answer to your question.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Naomi said...

There are a few issues here

1) This is not news. I could really care less how he's spending Pesach.

2) I think that if my parents were millionares, it would still not be their responsibility to pay for my kids' education. If they wanted to spend their money that way, that's one thing. But part of deciding to have a family is looking at some hard choices.

3) Some people's family dynamics are strange. I know some friends who say they'd rather ask the school for financial aid than their parents.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Or are they required to put any extra funds they have lying about toward their children's education”

If someone has parents willing to spend thousands on his family, it makes perfect sense that he should go to his parents for help before burdening the yeshiva/community. It may be an uncomfortable request, and the parents may turn down the request to divert the vacation money to yeshiva, but they still should have to ask. Otherwise, it is the yeshiva who is essentially paying for the trip

Many grandparents would be willing to put the vacation money towards yeshiva, but the kids parents would rather mootch off the yeshiva and get their vacation as well. You cant have your cake and eat it too.

If a grandparent wants to spend tom tov with family, he can stay over by them for pesach.

10:10 AM  
Blogger The Town Crier said...

What does one thing have to do with the other?

10:17 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

What does one thing have to do with the other?

Well, Abramoff is coming under fire for allowing his family to take him away for Pesach even though he's claiming to be broke.

The question it brings up is whether parents or family members are entitled to choose to pay for luxuries such as expensive vacations for their grown children when there are necessities that need to be paid for.

10:26 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Great questions Orthomom. I am planning to write about asking parents for tuition money.

A few points in no particular order:

1. (I'm only think of ordinary debts and expenses, not looking at the Abramoff case) I don't think that even in a "perfect world" parents should feel compelled to assist grown children with debts and costs they incur EVEN if they have extra funds lying around.

Often, "assistance" with debts just makes the problem worse because instead of tackling the problem (spending beyond one's means), it allows the problem to continue and does not force individuals and families to make hard choices that are eventually for their own good.

2. I certainly don't want to take the "extra" funds that my still fairly young parents have worked and scrimped their whole adult lives to save. These funds are all they have to live off of when my father can no longer run his business and if I were to spend them now (no chance of that happening since they aren't offering and I'm not asking), they would need a handout too.

3. I'm not about to ask my in-laws to pay tuition for us, since they are still paying off the yeshiva education for their own children years and years later. And, considering the fact that they were unable to pay cash for their own children's Torah education, I'm not sure how they will be able to afford paying for the Torah education of more than double the number of children they have.

Anyways, as often happens, you have inspired a new topic for me to write about too!

10:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking question. I am totally in the middle on this. As a parent, I would want to give my children whatever I want. As a productive member of society, I would hope that that would be helping them pay their debts.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous oldtimer said...

There was a time in past decades when observant Jews would not eat anywhere but in their own homes on Pesach. The entire question of how it is possible for all the farflung resorts to really get the high standard of Pesach kashrut right ought to be dealt with somewhere.

11:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Abramoff went to the Homowack he would have been honored with shelishi and no NY Times coverage.

I sit on a tuition committee at a local yeshiva. The question I pose to the parents who are hesitant to ask their parents to "kick in", is Does it make sense for us to go to a stranger to help us pay your bills? The money needs to be raised. Pesach away at a hotel is a luxury. You should ask your family to help out and not demand of the yeshiva to fund raise on your behalf.

12:17 PM  
Blogger David said...

to anonymous:

why not work on lowering the price of tuition instead? If prices were reasonable, fewer parents would require financial aid.

2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Argh! This conversation is so upsetting. I am only in my early 20's, and $10,000 for one (ONE!) child for a school year is financially draining. And that's BESIDES all the building funds and banquets and chinese auctions that we're required to help out with.

I have always shunned the idea of asking for a scholarship, but the time is coming when two children would just be too much to handle. How on earth can you expect a young family to pay that kind of tuition, plus be able to afford any sort of home. Forget the home. What about RENT?!

What schools don't understand is that with real estate prices being what they are, we're ALREADY going to our families and asking for money. Just to pay the lease!

And if my grandfather chooses to bring us all to a hotel for Pesach, that's his choice. He doesn't want to sleep in a tiny room off the laundry room with no bathroom for a holiday. He wants to enjoy his grandchildren with the money he STILL works to acquire. I have no right to ask him how to spend his money. And neither do our schools. They should make their own plea to the relative, if that's what they require.

I admit that our schools are in a financial emergency. I have no real answers, but to say that sometimes schools have no idea how hard it is on young couples to just make ends meet. My husband and I recently decided to do away with an important mitzvah - hachnosas orchim for shabbos - just to afford the grocery bill. And some parents can't afford to give money when there are seminary tuitions and future weddings looming over their heads, with not enough in savings accounts. Looks can be deceiving. Especially when they have a large house purchased in the 80's for a fourth of the price it's worth today.

And somehow, I don't understand how a $10,000 tuition bill per child equals STILL not enough money for the school to keep going. I really don't understand it. I think our schools need an auditor.

Sorry. Rambing post. Thanks for listening. I'll just keep praying to God we can afford our education payments.

3:23 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Well stated anon! I have been saying over and over again that the problem is tuition. The tuitions are simply too much for many people to afford. It should be a community responsibility to provide an education. Everyone should be contributing! Not just suffering parents and suffering grandparents. Unfortunately, their is a tzedakah fund for nearly everything, but schools get the short end.

So long as we consider tuition a basic expense of an Orthodox life, it should be affordable on a "cash flow" basis to the average Orthodox family. Any reasonable person would tell you that if you have to turn to your parents to pay for food or gas, that it is time to figure out how to cut the food and gas bill.

The same should hold true for our community's system of schooling. If masses of people have to turn to their parents to be able to afford this "basic" expense, than it is quite obvious that we need to do something drastic as a community.

(And, you are quite correct that looks are deceiving. So many people have funded their own kid's education through borrowing against their home. This alone should have been the flashing red light that something was wrong. But, for those of us who are buying or trying to buy in this market, the debt financing option will basically be unavailable.)

3:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love how people would be uncomfortable asking their own parents for help, but are fine asking schools.

If youre so concerned about pride or using up your parents money, you shouldnt be accepting lxury vacations from them either.

If one was reckless enough to have children he isnt able to support, he has no right to now claim he doesnt want to burden his parents. Your parents may turn you down, but you should still have to ask. You made your bed, you sleep in it.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Part of the reason tutition is seems higher than needed per child is because the tution you pay is used to subsedize those on scholarship. The annual scholarship dinners many yeshivas hold to not raise nearly enough money to cover those students on scholarship, and therefore the cost gets passed through into tutition.

4:20 PM  
Blogger David said...

404 anonymous:

that's not very compassionate.

Accepting a gift and asking for charity are two totally different things.

4:27 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

I agree that it is not very compassionate. And, I dare say, that the huge majority of us who don't intend on turning to our parents for tuition, are not receiving other things from them, less a few modestly priced toys for our children's b-day's.

Having children is a mitzvah and while we can argue about the specifics of the mitzvah, oftentimes we are talking about two working parents being unable to put together enough tuition after taxes and modest living expenses to afford tuitions that are climbing and climbing fast.

I certainly don't want to see frum Jewish parents choosing to cut their families off after one or two child because our communities have collectively decided that tuition is not a communal priority and that the burden should be born by parents and grandparents alone.

5:05 PM  
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5:29 PM  
Anonymous Young Frum Couple said...

Interesting points about tuition and families.

I work hard to earn a six figure income and I fully intend to pay full tuition for all my children. How can I do this if tuition is 10K per child ? Most of us could do this if we loved our children as much as we love living in the lap of luxury.

Most of us are willing to take out a mortgage for the maximum possible to buy the fanciest house we can afford. Many also rack up credit card debt to buy fancy clothing or jewelery. In-Laws and parents help alleviate the costs of these needs.

Whoa! Did I just write needs ? These are not needs these are desires that are not healthy from a financial sense or Torah sense.

If we take out a mortgage for a house or rack up debt for luxury cars and jewelery, ask parents and in-laws to help finance that; How can we not refinance our homes, sell our luxury items and ask in-laws to give our children (our greatest gift) a proper Torah and secular education ?

Even better, why not just stop and think before we but the biggest house we can afford (by spending every cent we earn) and driving luxury cars and living a luxury life. Instead live simply and save the money for our childrens education.

I did it. I have lived simply not poorly. I don't overextend myself and by age 30 I have put away over 20-30K a year even earning just over 100K.

If taxes are too high and housing costs too high, move to a less expensive area. You don't have to live anywhere in particular.

In closing, I hate seeing shiksas bringing up our children while both parents slave away to support a fancy lifestyle. Why are we sacrificing their future so we can live like rich people, even though we can barely afford to ?

AWAITING RESPONSES

11:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please do not forget the hidden costs of sending our children to $10,000 yeshivas across the modern-traditional spectrum... uniforms, summer camp, extracurricular activities, tutoring, school lunches, and the social pressure of particular snacks and juice boxes, shoes, clothing, shoes, toys, games, etc. that come from attending school amidst conspicuous consumers.

Then, everyone's exasperation when the yeshiva must have one hand outstretched for neccessary funds, and the other wagging a finger at the "problem" of two income families when it comes to children with difficulties in school, or even parental involvement.

1:11 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I'd flip the Q. Since when do schools have the right to ask anyone but the parents to pay for tuition? That's disgusting!

Imagine - a parent gets invited by grandparents to take a Yom Tov off and come with them to a hotel. The parent would have to say, "No, sorry. Our children's school doesn't let." - ?!

2:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ezzie, you are waaaay off. The point is that people are asking strangers to pay their kids tuition when they go on tuition break. Thry should be asking their parents instead. Especially if their parents can afford to take them on an expensive Florida vacation.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous young frum couple said...

ezzie,

Can you commit 50% of your income to charity without complaining when it goes to help people whose
parents could easily pay the tuition you are working to pay ?

If you are not willing to, then grandparents should help out, if they can, so that I don't have to work extra or live more simply than you choose to, to help pay their tuition while they can go on nice vacations.

My priority is charity and leading a proper life, so I will gladly work to help others in need. However, I would hate knowing that I sacrificed my families lifestyle for others who did not really need it and lived a more expensive lifestyle than me.

If you want to criticize, only do so if you are prepared to foot the bill at the expense of your lifestyle.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

Yeshivas are faced with limited Scholarship funding which is partialy subsidized through tuition. Since it is impossible to accomidate all those who apply, Yeshivas are faced with the difficult decision of deciding which families are most in need of assistance. To make these tough choices the yeshivas try to get as clear a picture of each families needs as possible.

7:23 PM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Anon-I definitely believe that a family making $100,000 OR LESS can sock away a grand amount of money (Let's say $20,000-$30,000).

Do you know that $20,000 doesn't even come close to covering the tuition for TWO children in my neighborhood? (Which is not a fancy neighborhood).

I think it is absolutely imperative (tuition or no tuition) that we encourage people in our communities to live modestly. New cars are not a must. Smachot should be kept modest and within the spirit of Jewish law. Dry-clean only clothing for children is a grand waste of money. And, sheitals that cost more than my old used car, is frankly, quite ridiculous for most people.

BUT, that said. Tuition should be an expense that is affordable to families on a cash flow basis. We cannot price out the modest, frugal people from an Orthodox life and that is what tuition is doing.

So, instead of pretending that everyone on scholarship is living luxurious lives and has parents that can pick up the tab, we should be encouraging modesty and figuring out what (if anything) can be done about keeping tuition in check.

(And, let's also remember, that many young people in "lower" priced communities are looking at a housing market that starts at nearly $400,000 if not more. Ultimately, we should want people to own something-not the fanciest house on the block-in their old age, lest we end up with a new crisis).

7:53 PM  
Anonymous Ariella kallahmagazine said...

On a point raised by Essie and commented on: I recall someone from my old neighborhood -- Passaic -- telling somoene that she declined her parents' offer to upgrade her child's bar mitzvah celebration on the ground that then the yeshiva would point to that to cut out some of her scholarship.
More on scholarships: there was a family with 8 children who lived very modestly, (they would have eggs for supper because they could not afford to always have chicken) but still needed what the mother admitted was very good scholarships to be able to just live.
As for us: we live very modestly -- especially by 5 Towns standards -- with no domestic help, gardener, custom sheitels, nail appointments. My kids are registered only for day camp for 1/2 summers for the children. However, that the scholarship forms do ask where you spend summers, where you go on vacation, etc., indicates that people who do indulge in these luxuries -- considered necessities by most today -- feel that they can ask for scholarships.

8:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

young frun couple - sounds great in theory, but practically it is much harder. I moved from a less expensive area to a more expensive one simply because the more expensive (and jewishly more congested area) offered better schools, at a correspondingly higher $. My housing costs went up because I want by kids education to be better. I also had to switch to a second career and spend a few years learning in kolle before working at all. So, should I have sacrificed my limud hatorah (which pays enormous dividends in how I conduct my life to this very day) so I could sock away 20k a year for my kids? Should I have sacrificed my kids ed to remain in a more modest house because I would be less dependent on tuition assistance? These are difficult questions to answer and difficult choices to make. Having a tuition committee holding a financial gun to your head does not help. At this point I am earning the 6 figure income, but it still is barely enough to live on (my wife does not work) and pay tuition for 4 kids.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

anon 1030 - no one doubts the difficulty and stress of paying tuition for 4 kids. However tuition committees must allocate limited funding to many families whose financial situtations are similar to or worse than yours. You accomplish nothing by deamonizing those who volunteer to do this tough thankless job out of the goodness of their hearts.

12:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George, I did not mean to demonize the well meaning members of the committee. What I object to is (1) the attitude that says all you have to do is live frugally and it solves all your problems. Not everyone is zoche to make 6 figures, to have tons of cash socked away, or to have supportive relatives, so its not that easy; (2) the attitude that because you live in Town X therefore you must have the funds to pay the bill, otherwise move elsewhere. Believe it or not, even in 5Towns, some of us are not living in the lap of luxury and struggle to keep a budget. When a school administrator looks at your 1040 and says if you are not earning X you should have never moved here, what do you say in reply? Nice hello and welcome message from the community.
Here is what I do not understand.
When I grew up my parents had little $ for tuition, but that was NEVER an issue at the day school I attended. The administration was happy to have a Jewish kid enrolled and was willing to cut a rock bottom deal. There were (as I learned later in life) a handful of people who kept the place running, but most parents were similar to mine. The school itself offered little in terms of extra curricular niceties, but they gave each kid a decent ed relying mostly on teachers who were paid little, but did it for love of teaching torah. This was in Brooklyn, NY not someplace like South Dakota. So how is it that now I can't get a break from schools far better endowed, in a far richer neighborhood? "We have limited funds so pay or you're out" is simply not an acceptable approach. If a yeshiva feels that their hashpa'ah is crucial for a student's development as a ben or bas torah, and the parents really can't pay the bill, for the sake of the future of klal yisrael that kid still needs to get that education. And when a community has $ for lavish kiddushim, the rov are taking expensive vacations, etc., and that is not the attitude toward chinuch, something is rotten in the state of denmark.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

George, I did not mean to demonize the well meaning members of the committee. What I object to is (1) the attitude that says all you have to do is live frugally and it solves all your problems. Not everyone is zoche to make 6 figures, to have tons of cash socked away, or to have supportive relatives, so its not that easy; (2) the attitude that because you live in Town X therefore you must have the funds to pay the bill, otherwise move elsewhere. Believe it or not, even in 5Towns, some of us are not living in the lap of luxury and struggle to keep a budget. When a school administrator looks at your 1040 and says if you are not earning X you should have never moved here, what do you say in reply? Nice hello and welcome message from the community.
Here is what I do not understand.
When I grew up my parents had little $ for tuition, but that was NEVER an issue at the day school I attended. The administration was happy to have a Jewish kid enrolled and was willing to cut a rock bottom deal. There were (as I learned later in life) a handful of people who kept the place running, but most parents were similar to mine. The school itself offered little in terms of extra curricular niceties, but they gave each kid a decent ed relying mostly on teachers who were paid little, but did it for love of teaching torah. This was in Brooklyn, NY not someplace like South Dakota. So how is it that now I can't get a break from schools far better endowed, in a far richer neighborhood? "We have limited funds so pay or you're out" is simply not an acceptable approach. If a yeshiva feels that their hashpa'ah is crucial for a student's development as a ben or bas torah, and the parents really can't pay the bill, for the sake of the future of klal yisrael that kid still needs to get that education. And when a community has $ for lavish kiddushim, the rov are taking expensive vacations, etc., and that is not the attitude toward chinuch, something is rotten in the state of denmark.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

anon I couldn't agree more that more of the communities wealth needs to be reinvested in jewish education. I am sorry to hear about your negative experience with the administrator at your kids school.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

Anon from up above...

Ezzie, you are waaaay off. The point is that people are asking strangers to pay their kids tuition when they go on tuition break. Thry should be asking their parents instead. Especially if their parents can afford to take them on an expensive Florida vacation.

Again, I disagree. They're not asking anyone to pay the kids' tuition - they're saying, "Look, we can't afford it." Most schools I know of have funds that collect for financial aid scholarships; some are subsidized with vouchers (which I think are excellent). If the people themselves are paying for extravagances, that's a different problem, but to force grandparents of poor parents to shell out? I think that's unfair to the grandparents.

ezzie,

Can you commit 50% of your income to charity without complaining when it goes to help people whose
parents could easily pay the tuition you are working to pay ?


I'm not sure what you mean by that. If there are parents that can afford to pay but are blowing it to live fancily, then that's too bad on them - they should have to pay anyway.

If you are not willing to, then grandparents should help out, if they can, so that I don't have to work extra or live more simply than you choose to, to help pay their tuition while they can go on nice vacations.

Again, this shouldn't get placed on the grandparents, but on the parents. Perhaps the frum community needs a big lesson in cutting extravagances.

My priority is charity and leading a proper life, so I will gladly work to help others in need. However, I would hate knowing that I sacrificed my families lifestyle for others who did not really need it and lived a more expensive lifestyle than me.

Agreed.

If you want to criticize, only do so if you are prepared to foot the bill at the expense of your lifestyle.

I don't think we disagree on much. I wasn't saying people should throw away money and then those who don't should get stuck covering for them, and I don't see how I even implied such a thing. But I don't see how grandparents should get stuck with it either - the parents should be ultimately responsible. If they aren't blowing money and can't afford it, I don't see why they should be forced to go to grandparents.

2:30 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Ezzie, no one is saying that schools should go directly to grandparents as a first resort. The question here is, if grandparents are able to afford to buy their children extravagances, should their children have a responsibility to say to them "No thanks, I'd rather put the money towards tuition". I'm not 100% sure that they should, but I am leaning more toward that side than the other. Look at it this way: tuition is certainly more imprtant an expense than a fancy pesach vacation. Perhaps a family that can't afford to pay tuition and is asking the school to put others' donations toward their requirement should be asking immediate family members for help first. We are not talking about a family that is estranged here. Clearly, if the parents are taking their children away for Pesach, they have at the very least least a civil relationship.

8:00 AM  
Blogger SephardiLady said...

Orthomom-You make a good point, but I think that many people that are sent begging to family have family that is NOT providing them with luxuries of any sort.

9:18 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

OM - What SL said, basically. I don't think it's right for the school to judge how the grandparents spend their money. Perhaps the grandparents decided to let their poorer children finally have a decent vacation - instead of making Pesach when they really need to work, they're able to go away for once.

I hear the other side a bit more, (I misunderstood how this was done) but I still disagree.

3:42 PM  

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