The Newspaper Wars

I take the train every day to work now – so I have about twenty minutes of “quiet time” in the morning before I arrive at the office. (I call it “quiet time” because sometimes it is not so quiet – many people like to use their cell phones on the train, and frequently don’t realize that their voices are quite loud. I have heard more about certain people’s backed up toilets and the hospital stays of other people’s families than I care to…..)

I usually take the time to say my daily Tehillim, but afterwards I usually have some time left over. I started to take the free daily newspapers that are given out at the station. There is competition between two – Yediot Achronot (sometimes called Idiot Achronot by those who don’t like the rag) and Yisrael Hayom. I of course take Yisrael Hayom, since it has a right wing stance.

I can’t tell you how important this newspaper is. It used to be that the public was exposed just to the left wing point of view. Then Makor Rishon came along and started to change things. The problem with Makor Rishon is that it is still only bought by the dati leumi public, with a smattering of charedim and traditional Jews joining in. It doesn’t really reach most of the Israeli public.

The free daily newspaper does reach the Israeli public – and it can be a game changer.

The coverage of the financial situation and the budget cuts are a prime example. Yisrael Hayom had full coverage – and it skewered Yair Lapid. It had a full page spread just on what Lapid said about the economy in his campaign promises before the election, and what he says now that he is in a position of responsibility. It showcased a middle class family – and how much more they will be paying now in taxes, etc.

In the past the newspapers would do the same thing – but the left wing papers would put all of the blame on the Likud and especially Bibi Netanyahu. Now, with a more objective stance, the newspapers are putting the blame on both the Likud and Yesh Atid – as it should be.

You can’t underestimate the power of this communication tool. Those of us who are somewhat politically active and aware of the media and its power can see how important media bias is. Most people don’t think about it too much – they are too busy working and raising their families to get really involved. These people do read the papers though – especially if it is free and handed to them at a gas station or a train station. What is written in these papers has a lot of power.

The people behind Yisrael Hayom are doing a great service to Israel.

Orthodox Middle Class – A Tale of Two Countries

It is no secret that it is difficult to raise an Orthodox family and pay the bills. The economic downturn has just exacerbated the situation. One of the blogs that I usually read covers this topic, and this past week Orthonomics had a post about a family that decided to limit themselves to two kids – because of the high cost of Yeshiva tuition in America.

This got me thinking – and I decided to make a comparison between what it means to be “rich and poor” in America and in Israel – as it relates to the Orthodox family. No, I am not an expert, and these thoughts are not “scientific” – but I think I represent the situation fairly.

It is obvious that being very poor is a miserable existence wherever you live, and being extremely rich is a comfortable one. The real question is for those in the middle.

An Orthodox family has a list of “needs” that are somewhat stable, wherever they live. They need to live within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue and a mikveh, they need to be able to send their children to a Jewish school, and they need to be able to purchase kosher food.

In America, these things are relatively rare (in comparison to the country as a whole). In Israel, they are not (again, compared to the country as a whole). As in everything, the law of supply and demand affects prices. Therefore the cost of living an Orthodox life in America is higher than in Israel.

The houses within walking distance of a synagogue and mikveh in America are usually expensive in the larger cities, as they are in high demand. In the smaller cities the cost may be reasonable – but some smaller cities may not have a Jewish school. Housing in a very small community in America may be cheap – but there may be no synagogue or Jewish school at all. The same is true for kosher food – it is easier to purchase in places with a lot of Jews, and harder to get in a place with fewer Jews.

The largest expense in America for an Orthodox family is tuition. Since the government does not subsidize Jewish schools everyone must pay for private school. Sending your child to a public school is in 99% of the cases not an option.

In Israel, the situation is very different. There are some neighborhoods in Tel-Aviv and Haifa without synagogues, and there are secular kibbutzim and moshavim that do not have services, but in 90% of the country you can find a shul within walking distance – in both expensive and poor neighborhoods. (Since the conservative/reform movement is extremely small here, the vast majority of synagogues are Orthodox). The same is true for mikvaot. Since the traditional community uses the mikveh almost as much as the Orthodox do, you can find mikvaot in 90% of the country – even in places where there is no synagogue. As far as kosher food is concerned – you can find that anywhere. Granted, those with extremely strict levels of kashrut cannot find their hasgachos (kosher supervision) everywhere, but the “average” Orthodox family can shop wherever they want.

Schooling is also very different in Israel. Anywhere you live, you can find what is called a mamlachti dati school (public religious school). In some places your child will need to be bussed some distance – but there is one available from first grade, and there is no tuition. Granted, some families will want to send their child to private religious school, in places where the public one is “not suitable” (an individual choice based on too many factors to discuss here). But even here the tuition is reasonable. Schooling gets more expensive in junior and high school, especially for boys who are sent to dormitory, but again, it does not compare to the costs of tuition in America.

I am not saying that making a living is easy in Israel. Our taxes are very high and some things are very expensive compared to America. What I am saying is that being “lower middle class” in Israel and living an Orthodox lifestyle is an option – and you’ll have plenty of company!!!!

Not Just Computer Chips

Israel is known for its hi-tech innovations, and rightly so. But we also can “innovate” in other areas – one of which is very close to my heart.

Junk food.

I love chocolate, and love even more the combination of salty and sweet. My favorite candy bar is Reese’s peanut butter cups, but  I cannot find them around my area (since I do not live in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon area, the stores do not carry a lot of American products).

So when I saw the new Bamba, with chocolate nougat inside, my first thought was “this could be either really good or completely gross”. I tried it, and I love it.

I just read an article in Ynet about how this product came to be. It turns out that soldiers were putting chocolate spread onto Bamba, and someone came up with the idea of trying to combine Bamba with chocolate. This was such a hit, that the Nestle Company is going to make a new cereal with the same technology, right here in Sderot. (I don’t like the idea of breakfast cereal with this stuff – junk food is supposed to be a snack between healthy meals! On the other hand, anything that helps Sderot’s economy is good in my book).

Jewish brains improving junk food. What a concept.

Blogging About Money

Just a few links:

For those of you who haven’t seen this already, Ezzie has a series of posts about the Jewish Economics Survey that he conducts on his blog. Some of the results are downright scary.

Orthonomics is another blogger who writes about the economic scene in the Orthodox world. I enjoy her down-to-earth approach and agree with 99% of what she writes.

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