Monday, May 02, 2005

Post-Passover Rant

So I just spent my first night at home after 10 days split between my parents and in-laws homes'. The time was filled with a lot of fun for all, and as much fun as it was to spend some quality time with our parents, it was much more fun to watch the antics of our kids with their 'Babi','Savta', and their 2 'Zaydes'. More importantly, it was worth it, if not for anything, for the nachas that my parents and in-laws gained from watching their grandchildren and realizing how much they have grown.

Needless to say, my grandmother (a.k.a. 'Bubby Bubby') probably had the best time of all watching my two boys tear apart her home.

However, with the high points of every trip there come the low points as well. I took a walk with my dad and the boys on the first days of Pesach and quickly discovered that my once strongly modern orthodox neighborhood has suddenly become thouroughly ultra-orthodox. This is a distinction lost on some of those who are not in the know, but basically, the neighborhood has become a lot more religious than in the past, which is part of the reason that I don't live there anymore. Again, this isn't a bad thing at all. My son is just as glad to have Shloimy, Yanky and Gershy to play with instead of Steven and David (however, when I insist his name is Mitch some of them insist on asking what his 'real' [hebrew] name is, but that's okay too).

In fact, it seems that none of my childhood friends live there anymore either. When I was a kid my parent's shul was full of kids within 5 years of me either way. We had youth groups for kids from the ages of 4 up to 18, and activities for young adults and marrieds. But somehow, the number of modern orthodox families with kids of any age are few and far inbetween. In fact the vast majority of my friends have moved way out of Brooklyn to places like Teaneck, the Five towns and New Rochelle. The ones who have stayed (whether they will admit it or not) have stayed primarily for economic or childrearing reasons - i.e. their non-working parents help watch their kids while they work, or they have an established local business. Reflecting this charedization is the fact that 'Mizrachi L'Banim' is now called 'Derech HaTorah' and that Yeshiva of Flatbush is almost entirely Ashkenazi-rein.

20 years ago, I walked down Ocean Parkway on Shabbat and debated with my brother and sister which house we each were going to buy when we grew up. Now that we have, I can't imagine any of us wanting to live anywhere near Ocean Parkway in the least.

Again, this isn't a bad thing. Flatbush will be a bastion of Torah-observant Jewry for many years to come. Unfortunately, it won't inlcude any kippot srugot.

Of course, in addition, whenever we talk about Modern Orthodox Jews and their communities, we also need to talk about two other major costs of living - Tuition for Yeshiva, and Real Estate. It is virtually impossible to move into an established community in the New York metro area these days and buy a suitable house for a young family for less than $400K. And that's pushing it. Couple a huge mortgage with a tuition bill for three kids that a best is approacing $30-40K a year, and you are left with an amount of financial burden that even the most successful of double-income families will have a hard time with.

It is a shame, because we have become victims of our own success. Part of me wishes that I could find a community that has a nice established Jewish base where tuition costs half and houses cost half, and even though my salary will be half, I can still sell my house and cash out the equity to live like a king. With the money I save, I can 'gasp' - donate to charity, put away money for my kids college, or actually go on a vacation. Of course, with my luck, by the time I get there it will become as hot as living in New York and all of the benefit of moving will be gone.

Thankfully, I consider myself lucky to have found a M.O. Community in White Plains, where I have many of the benefits of being further out of town, while still remaining close to NY. Thankfully my taxes are relatively low, and the tuition education tradeoff is a good value. I am also lucky to have found a community that is very unpretentious, so that there is less of a need to keep up with the Goldsteins.

However, as happy as I am here, I wonder if any of my kids will be willing or able to live here too, or will or shul look like my parents shul in 25 years from now? After all, 20 years ago, I don't think anyone foresaw what Flatbush would look like either.

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