My son is getting married in a couple of months. He and his kallah would like to spend their shana rishona, or first year of marriage, living in Israel to learn Torah and grow together. He asked me to finance this year abroad. I’m all for learning Torah and growing, but I have other bills and expenses. I was hoping he’d be off my payroll once he got married. I’m reluctant to pay, but if I do, what’s the best way to finance it? – Anonymous, Miami, Fla.
The concept of spending a year in Israel to learn Torah and grow spiritually is one with which many readers are familiar. It is typically referred to as shana aleph and takes place as a gap year between high school and college. Many universities offer college credit for this year, allowing some parents to consider it worthwhile even if they suspect that their 18-year-old child will be hanging out on Ben Yehuda Street instead of in the Beit Midrash.
On the other hand, the minhag of spending shana rishona in Israel may be less familiar to some people. It may also be more difficult to convince one’s parents to finance this lifestyle choice at a point when children should, in theory, be able to support themselves financially. Unfortunately, unlike saving and paying for college education, there are no tax advantaged accounts, government loans, or tuition assistance programs to fund this endeavor. Creative financing options may need to be considered. Here are some ideas to discuss with your son and future daughter-in-law to help with the decision:
Ask the in-laws: While you seem less enthusiastic about your son’s plans, your in-laws may be ecstatic about the idea. They may be more than willing to pick up the tab. Before things get complicated, find out if your son asked his in-laws their thoughts and gauged their willingness to pay.
Split the cost: If the in-laws don’t want to foot the whole bill, they may be willing to split it with you. Even better would be a three-way split, with the newlyweds contributing a share. What started out as a major financial burden can be much more manageable when finding another party or two with whom to split the cost.
Work while there: If your son feels strongly that this is an important life decision, then splitting his time learning and working can make his dream attainable. Realistic options include teaching at yeshiva or getting paid to be in kollel. In the age of Zoom and the heavy reliance on technology by companies all over the world, it’s also feasible for your son to earn an income working remotely for a U.S. company in almost any field he chooses. There are plenty of opportunities out there, it’s just about going after them.
Suggest that he wait to go until he can afford to pay for it himself: This may sound harsh, but it’s one of the cornerstones of personal finance that should be learned sooner rather than later. The concept of delayed gratification is often the difference between folks who are on solid financial footing and those who are not. Spending years working, saving, and investing to be able to achieve one’s more expensive life goals is traditionally how prudent investors live their life. This is how people afford to travel the world, buy a vacation home, or take their family to a Pesach program in Arizona. Spending a year in Israel learning is one of those goals that may take time to save towards, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes it makes sense to splurge: There are some opportunities that have the potential to be life-changing. In those situations, the money is not paramount. Some may argue that going to Harvard is worth the price tag even if it means taking out a second mortgage or student loans. After all, being a Harvard alumnus puts you in rarefied company and may be incredibly beneficial to one’s career. The same is true for someone who got an internship to work at a great company even if it was unpaid. The experience itself may be a game changer despite not receiving an income. If you and your son decide that spending a year learning in Israel can change the trajectory of his life in a positive way, then paying his expenses for another year is a small price to pay in the scheme of things. Perhaps your son is a gifted Talmudic scholar and studying at a particular yeshiva or with a specific rav in Israel can help further his ability to excel in his field. Perhaps the lifestyle and family your son and daughter-in-law hope to build will be all the stronger for having this foundation. Those are decisions that go beyond dollars and cents and is something that you and your family should decide together.
May Hashem guide you in making the right decision!