Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I feel the need to respond to your October 19 letter from the older man who wrote about families hiring babysitters to watch their kids.
There are many reasons why mothers have to work, most of which come from the exorbitant cost of living a frum lifestyle – housing, kosher food and yeshiva tuition generally put most couples in the position of having to both work to make ends meet.
My wife was a stay-at-home mother, and I can honestly say that financially today, that would not have been possible. The tuition in the elementary school my oldest daughter went to, and in which my youngest is still a student, has more than doubled in the last fifteen years. In order to have the mothers stay home, we would need to have our children get married later so they can both work and save up money. And pushing all couples into a kollel framework does not lessen the burden; in fact, it increases the need for babysitting. The wife has to work, otherwise they will not be able to pay the tuition, kosher food, rent, utilities, etc.
Thus, your answer, to use grandparents or maybe for the wife to quit working, are not the solution. Rather, we need to find ways to decrease the cost of living a frum life in order for that to happen. I know that when my kids get married and have their own children they will wither move out of New York or my wife and I will have to help them financially. And even then, both halves of the couple may need to work.
It puzzles me greatly when some readers misconstrue my response to a letter-writer because, as a rule, I take great pains in my reply to cover every possible aspect of the complaint or issue.
I went back and double-checked my answer and thus, do not understand how you missed my agreeing with you on almost everything you complain I overlooked.
Let me explain why I feel it is always best for mothers to stay home with their children and why, if this is not possible because of financial reasons, to at least employ caretakers who are Jewish or a family member.
Let me tell you a story. About fifteen years ago, when we still lived in Boro Park, a young couple moved directly across the street from our house. Each day I saw the young husband rushing off to kollel, and the wife let in the Polish speaking maid/babysitter to take care of her house and her three very young children while she went to work.
One day, I happened to be walking to 13th Avenue and saw the housekeeper/caretaker coming out of a church carrying the infant and clutching the hand of the two toddlers in her care who were sucking on lollypops. I was horrified.
Later in the day, when I knew the mother was home, I went across the street and introduced myself. I told this very young mother what I had seen, in the hopes that she would take it as seriously as I did. She said I must have been mistaken, that it wasn’t her caretaker or her children I had seen, as that woman had been working for her mother for many years and would never do anything like that – especially since she was being paid by her mother.
As I knew what I had seen, I waited on many occasions to catch the caretaker doing it again and took pictures. I placed them in the young woman’s mailbox and waited to see what would happen. Yet, nothing changed. The housekeeper/caretaker appeared every day like clockwork, until I moved away.
My conscience is clear. I did my hishtadlus by warning and supplying proof, but my heart was shattered at the thought that convenience/necessity outweighed the consequences.
As you noted, what causes all of this is the terribly high cost of living a frum lifestyle. And, here, I believe, we are all at fault – including the vendors that supply us with kosher food and necessities. It is hard enough to keep kosher on a daily basis, why then must things that cost go up almost 200% before a Yom Tov? Do fish swim in golden waters before the Nine Days so that the prices of fish and dairy go through the roof? Do matzos, made from wheat and water, need to jump in price from $2.99 a box to $29.00 for eight round shmura matzos? And what about grape juice and other traditional Pesach staples whose prices suddenly explode before Yom Tov making it almost impossible for many to observe the Yom Tov b’toch simcha? Where is the moral obligation to look out for each other and to make it easier for every Yid to celebrate and practice according to the Torah? Is profit the ultimate objective?
As far as tuitions go, that is a bit harder to justify in simple terms. Number one, teachers need to be paid. Number two, children need a safe, warm school in the winter and a cool spring environment and structure in which to learn. Many people take advantage of the financial aid offered in the form of scholarships that they are really not entitled to, making already strapped institutions cut corners, often at teachers and students expense.
What is not necessary and a total waste of resources are the massive new, state-of-the-arts structures built to impress… who, and for what purpose. Children can learn anywhere, all they need are great teachers (worth every penny), simple, safe and warm/cool buildings and an administration dedicated to the task of imparting the best, most caring and supportive education package to their communities without all the pomp, ceremony and physical trappings everyone thinks it takes.
Therefore, I pose this challenge. Whoever is in a position to alleviate some of the hardship of maintaining a frum, kosher home and a Jewish education, please set an example of what real ahavas Yisroel is and what it means to say, “Kol Yisroel areivim zeh la zeh.”