Monday, February 23, 2009

Bailout Generation (not what you think)

Though I don't live there, I subscribe to the Five Towns Shuls listserver, which is one of the best email lists around. People post things they are selling, things they need, services both wanted and available, real estate notices, job postings, community stuff, etc. You'd be surprised what people in Lawrence are throwing out these days.

Every so often, I'll read a posting about a charity opportunity, and I'll send them a couple of bucks. Today I saw this on the Five Towns Shuls list (slightly modified for anonymity):

Dear Friends,
Could please find it in your heart to help some parents marry off their daughter? They do not want the girl to know that they don't have the money to make the wedding and are so embarrassed to be put in this situation but unfortunately have no choice. Please could you help them out?

I am looking for contacts in the following areas, so that we might get discounts in the various items we need for this bride.

Clothing stores
Jewelry (to get cuff links for the groom)
Kitchen sets
Now, I know that it is a huge mitzvah to help a bride. I do. But where does the line between charity and excess get drawn?

For example, these parents don't want their daughter to know that they can't afford to buy some of these things. But what were they planning on doing? Maybe they've lost their jobs recently, and believe me, I feel for them. But can't they tell their daughter and son-in-law, "you know what, how about we buy the gold cuff links next year?" What if the young newlyweds put some folding chairs and a card table in their kitchen for a year or two instead of having a kitchen set?

And what sort of message are these parents sending their daughter if she gets everything she wants even though they have to turn to charity (which is really what this is) to do it? In my mind it is a message of entitlement. "Times may be tough, but you are still going to get everything you are entitled to, because you are a bride and because in our community, getting married comes with a set of expectations, that we, as good parents, will fulfill no matter what."

I had a beautiful wedding. Because my groom and I were both in our thirties, we paid for about half of it. But we cut corners where we had to. I spent less than $1,000 on flowers, which I viewed as a huge waste. While I received a lovely engagement ring and a pearl necklace, we skipped buying watches, a "kallah bracelet," or cufflinks. We simply felt that we didn't need to follow the frummie rules of getting engaged. I got a simple, mid-priced sheitel. I got my gown from a gemach. Other than beds, we didn't buy any new furniture, just used what we had and what relatives gave us. We both knew the value of a buck and also knew that we'd be just as married if we didn't have a new dining room set. We knew that as we earned money and built our lives, we could always upgrade later, which, bee"Aitch, we did. I never felt that anything was coming to me. There were things that I really, really wanted, but if I got them, I appreciated that and if I didn't, there was always next year. It didn't take one thing away from my wedding that we didn't serve any liquor or wine (other than champagne, which The Ex acquired very reasonably on his own). My ring was white gold, and while I would have loved platinum (as most of my other friends had), it was just too expensive. It was still a lovely ring. The stone could have been half the size or twice the size and it would still have been a lovely ring. My groom paid for it himself. Out of money that he earned. Himself.

Mind you, I'm going to send a check to these people, because I do feel for them, and I do want to provide for a bride. I'm clearly judging them, and not knowing anything beyond what their posting says, it would be mean-spirited not to send them something. So I'm sending a small check. It probably would have been a slightly larger one had they not included the cuff links on the list. It annoys me that we are raising a generation of young adults who feel entitled to the good things in life. It's happening everywhere on a national level (bailouts, stimulus packages, bailouts, bailouts, bailouts) and it's been happening in the Jewish community for quite some time now. We are depriving that generation of the opportunity to make their own way in this world through work, earning, saving, postponing gratification, and the incredible satisfaction that comes with being responsible rather than entitled. We are raising the Bailout Generation.


MK said...

Couldn't agree more. Even though my parents and in-laws insisted on a big wedding which they paid for, I bought the engagement and wedding rings, we lived in a furnished apt until we bought a house with our own savings, and did without until we could afford it.
Having said that, I can definately understand the parents wanting to make a "balebatish" wedding. Perhaps they have other children to marry off, and need to keep up apperances until they financial situation improves.

Anonymous said...

I never give to appeals for kallahs. I'm in my 30s (single, never married) and know that I'd make do with whatever money I had. There are much worthier causes IMHO. The couple is already probably going to get the benefit of wedding gifts, which if I never get married (most likely scenario, at this point), will never benefit from.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

You're right- on the one hand, you want to give to a kallah, on the other hand, you don't want to enable dependency.

I think it obviously comes from childhood, influenced by how you were brought up. Children who grow up never wanting for anything, always having the latest material possesions, never learn to appreciate having, as opposed to wanting. Their parents don't mean anything other than well. But then the kids grow up never expecting anything other than having whatever it is they want.

When I grew up I didn't consider us poor; but I wore (some) homemade clothes, hand-me-downs, as well as new stuff; I never complained. We didn't have a big color TV. We didn't have an Atari or an Activision. My mother drove a junky car that I "inherited", when she got new Brand New Car- a 1987 Corolla. My father was a tightwad, and my mother wasn't, but she was very sensible about money; perhaps she had to be, my father being a tightwad. We almost never went on vacation- we went to a run-down hotel one shavuous. Never to Miami for Pesach or anywhere else.

I want to be able to give my daughter everything she wants, but I also don't want her to get used to having everything she wants all the time. It's hard to find the balance between being generous and spoiling.

WebGirl said...

I partially blame our communities, creating environments where if a 19 year old girl doesn't receive a two-thousand dollar watch for her engagement, she didn't "do a good shidduch." We create these crazy rules, these ridiculous expectations, and then we take out second mortgages trying to meet them. One of the reasons I didn't want to live in Five Towns when I moved back to NY was because the communities were choking themselves trying to keep up with the Goldbergs. I just don't want to be a part of all that.