A July 4th Parnassah Perspective: We Never Had It So Good Financially!  

It may not be “yeshivish” but I hang the Stars and Stripes on legal holidays. The Gedolim were/are very thankful for the freedoms granted to all citizens of the United States, including Jews. These freedoms are the historical exception rather than the rule and we owe an enduring debt of gratitude to those who fought to attain and preserve it.  The American flag also hangs proudly on major yeshivas and shuls: as Rabbi Avigdor Miller says “we should kiss the ground of America… it’s a blessed country”. From a financial perspective, Jews in America (and everything in this post also refers to those living countries which followed in her footsteps) enjoy by far the highest standard of living since the churban, or perhaps ever. While we are stressed to keep up to the standards we would like to be on, in every aspect of our lives we are enjoying abundance and convenience that our ancestors couldn’t have dreamed of.  

Housing:

In Lakewood and elsewhere it’s common for new homes to top out between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet and each child getting their own bedroom isn’t unheard of.  Even if you live in a modest 1,500 square feet, when contrasted with the East Sides’ tenement apartments and Shtetl cottages, it’s a mansion. Every home in America also takes for granted things which never existed: unlimited hot and cold water, indoor plumbing, heating, cooling, safe lighting, household appliances, carpeting, windows with glass and screens, etc.  It’s not even close- our homes are MUCH bigger and more comfortable than our Great-grandparents’. 

 Shuls and Schools:

The same contrast can be made with our klal buildings and education opportunities. Many who visit the reconstructed Chasidishe courts and the Yehivas in Europe are surprised at how plain and small they are compared to our opulent, massive ones we have now in America and Eretz Yisroel.  And while paying for yeshiva tuition is a crushing burden, in Europe and also America until the 1950s most frum people A. couldn’t pay for more than a few years of a melamed teaching basics. B. Couldn’t afford to have their children learning instead of working to help feed the family. Coming up with today’s’ tuitions and supporting yeshiva deficits is difficult, but 99.999% of today’s kids are today in well-run schools (for 12-16 years!)and the am ha’aretz is thankfully an extinct personality today.  

Food:

We take for granted the unbelievable variety of foods shipped in fresh from all over the world. In “All For The Boss,” Ruchama Shain relates how, in Mir, Poland, she splurged on an orange and some grapes to revive her ill husband.  Mir, was a poor town but even in big cities, you wouldn’t find the bounty of any kosher supermarket filled with unlimited amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, coffee, spices, grains, and even fish, poultry and meat at prices that virtually everyone can afford. Yes, we have Tomchei Shabbos and SNAP assistance, but no one starves as many thousands of Jews did on a consistent basis in the “olden days” even during peacetime.  

Medical Care:

Getting good medical care is expensive and time-consuming and the system is far from perfect, but for all its faults, it does an excellent job of preventing and curing many dreaded diseases and conditions. On too many metrics to count we are much healthier than a century ago and in fact the diseases most common in a modern society like heart disease, strokes, etc. are a reflection of our wealthier and lengthier lives. No one in America dies from stepping on a rusty nail anymore, and death during childbirth has fallen by 99% since 1900.  

 Bottom Line:

There are many further examples of our relative material wealth and abundance including inexpensive top quality seforim, clothing, transportation, entertainment, travel, etc. While you can’t pay your bills with relative wealth, it does provide some perspective and reminds us to be thankful to Hashem for the incredible benefits of our time and place. 

Happy Birthday, America!! 

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