money

We All Need to Talk About Money…And the Lack of It

money jar

We need to start talking about money.

Not the high cost of being Jewish. Or the day school tuition crisis. Or even how to advocate for a higher salary. Or the collapsing middle class. Or a thousand other “big issues.”

I mean the dirty details.

I want to tell you how I live paycheck to paycheck, despite making a good living.

I want to hear about how you could never have made that major purchase without your parents’ help (and how frustrated that makes you).

I want to hear how a few months of unemployment (or a major medical emergency or the broken boiler) upended your finances for a year.

I want to share how much I struggle to give my kids the same opportunities I had.

But we don’t talk about that.

Money is one of the last great taboos of our oversharing culture, especially in the Jewish community. When Neil Gabler published “The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans” in last May’s Atlantic, I got ready for the conversation to shift. Gabler discussed—in the article and all over the media—how 47% percent of Americans reported that they would not be able to deal with an unexpected $400 expense. And how they suffer privately, blaming themselves. I held my breath, poised for the flurry of shares that would usher in open and honest conversation about money. And then? Radio silence.

Are we really all so financially #blessed in the Jewish community? It just doesn’t add up.

I’m part of the problem. Like others, I feel ashamed that I haven’t figured out how to make it work. That we made choices that put us in this place. That we somehow could have done things better—chosen better paying professions, worked more and studied less, invested more wisely or planned our family differently.

But the secrecy is deeply damaging. If we shared our challenges with one another, we’d discover that we are not alone. That others in our middle-class community struggle just as much. Just that knowledge would be a huge comfort, wouldn’t it? We could also help each other—financially, when we were flush—but also with support and encouragement, tips, and community resources.

And we could make change. Because as long as we keep our financial struggles secret, we can’t organize or advocate effectively for higher wages, more affordable childcare, lower tuition, more affordable housing. All those issues that are systematically crushing the middle class.

But first we need to admit that we are the ones in danger of being crushed, and that we’re scared and confused and resentful and need help.

We need to start talking about money.


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Lili Kalish Gersch

Lili Kalish Gersch is the director of alumni engagement at AJC's Project Interchange and the former managing editor of MyJewishLearning.com. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and three sons.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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