Yesterday a group of us sat around the table for Shabbat dinner. We didn’t discuss world peace or the chance to finally bring it to the Middle East. The most burning issue was the high price of housing, which makes life in Israel hard, especially for young people.
This is not a new problem, when we were young my husband and I could not afford to buy an apartment since, unlike the US, it was not possible to put only 10% or 20 % down payment and to borrow the rest from the bank. We had to come up with most of the money upfront, so we rented.
The rule of thumb in rent, we were told, is that payment should not exceed one third of the monthly income: we were lucky to be able to keep it at that level. However, in Israel today the rent in the big cities, especially in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, is much higher than that. As a result, in spite of having full time jobs, many young people cannot make ends meet. Their parents, who are almost at the end of their working career, often end up supplementing their income on a regular basis, or “help them finish the month” as we say in Hebrew.
It must be quite unsettling for young people to be financially dependent on their parents, and it is hard for the parents who are often too embarrassed to travel or to spend any money on themselves. Moreover, the parents may feel guilty because by now they have accumulated some money and their children struggle; so it is hard to watch without rushing to help. But what will happen if those parents, who spend all their savings helping their children, will have the misfortune/privilege and live a long life? who will help them then?
In Israel, like in many other countries, most of the desirable jobs are located in the big cities where the price of housing is exorbitant. But lately I heard of some couples who moved away from the city into cheaper towns in order to reduce costs. It is true that those young people have no financial backing and they live on a strict budget. It is less convenient to travel an hour to work by bus or by train, but I seem to remember that we had to do it as well.
In English the verb “spoil” has a negative connotation; even the direct translation of the Biblical proverb “He that spareth his rod hateth his son, ( King James Version, Book of Proverbs, 13:24) has evolved into “spare the rod and spoil the child.” In contrast its equivalent in Hebrew, which could translate into “indulge,” or “pamper,” is almost positive. We use that same word to describe, for example, a day spent at the spa, or any other way we choose to give ourselves a treat.
There could be cultural reasons for this difference, or perhaps in Israel we just don’t have spoiled children. Yet I wonder if we the parents do not empathize with our children a little too much. By always rushing to help, don’t we deprive them of the opportunity to come up with creative solutions to their own financial problems? The Israeli psychologist Haim Omer worries about this paralyzing condition “Adult entitled dependence” which is characterized by the extreme dependence of grown children on their family.
Although at dinner we limited our discussion to the shortage of affordable housing, there is much more to consider. Objectively life in Israel is hard for young people and a drastic change is needed. But perhaps we could help the next generation in bringing it about if we express our empathy and support in words and advice and not always with a ready checkbook.