Financial responsibility — the answer to our economic problems

Every Chanukah, I think back to the one that changed my life forever. The Chanukah that shed light on what would become my mission in the world.

I was angry. I was yelling. I couldn’t believe that everything I had done for the past 8 months just went down the drain. All of the phone calls with the bank, negotiating with Israeli National Insurance — think of the most bureaucratic offices in Israel, and I dealt with them. I dealt with them in order to help a single mother I met get out of serious debt and her horrible living conditions.

All of the money that I raised for her, from my own family and friends was gone. The money that was supposed to be used to pay back the final debts that we managed to bring down to a minimal never reached the bank.

Where was it? I demanded an answer.

She started sobbing. She just wanted to buy her children something nice, she explained, to make up for the all of the lost times.

That’s when I realized — she didn’t have the slightest clue. She didn’t understand the basics of budgeting and managing her money.

More than half of the Israeli population lives in constant overdraft. They spend more money than they have in the bank and when they finally get their paychecks, it’s already time to go grocery shopping for next month’s food. Some can’t manage to break even, just for one day.

The cost of living in Israel is so high, even the average middle class workers aren’t managing to balance their budgets and by the time they receive phone calls from the bank it’s too late. They think their only option is to take out a loan. And then it all begins. The vicious, never-ending cycle of debt that grows from hundreds to thousands to millions of shekels until the hole is so deep it’s unfathomable how you can make it back to the top again.

I grabbed a piece of paper and pen, and sat at the kitchen table with her. I mapped out a chart for income and expenses, and went through the list with her one by one. We built a realistic budget and I explained to her how she can manage to live within her means.

A few years later, in 2002, my partners and I established Paamonim, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting financial responsibility across Israel. We believe that with the right information, knowledge and tools, everyone has the power to take control of their finances, learn to budget and plan for the future.

With the help of our 2,800 trained volunteers, Paamonim provides intensive, one-on-one coaching to families in severe economic distress. We also disseminate information and tools to the wider public, and offer group workshops and lectures to anyone interested in learning about managing household finances properly.

This Chanukah 100 families in the Southern periphery of Israel are suffering, and they turned to Paamonim for help. They are suffering because they are drowning in debt and they can’t get themselves out of the hole. They are suffering because living in these conditions affects their family and their lives. They approached us because they need to gain the knowledge and tools necessary to get back on their feet and stay afloat.

We have the support of the Israeli public, but it’s not sufficient. We need the support of Jews across the globe. In an unprecedented gift to our organization, we have an Israeli donor who has pledged to match every dollar donated to this campaign until the end of Chanukah.

This year, this Chanukah is the Chanukah that I want to remember. The Chanukah that these 100 families will remember. The Chanukah that will change their lives forever.

Please help us make our vision a reality by visiting our campaign at Paamonim and sharing our mission with your family and friends.

About the Author
Uriel Lederberg is forty-three years old, married with five children and living in Modi'in, Israel.