Last week, I published a letter from a young woman named Chaya who needed to vent and asked for advice.
Her “plan” was to be a kollel wife for the first few years of marriage, living in Israel and working, while her husband would sit and learn. Her plan had been discussed with her parents, and they had agreed to help support her emotionally, and financially as well, during those first few years. But then COVID came and, as we all know, “Man plans, G-d laughs.” Because of the change in her parents’ finances due to COVID, her parents told her that they wouldn’t be able to assist her as they had originally planned. They would do what they can, but it would be significantly less than originally thought.
Chaya needed to vent and ask advice, because she never really thought of living the actually kollel lifestyle that many do, struggling financially. She was also angry because she felt her parents were still helping to support her married siblings who were living the kollel lifestyle. She didn’t know for sure, but she didn’t think her parents cut off their support to them. She felt singled out. And lastly, Chaya wondered if she should consider dating and marrying someone who already had a degree and was working or was learning and working.
Below is my response.
Chaya, thank you for your email.
I have so much to say, but before I do, please note that I say this all gently to you, without yelling. I often have to write that before or after I send a work-related text or email, because the written word can be misunderstood; is the person angry, being sarcastic, yelling? I’m telling you that I will write my opinion in a very direct way, but it has love in it; you just may not see it right away.
Baruch Hashem, no one in your family passed away or really suffered from the effects of COVID. But so many did. I read that part of your letter, being dan l’chaf z’chus that you were letting me and my readers know that your family has made it this far relatively unscathed, although you feel the pain of your cousins and friends who were not as lucky as your family was. I will not read that part of your letter, making COVID sound like an inconvenience for you. “We weren’t really sick or die, so why is this happening to me?” – that is not how I will interpret your letter.
I’m sorry that COVID has ruined your plan, but it has ruined the lives of hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people worldwide. I’m grateful your father did not lose his job, but I’m sure the cut in salary affected your parents’ finances. Like you said, the mortgage and car payments are still due, as is the expensive yeshivah tuition that your parents will not be aided with paying. Basically, life has continued, but finances have been affecting every facet of your parents’ life. I don’t think they planned on making all these changes to their lives now either. I think they truly want to support you and your future spouse as they do your siblings and their families; but when it comes down to it, they realize it just can’t be done. All the extras that people spent money on before COVID changed the world, and have been eliminated from the lives of many, because necessities can barely be afforded, much less any extras. And I’m not saying that you are an “extra,” but since you are not living that life yet, it may be easier to change the trajectory of your life. Your siblings are living their life. They may have children, lease a car, live in a house – whatever it is – but they are dealing with bills today. It’s hard to take away from that, from an actual life yet keep the fantasy of what you want.
Sorry if that sounds harsh. You were not very specific about your siblings, their families, or how your parents support them, but I’m sure their decision was not made easily by your parents of what to cut back on. No parents want to see their children suffer or struggle. But I admire your being honest about their finances with you and the changes that were going to be made to “the plan.” The result of that discussion is that your vision of being a kollel wife has changed. They would do you no favors by not having such a discussion with you.
You wrote, “…and my dream of being a kollel wife is not easily accepted or approved of anymore.” That’s not how I interpreted what your parents told you. They basically said that if you want this life, you will have to work for it and it will be hard at times. They are not choosing to support your siblings over you. This is probably a very hard decision for them to make. But they are being honest with you and telling you how things will be if you still want to be a kollel wife. They want you to live the life you want, but they want your eyes to be wide open about what it will entail. It’s a conversation that should be had now, before you marry and expect what was promised and have them break the news to you that they can’t deliver on their promise.
Chaya, I think it’s very honorable and speaks volumes to the type of person you are when you said you would gladly be the spouse working for the first few years, while your husband sits and learn. But now that your cushion has disappeared, your vision of being a kollel wife has changed. It sounds like you want to live the life of having a husband sit and learn, but you don’t want the reality of that life if you don’t have the financial support of your parents who can smooth out bumps in the road. You are lucky to have such parents. Many do not, and they live a very hard life trying to keep their heads above water while being a wife and mother and supporting the whole family.
No one said life was easy, and I can point to several families that can attest that the fantasy/dream is not reality – but they are prepared to live like this because they are committed to this life. My question is: Are you? It sounds like you are begrudging your siblings who are still receiving help from your parents. It sounds like you are bitter that your parents gave you the option of taking money out of your wedding fund and putting it towards your “life” fund. You want your wedding cake and you want to eat it, too, with all the frosting – again, please do not think I am angry or yelling. This is what I took away and how I interpreted your letter. If you want to live a specific lifestyle, you must be prepared to live that lifestyle. If you are ready and know the struggle of the years ahead, then go ahead and continue dating the same fellows/bachurim as you have been. But if you now see the kollel lifestyle in style, then maybe intentions and priorities need to be re-evaluated.
You said that you yourself are a year or two away from earning your Occupational Therapy degree. Then what? Do you expect to get a job right away? Did you research how much an OT position pays in Israel? Of course, there are many different fields you can use it in, but did you account for that in your plan? Did you sit down with a pen and paper and try to figure out finances, see how much you actually have in savings, and see if what your parents can contribute can actually make your dream a reality? Or were you just thinking of having your parents fill in the gaps that your pay check didn’t cover, so you wouldn’t actually feel like you are suffering and living the true life? These are questions I am wondering, not yelling at you. And don’t forget, you may marry someone whose parents would like to help, as well. I would not count on that or just date men who will have the financial support of their parents (you will surely be missing out dating some wonderful men), but why would the financial burden strictly be on your parents’ shoulders?
Now that plans have changed in your mind, ever think of rolling with the punches? I can think of a few ways your dream can become a reality, but the question is how much do you want it? Do you want to be a kollel wife because it’s the “thing to do” or do you truly want your husband to devote himself to learning? If you do, then think logically: How will the rent get paid (or were you planning on living in an apartment that your parents or in-laws rent/own)? How will the grocery bill get paid? Money for transportation: Have you thought of where that will come from? Rent and food eat up much of a paycheck, and you really haven’t even done anything yet; think about how much money is spent in one week and on what?
Nothing is wrong with your dream, nothing at all; but think it out. Put pen to paper. And let me ask you another question: When you return from Israel with one or two children in tow, you mentioned your husband earning a degree or going to work, but have you really thought of it? Studying and pursuing a degree will take money (tuition), and you will still have the same expenses as in Israel as you do here, and it may be your one paycheck paying for things for a while. I’m sure your parents, and hopefully your in-laws, will help if they can, but think about if they can’t, then what? The rent is still due, the grocery bill has to get paid at some point, even if you start an account in the store. What type of career will your husband have if he goes to work right away? He would have spent the last year or two learning. Are you looking for someone who has already gotten a degree and can use it when you return, like a CPA or computer science? Life won’t just “POOF!” provide you and your husband with great-paying jobs – I wish it did, but it may be hard to find work or you may have to support your family for another few years.
Chaya, just think this through. Your letter sounded as if you had to give up your dream. You don’t. You just need to figure out if you can live within your dream and with the current financial situation your parents are in. And nothing is wrong with an earner/learner – that’s how they were referred to when I was dating. But keep in mind, you marry the person – the man – not the boy or guy. You marry the man, not the title that comes with it. You want to live a hard life, although I hope it isn’t a hard life; then make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and for the man you love, instead of some romantic idea of being a “kollel wife.”
Hatzlachah to you all.