Zevy Wolman, a Baltimore businessman who has founded multiple communal organizations, is partnering with a number of leading financial experts, as well as with the Orthodox Union, to help people navigate the world of personal finance.
“The infrastructural cost of living Jewish in America is very high,” says Wolman. “Just waking up in the morning and paying tuition for five kids, compounded by the societal spending pressures that so many of our families face, makes things very difficult. The need to earn exceptionally high incomes simply to stay afloat has led this issue to constantly top the list of challenges that Orthodox Jewish families identify.”
The initiative, created in conjunction with the OU and called Living Smarter Jewish (livingsmarterJewish.org), will utilize a three-pronged approach to help those facing personal finance challenges. Given that these issues affect so many in the Orthodox world, Living Smarter Jewish will endeavor to develop messaging to reach Jews across the Orthodox spectrum.
The initiative’s first component, centered around empowerment and positive messaging, emphasizes the beauty and Torah value of living within your means. Living Smarter Jewish recognizes that doing so is “no small feat when the notion that spending leads to happiness has crept from the secular world into Orthodox Jewish communities of all stripes.”
The second leg of Living Smarter Jewish focuses on education—equipping people with the tools they need to meet their financial challenges head-on through videos, webinars and podcasts. This summer, in conjunction with Yaakov Langer from the well-known Meaningful People Podcast and Eli Langer, a former producer for CNBC’s social media team, a podcast called Kosher Money was launched featuring influential guests from across the spectrum of the financial and communal world.
Living Smarter Jewish also plans to partner with other individuals and organizations to help develop and promote curricula for children of all ages in order to teach good spending habits and other important financial lessons.
“The goal is responsible personal finance with a 360 degree take on various important issues that pertain to the Orthodox Jewish community,” notes Wolman. “We intend to speak openly and explicitly about tuition, costs of real estate and other hot-button topics and present the realities, including actual family budgets, in order to help mitigate these challenges moving forward.”
The final element of Living Smarter Jewish is personal one-on-one assistance to help families with their budgets and debt challenges; to this end, a nationwide network of coaches is being assembled. While ideally people would be paired up with counselors who could provide in-person help, remote counseling will also be available when needed.
“It was one of the things people and organizations learned during Covid,” explains Wolman. “Whereas previously organizations were limited to a geographic location, now they can help people across the country and even across the world by working remotely.”
The fact that those in the Jewish community rarely discuss finances openly has kept the topic shrouded in the dark for many. Living Smarter Jewish is posed to generate meaningful conversations, benefiting those who are having financial difficulties.
“The rabbis have a well-known saying, ‘Ein chavush matir atzmo mibeis ha’asurim, an imprisoned person cannot free himself from captivity.’ Very often, it takes a fresh third-party perspective to help families clarify the issues that they face and help generate the positive changes that can make all the difference,” says Wolman.
Joining Wolman at the helm of Living Smarter Jewish are several highly respected individuals including Naftali (Mark) Horowitz, managing director and wealth partner at JP Morgan Wealth; Gedalia Litke, an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who lectures on personal finance; Josh Hurewitz, former director of Mesila of Baltimore; Yehuda Neuberger, a member of the OU leadership team; Rabbi Simon Taylor, national director of the OU Department of Community Projects and Partnerships; and Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the OU. The group is confident that in time, and “with Hashem’s help, the program will make a difference and people will finally feel empowered and comfortable reaching out for financial help.”
Living Smarter Jewish is a member organization of Tribeworks, an international collaboration of fifteen organizations dedicated to assisting individuals grow their incomes. Wolman hopes this will be “a meaningful synergy to assist clients looking to increase their incomes.”
“There is so much we are trying to accomplish and we know the problems won’t all be solved in one day, but we hope that by starting the conversation we are already getting halfway to where we would like to be,” he says.
Living Smarter Jewish is looking for coaches who are willing to volunteer to help families with their finances. Can be in person or remote. We will provide training. A commitment of just a few hours a month can help change lives. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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