New Grant Bolsters OU Program Providing Financial Counseling


A panel discussion on financial management for frum families was recently held in New York’s Five Towns. Seen here: from left, Eli Langer, former CNBC Producer and Kosher Money Host, in discussion with Isaac Goldsmith, an Investing Specialist; Mitchell Eisenberger, a Negotiation Expert and Simi Mandelbaum, a Certified Financial Therapist.


Back in 2020, the Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Population Study found that 21 percent of Chicago’s Jewish community’s households were “struggling financially.” Eager to assist the more than 30,000 economically stressed Jewish households in the city, the Walder Charitable Fund began working with Living Smarter Jewish (LSJ) to address the challenge.

LSJ, an OU initiative launched in the summer of 2021, is dedicated to helping Orthodox Jewish individuals and families throughout the United States achieve financial freedom by providing access to educational resources and guidance. With its recent $54,000 gift to LSJ, the Chicago-based Walder Charitable Fund joins the OU in changing the story on the ground in the Windy City.

“The Walder Charitable Fund investment has enormous potential to meaningfully impact the local Orthodox population,” notes Rabbi Simon Taylor, National Director of the OU Department of Community Projects and Partnerships and the Co-Founder of LSJ. “We are honored to partner with them. It’s a natural fit for us to work together.”

“LSJ engages in the long overdue, difficult conversations about money that are critical to our community’s financial sustainability,” explains Baltimore businessman Zevy Wolman, an OU Board Member and the Co-Founder and Chair of LSJ.

“LSJ is not a quick solution to the affordability challenge facing frum couples,” says OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer. “It is, however, part of an educational process. Being fiscally responsible is not just a prudent way to live, it’s a core Torah value.”

LSJ’s more than fifty volunteer coaches are the heart of its program, a number the organization hopes will increase to meet growing demand. A full-time LSJ coordinator works with families across the country to match families with financial coaches at no charge. Clients come from across the Orthodox spectrum and run the gamut of financial circumstances. “While their specific needs range from getting out of debt to figuring out how to pay for a wedding, budgeting is the number-one issue they seek help with,” says Rabbi Taylor.

Thanks to the Walder Charitable Fund, LSJ was able to hire a local program coordinator who is tasked with focusing on the Chicago Jewish community, matching families to coaches as well as organizing in-person community wide programming on financial literacy. Additionally, LSJ identified, trained and onboarded ten Chicago-based coaches. “The beauty of the Walder Charitable Fund’s grant is that it will enable us to provide resources that reflect a deep understanding of that community’s unique nuances, institutions, and social pressures,” explains Stacey Zrihen, a New York-based LSJ Coach.

“The price tag of a frum lifestyle and the pressure to keep up with the Jewish Joneses are harsh realities,” says Rabbi Taylor. “LSJ is making a difference by helping individuals and families face them head-on.”

LSJ coaches hail from diverse professional backgrounds, but all receive training as certified financial planners and share a commitment to making financial literacy the norm among frum Jews. A national program, LSJ provides free coaching where coaches meet with clients in-person locally or on Zoom. Additionally, LSJ trained thirty coaches to work with young couples with a specific “shanah rishonah” curriculum, helping newlyweds adjust to the financial realities of married life.

To date, more than 1,100 clients have been coached by LSJ, including Michael and Dina*, a Chicago-based couple who work in Jewish communal service, and who came to LSJ in search of “a real-life budget to manage the financial demands of raising a growing family on a moderate salary.” With game-changing tools from their coach, “we now know what we have and what we don’t, and what we can and cannot afford to spend,” says Michael. “There’s no more guessing.”

LSJ’s goal is not only to help families resolve their financial difficulties, but to preempt them through education. The idea is to teach what Wolman calls “the alef-beis of money” –saving, investing, responsible spending, and budgeting.

LSJ’s goal is not only to help families resolve their financial difficulties, but to preempt them through education. The idea is to teach what Wolman calls “the alef-beis of money” –saving, investing, responsible spending, and budgeting.

The organization’s website teems with valuable, user-friendly material. Additionally, LSJ produces a podcast with the OU called Kosher Money, designed to educate the Orthodox Jewish community about being financially healthy and responsible. Created in conjunction with Yaakov Langer of the Living L’Chaim Network and former CNBC Producer Eli Langer, Kosher Money’s more than forty episodes cover various money-related topics, including budgeting, investing real estate and more. The full episodes currently boast more than six million views across all streaming and podcast platforms with Kosher Money clips and shorts garnering another 15 million views. The weekly Mishpacha publication, in partnership with Kosher Money and LSJ, features a related Money Talks column that explores the Kosher Money podcast topics in a more in-depth way.

Aiming at educating the younger generation, LSJ also focuses on teaching financial literacy in schools. Financial Educator Rivka Resnik worked with LSJ to disseminate her money management curriculum to schools throughout the country. More than thirty schools currently use LSJ’s curricula, reaching more than 1,000 students. “Due to our relationship with the Walder Charitable Fund, we partnered with Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov High School, which is using our in-school high school curriculum,” says Rabbi Taylor.

In addition to its other initiatives, LJS runs in-person events such as the one held in New York’s Five Towns this past February, in partnership with Kosher Money, which drew more than 200 individuals and couples eager to learn about money management. The event, which featured Wealth Advisor Rabbi Naftali Horowitz as well as a panel discussion moderated by Podcast Host Eli Langer, included various experts on budgeting, negotiations and investing. LSJ plans to replicate the program in Chicago in the coming months.

Ultimately, LSJ wants to shift the needle so the Orthodox community will think differently about money. “That knowledge will foster the self-confidence to live within our means,” says Wolman. “It’s really about financial responsibility as a Torah value.”


Sidebar #1

Yoni and Sarah* from Lakewood, New Jersey, saw a blurb about LSJ in a newspaper ad. They figured it was too good to be true. “Someone was offering to teach us how to budget for free? Impossible,” says Yoni.

The couple, who both work but still cannot make ends meet, saw this as “a chance to do our hishtadlus.” With guidance from their coach, they are now tracking income and expenses to figure out how to avoid credit card debt. And they are including their kids in the process “so they will know how to manage money when the time comes. It’s so much harder to unlearn bad financial habits,” says Sarah.


Sidebar #2

Chaya* turned to LSJ for help after separating from her husband. Not being money savvy, she says, “My coach took the worry out of it, reassuring me that whatever my financial struggles, they aren’t forever. That clarity gave me the confidence to take control of my situation.”


*Not their real names.


This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
We'd like to hear what you think about this article. Post a comment or email us at