The New Normal

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moneyBy CJ Srullowitz 

Once, when I was in the eighth grade, the boys in my class were discussing what to do with their bar mitzvah money. One of the boys mentioned something called a money market, which he explained was just like a savings account, and paid around ten percent interest. To my young, impressionable, pre-teen mind, that number became the benchmark against which all other rates of return were judged; for years, I considered ten percent to be a normal passive rate of return on money.

Fast forward many years. I became a financial advisor. I had already learned that ten percent money market returns were an aberration. In fact, no relatively safe investment could be counted on to deliver a return approaching that number. One would have to take on the full measure of volatility in the stock market to potentially average ten percent over time.

Fast forward to today.

Bill Gross is the co-Chief Investment Officer of PIMCO, a Newport Beach, California money management firm. PIMCO’s flagship Total Return Fund, under the stewardship of Gross, has grown to become the largest mutual fund in the world. Last summer, Gross and company described the economic circumstances and market conditions that they believe will face us over the coming years. They called it “the new normal.”

What is the new normal? Among other things it means slower economic growth, high unemployment, low interest rates, and tepid, “half-sized” – that is to say, four to five percent – stock market returns. In other words, you know the financial crisis we’ve been trying to shake? Well, get used to it. “All investors should expect considerably lower rates of return than what they grew accustomed to only a few years ago,” Gross insists.

The new normal will naturally have ramifications in the Jewish world, and in particular, the frum world. Consider:

  • Yeshivos today, most of which were never-even at the height of the economic bubble-flush with funds, are under enormous financial strain. Some are being starved out of existence.


  • While Information Technology is poised to be one of the growth areas of the new economy (along with Healthcare and Biotech), many frum people who are “in computers” do not currently possess the knowledge and skills for these jobs. According to a friend of mine who works for a cutting-edge IT firm, many are only trained for obsolete systems and have not kept up with the rapid changes in this field.


  • For awhile it seemed like every former yeshiva guy and his brother-in-law were mortgage brokers, working very long days and weeks financing and refinancing properties for anyone and everyone who came along-making terrific commissions along the way. No longer. Fewer people are buying houses, fewer people are qualifying for mortgages, and those who are and do are finding that some banks (Chase, for example) are not taking mortgage loan applications from independent brokers.


  • The frum world will always have its share of entrepreneurs, but with the severe tightening of credit, many are not getting the chance to borrow the money required to build, or even expand, businesses. Established real estate investors are finding deals, and many have cash on hand to finance them. But many younger people who are trying to get started in that business have it tough.


  • One of the biggest supporters of kollelim in Eretz Yisrael saw his fortune-in the hundreds of millions-evaporate in a matter of weeks. I happened to meet him briefly by chance when he was borrowing office space from a client of mine, and watched as he sat hunched over on his cell phone trying to keep his kollelim from going under. He will survive, but many of his beneficiaries are already leaving kollel and returning to America.

And the setbacks did not begin in the last two years.

In 2003, The Wall Street Journal reported how Indians were quickly replacing Jews as the premier diamond dealers in Antwerp, Belgium. The Jews, who had at one point controlled 70% of the trade, saw their influence dwindle to just 25% in a few years. That number is even smaller today. At the time, Henri Rubens, one of the community’s leaders, declared the end of the glory days noting, “We were too complacent. Now that we realize it, it’s too late.” Mr. Rubens went into real estate.

These past few decades have been remarkable for the Jewish nation, and for the Orthodox in particular. We have grown both materially and spiritually, and the two often worked hand-in-hand. Much of our largesse was committed to building a strong infrastructure of homes, shuls, yeshivos and mosdos.

But the last couple of years have been challenging; the infrastructure is showing strain and even some cracks. Many feel that we simply have to get through this rough period before going back to “normal.” But what if we’re in for a new normal? What if we need to adjust our thinking and our budgets accordingly-not just for a few years but permanently?

God will surely provide us with what we need; but our definition of “need” may have to be adjusted. Should a more moderate financial future face us, we must not allow it to slow down our spiritual growth. Our commitment to Torah and mitzvos, to educating our children and feeding our poor, to learning diligently and working honestly, must not waver.

But what we spend on our homes, our cars, our vacations, and even our simchas may need to be reigned in considerably.

 CJ Srullowitz is a financial advisor in New York City, and blogs at

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  1. Perhaps Hashem is showing us that we were living too much for this world and not enough for the next. By curtailing everyone’s income maybe we will start concentrating on the real essentials, our middos, bain odom l’chavero, chinuch etc. and stop taking lavish vacations, and building luxurious edifices etc.

  2. > “G-d will surely provide us with what we need; but our definition of “need” may have to be adjusted.”

    >> Indeed! G-d will provide for Klal Yisrael, but no longer in their American diaspora. Those who cling to the “goldena medina” are now finding that the medina is slowly coming apart at the seams. The signs of this are everywhere — none more serious than the closings of yeshivas for Tinokos Shel Beis Rabban [whose Torah study supports the continued existence of the world (Shabbos 119b)].

    The antidote has been reported regularly by the Israeli news media. Here is a sample of recent headlines from Arutz Sheva:

    1) “Speak English? Make Aliyah and Teach in Israel” — help fill approximately 1,000 vacancies in the school system.

    2) “Unemployed? Jobs Galore in Israel” — the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) reported that available jobs reached 43,600, an 8.2% increase in just one month.

    3) “Good Times: Israel’s GDP, Jobs, Consumer Confidence Up, Up, Up” — the resilient economy showed additional signs of strengthening when it was reported that consumer confidence had reached a 10 year high.

    4) “Israel’s Unemployment Rate Drops – Again”

    And American Jews complain about how tough it is to find employment in Israel??? Hashem is broadcasting to you loudly and clearly that He will provide for true Ba’alei Emunah who cherish the mitzvah of Yishuv Ha’aretz. The excuses of bnei Torah in the Diaspora are pitiful. Wake up and come home before you sink even deeper into the mud of golus.

  3. Regarding the comments of no. 7 Aliyah now. there are 613 mitzvos, and The Rambam does not include yishuv haaretz as one of them please stop spreading zionist propaganda. people living in eretz Yisroel are just as much in golus as we here in America, especially if they are in eretz yiaroel spending time on the internet.

  4. To Golus:

    It is a machlokes Rishonim whether or not Yishuv Ha’aretz is a mitzvah d’oraisa? But either way, please be aware of the following words of HaRav HaGaon Simcha Wasserman zt”l (in Reb Simcha Speaks, Artscroll, 1994):

    “Yaakov Avinu said to his sons, ‘I will show you what will happen in the end of days. There will be a ‘call!’ Hashem will just call us and we’ll come.’ This is what the Ribbono Shel Olam is showing us IN OUR DAYS. This is what so many of us have experienced. WE SEE IT.”

    Reb Simcha experienced it. Reb Simcha saw it: in our time…today…HASHEM HIMSELF IS CALLING US TO COME HOME. And so Reb Simcha left America and made Aliyah. HaRav HaGaon Mordechai Gifter zt”l, left America and made Aliyah. HaRav Aharon Feldman shlit”a (Rosh Yeshiva Ner Yisrael) made Aliyah. The Chafetz Chaim desperately wanted to make Aliyah. HaRav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld and the Chazon Ish begged bnei Torah in America to make Aliyah (as quoted in an essay by HaRav Zev Leff, shlit”a, entitled “Where is the Religious Aliyah From the West,” available on-line).

    According to you, I guess all of these Gedolim were spreading “zionist propaganda” (Chas V’Shalom)!

    Finally, your statement that “people living in Eretz Yisrael are just as much in golus as we here in America” leaves me nonplused. To equate Eretz Yisrael with America is an attitude worthy of the Meraglim…the Heavens shudder.

    Unless you are a Satmar chossid — and are therefore bound by the sheetah of the Satmar Rebbe zt”l (which Rav Shach, in his hespid, said was a very difficult sheetah to understand)– you haven’t a leg to stand on.

  5. #11 GOLUS – your name says it all.
    The reason it is not a Rambam mitzvah since it is a 24/7 mitzvoh….as others that the Rambam did not include.
    Klal Yisroel’s destiny is in Eretz Yisroel, the sooner the better. You can join or stay behind, choices are to be made.

  6. #12
    Rav Aron Feldman lives in Baltimore, and Rav Gifter ztl moved back to America. Of course
    there is no place like Eretz yisroel, but usually the people who say that everyone should move there are zionists and not saying that because of the Ribono shel Olam or the Torah.
    The Ramban didn’t learn pshat in the Rambam like you.

  7. To # 11.
    The Ramban does count it. If you are willing to throw out every chumrah you practice and preach, I’ll let you throw out this one too. But if you keep even one opinion where there is a mekel , then I’ll keep you to this Ramban too. So which is it?

  8. To Golus:

    “Rav Aharon Feldman lives in Baltimore, and Rav Gifter zt”l moved back to America.”

    True! Except that you’re leaving out the most important part of their situations:

    Rav Feldman moved back to Baltimore when he was summoned to become Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael in 2001 (upon the petirah of Rav Shlomo Heiman, zt”l). He returned to golus reluctantly, but feeling a sense of duty to his Rebbe Muvhak, Rav Ruderman, zt”l.

    Similarly, Rav Gifter was summoned back, against his will, to become Rosh Yeshiva in Telshe Cleveland. It has been written of Rav Gifter that “he never recovered from the tremendous loss that he felt for his first love, Eretz Israel.”

    So your point that both Roshei Yeshiva returned to the U.S. is meaningless.

    Your statement that “usually the people who say that everyone should move there are zionists and not saying that because of the Ribono shel Olam or the Torah” is also baseless. Rather, they are inspired by the words and spirit of Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, who wrote that most Jews wrongly remain in golus “VOLUNTARILY.” Said Rav Yosef Chaim: “Many times have I directed that the religious Jews in the diaspora be instructed that anyone who has the ability to come to Eretz Yisroel and doesn’t, will have to account for his FAILURE in HaOlam Haba.” (Ha’ish Al Hachoma, vol. II, p. 149)

    So face it: you just don’t want to leave your wonderful golus, and to make yourself feel better about it you put down anyone who challenges your voluntary choice to stay there. But you’re attitude is contrary to the example of so many gedolim of the past century. As was pointed out to you in comment no. 12, barring your being a Satmar chossid, your position has no merit.

    (P.S. Try learning Kesuvos 110b if you haven’t already done so).

  9. and what if Hashem Yerachem, a horrific financial future faces us, there is ample prognostication that the US, along with other debt ridden, oil dependent economies are doomed.

  10. # 16
    Even religious zionist rabbis will not say that one living in Eretz Yisroel is not in golus.
    Is Moshiach here , do we have a Bais Hamikdash ? One thing is for sure, that if you felt that living in Eretz Yisroel by definition
    makes one closer to hashem than you wouldn’t be on the internet. Some people are living in Eretz Yisroel and some people are living in Israel. Its up to you to choose. R Yosef Chaim Sonenfeld moved to eretz yisroel to become closer to hashem in the mid 1800s before zionism was even dreamed of by Herzl the meshumad.

  11. # 16
    R shlomo Heiman was the Rosh Yeshiva of Tora Vodaas & was niftar many years ago. R Aron Feldman took over after R Kolefsky tzl was niftar.

  12. To Golus:

    1) I stand corrected. Rav Aharon Feldman shlit”a returned to Baltimore after the petirah of Rav Kolefsky (and not Rav Heiman, who was Rav Kolefsky’s rebbe). It doesn’t change the fact though, that Rav Feldman believed ardently in Aliyah and left Eretz Yisrael only reluctantly to return to the Diaspora.

    2) In modern parlance, the Hebrew word “galut” (exile) is synonymous with the term “diaspora.” Therefore, when most people refer to living in “golus,” they mean the state of living outside of Eretz Israel (in the Diaspora). So your claim that one living in Eretz Yisrael is still in “golus” is a tad disingenuous.

    3) You asked: “Is Moshiach here, do we have a Bais Hamikdash?” Learn the Gemara in Megillah which explains that the middle brachos of Shemonah Esrai are in chronological order. The return of Klal Yisrael in the final geula PRECEDES the building of the 3rd Bais HaMikdash, which itself PRECEDES the arrival of Mashiach.

    4) The bottom line is fairly simple: Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld called upon Jews living in the 20th Century to leave the diaspora/golus (I don’t care which expression you prefer) and make Aliyah. He referred to the refusal to do so as a “failure.” The Chazon Ish believed the same thing, and as noted in comment no. 12, Rav Simcha Wasserman wrote clearly of his belief that in our day the Ribbono Shel Olam is Himself calling Am Yisrael to come home. You have every right to believe otherwise, as a rationale for your stubborn refusal to leave golus (which is what you’re all about) but you have little in the sources (other than the shietah of the Satmar Rov) upon which to rely.

    5) Finally, you wrote: “one thing is for sure, that if you felt that living in Eretz Yisroel by definition makes one closer to Hashem, then you wouldn’t be on the internet.” I consider myself chardal, and believe that the internet is an exceptional tool for the dissemination of Torah and for the facilitation of Torah based discussions and debate. I don’t believe for one moment that my use of the internet for these purposes estranges me from Hashem…and your insinuation that it does is, quite simply, unacceptable and disregarded.



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