Saving those holiday shekels
Saving those holiday shekelsIsrael news photo: file

An American-born, Israeli-trained financial coordinator has some free advice for getting through the expensive High Holiday stretch on a tight budget.

Jonathan Degani is an American immigrant who currently coordinates finances for a large non-profit organization serving the needs of more than 20,000 Israeli students. As part of his adjustment to Israel - and to a shattering market crash in his chosen field - Degani applied his MBA training to his everyday routine in order to, as he put it, "enjoy life, despite my lack of funds."

By mastering of "a lot of marketing gimmicks" and analyzing changes in the local market logically, Degani said, he has been able to maximize a trimmed down household budget. After some time, Degani decided to share what he'd learned with other English-speaking Israelis on his blog, Shomer Shekalim ("Saving Shekels"). Earlier this month, he touched on the inevitable expenses of the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah, and how to save some money in a tight economy.

Realizing that many of his readers still have family in their respective "old countries", Degani suggests how to save money sending Rosh Hashanah flowers abroad. By taking advantage of a familiarity with one's old neighborhood overseas, it's possible to order a bouquet directly from a flower shop near one's family's home. "The big surprise is that not only is it cheaper, but it is the same local florist that 1-800-flowers uses!" writes Degani.

With Rosh Hashanah meals come the simanim, or symbolic foods sampled to represent various blessings for the new year. Degani suggests sharing the purchase of the many simanim with friends and family. "People usually sample these simanim just a bit and the leftovers go bad and get tossed," he notes, "so serve less. This can be hard, because the fruits only come in a certain size package, so the best thing to do is to go to a neighbor and arrange to share your simanim and split the cost."

As for the traditional holiday meals - four on Rosh Hashanah alone - Degani is adamant: "You don’t need to have every

Degani calls upon his yeshiva background to give a little advice.

side dish at every meal. Plan a meal with a main dish and a couple of sides, no more. After that people just overeat and don't get to savor any of your cooking." The main dish can also be scaled back, he writes, "Not every meal has to be meat. You can have a fish meal or (dare I say it) even a dairy meal during a holiday."

When going to holiday prayers, Degani, a former yeshiva student and IDF Rabbinate reservist, advises: "Borrow a Machzor (holiday prayerbook). It is a bit surprising, but most libraries have Machzorim (even Artscroll) that you can borrow for free." Then, plan for the future: "Buy one after the holidays when they go on clearance so you'll have one for next year."

Finally, Degani calls upon his yeshiva background to give a little advice regarding pre-holiday charitable giving, quoting the Talmud, inKetubot 66b:

It once happened that R. Johanan Ben-Zakkai left Jerusalem riding upon a donkey, while his students followed him, and he saw a girl picking barley grains in the dung of Arab cattle. As soon as she saw him she wrapped herself with her hair and stood before him. "Master," she said to him, "feed me."

"My daughter," he asked her, "who are you?"

"I am," she replied, "the daughter of Nakdimon Ben-Gurion (one of the richest noblemen of Israel)."

"My daughter," he said to her, "what has become of the wealth of your father's house?"

"Master," she answered him, "is there not a proverb current in Jerusalem: 'The salt of money is giving some away'?" (i.e., If you want to keep your money, give some to charity)

...Did not Nakdimon Ben-Gurion, however, give charity? Surely it was taught: It was said of Nakdimon Ben-Gurion that, when he walked from his house to the house of study, woolen clothes were spread beneath his feet and the poor followed behind him and rolled them up (to keep and to sell for their own profit)! ...If you wish I might reply: 'He did it for his own glorification'; and if you prefer, I might reply: 'He did not act as he should have done, as people say, "In accordance with the camel is the burden."'

In light of that Talmudic homily, Degani writes, "(1) give charity, (2) do not just give it for some fancy honor, and (3) give according to what you can realistically afford - don't be too thrifty, nor too cheap."