An Open Letter to Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman

Kollel families who depend on childcare subsidies exemplify the ideals of commitment to discipline, frugality and Judaism's eternity. Op-ed.

Avraham Shusteris ,

צילום: ISTOCK

Minister Liberman-

I would like to give you the benefit of the doubt in your recent decision to cut childcare subsidies for Kollel families in Israel. I believe that I understand where you are coming from. Having myself grown up with Soviet parents, I understand the Soviet mentality which placed importance on a acquiring a strong education and earning a respectable living.

In the Soviet Union, unemployment was practically nonexistent because the government did not allow for it. In the Soviet Union, each member of society was expected to sacrifice for their country. The people were expected to look for opportunities to give and not just to take.

At the same time, fiscal responsibility was engrained in the Soviet mentality- spending beyond one’s means was not fathomable.

The policies that you are now enacting are a natural outgrowth of the mentality and culture that you grew up with. Although my community was hurt by this legislation, I cannot blame you for maintaining and promoting the values and ideologies that you were raised with. But however noble this ideology seems,, the Jews and many non-Jews in the Soviet Union wished to leave and almost a million moved to Israel as soon as they could..

I would like to remind you that aside from the Soviet influences in your life, there was another major influence in your life that made you who you are today. Growing up in Moldavia, you and your family were fortunate enough to know a very special person, Chaim Zanvil Abramovitz, the Ribbnitzer Rebbe. At your Bar Mitzvah you received a blessing from the Rebbe for success which you have seen come to fruition. While the Rebbe cared for every Jew and would go beyond his abilities to help any Jew, his personal passion was learning Torah, which gave him the powers to help people and give blessings in the way that he did.

This is the same Torah that is being learned with dedication and self sacrifice by thousands of Jewish men throughout Israel from morning through night with a schedule far more rigorous than the typical workplace or university schedule. The dedication required for such a study regiment would not be possible if it was merely an excuse not to work or serve in the army. Certainly, the wives would not sacrifice material comforts and accept a life of poverty so that their husbands can evade responsibility and “hang out” while their families were struggling.

The thousands of Kollel families who depend on the childcare subsidies exemplify the ideals of commitment to rigorous study, discipline and frugality perhaps more than any sector in Israel today. Perhaps no other group exemplifies the positive attributes of the Soviet culture in Israel today more than the Kollel families. Whereas the kibbutzniks that founded this country have largely disappeared, the Kollel families are today Israel’s ideologues who place their values above their comforts and take pride in sacrifice.

There are better ways to balance the budget than by making the lives of the Kollel families miserable. Here is one example: due to misguided legislation, every year thousands of non-Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe that have one Jewish grandparent make Aliyah to Israel to take advantage of the generous financial aid included in the absorption package for new immigrants. The financial aid given to one such family costs as much as dozens of childcare subsidies for poor Jewish families in Israel. Many of the elderly immigrants have never worked in Israel and never will but benefit from its health care and National Insurance pensions..

By changing the law to limit financial assistance to only Jewish immigrants, the government would correct a historic wrong and preserve the Jewish character of the state all while balancing the budget.

There are other creative solutions that should be considered as well. Let’s make sure that our limited resources are spent on Jewish causes before spending lavish sums subsidizing non Jewish immigration to Israel - although they form much of your voter base.

Avraham Shusteris is an accountant in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He made aliyah from Monsey with his family in 2018.