As the financial crisis continues, haredim tighten their belts

"We're definitely cutting back," shoppers say of economic downturn's impact.

November 6, 2008 21:07
3 minute read.
As the financial crisis continues, haredim tighten their belts

smoking haredi 224 88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

On a recent Wednesday night in Romema, a traditionally big night for grocery shopping in one of Jerusalem's up-and-coming haredi neighborhoods, shopping carts inside the local supermarket were filled to the brim. Bamba, Bisli, and cardboard cases of RC Cola were among the more popular items, along with bulk packages of sugar, flour and rolls of paper towels. As men in black hats and modestly clad women made their way through the aisles, crossing off items from their lists and scanning the shelves for bargains, it was hard to tell that the haredi community was in the middle of a financial crisis. But, hit hard by the global economic meltdown, members of the haredi world say they're feeling the crunch. The High Holy Day season - from Rosh Hashana to the end of Succot - is usually a time when large donations arrive from abroad, but the recent holiday season, tainted by the nosedive on Wall Street, proved less than satisfactory. That, combined with uncertainties over the places of Shas and United Torah Judaism in a future government, has the haredi world low on cash and worried about the future. "We're definitely cutting back," one haredi woman told The Jerusalem Post. "Every year I buy my kids new clothes before Succot, and this year we decided that was an unnecessary expense." The woman, who preferred to remain anonymous, said she wasn't surprised that grocery shopping had yet to be affected by the pinch, but that overall, members of the haredi community were monitoring their expenses and cutting back on things that weren't essential. "We're still going to eat," she said. "Of course I'm going to buy my kids snacks and the food they like, but fancy things that we don't absolutely need - those aren't coming into the picture right now. But it's also not such a huge shift - the haredi community is one that already lives modestly, so out of all the different groups, I think we know how to cut back quite effectively." Still, others said the financial situation was worse than some were letting on. "Look around," Yaakov, a haredi man, said as he browsed the aisles on Wednesday night. "This used to be the biggest night of the week for groceries - you had to stand in line outside just for a shopping cart. But now look: It's relatively empty compared to what used to go on here. If that's not a good indication of the current situation, I don't know what is. People are cutting back, they're buying less, and they're relying more on others." A staple of the haredi world, the gimilut hasadim (good works) or G'mach organizations - which provide families with a number of free or discounted services in times of need - concurred. Many G'machim are bearing the brunt of the current economic atmosphere, and some say they're struggling to meet demands. "With the increase in the price of food and an increase in requests, we're finding it almost impossible to keep up," a spokesman from Yad Eliezer, one of Israel's largest G'mach organizations, said. "We've had requests for shoes, heaters, books, you name it. We're working very hard, and we've even had to cut back in some areas, but we're still raising some money," he said. "We just have to work harder." Other G'machim gave similar accounts. "We've had two requests this month for tefillin for bar mitzvas," one G'mach spokesman said. "That is not common at all, and I expect there to be more requests for other expenses as well. People are feeling the crisis in the haredi world - we're all tightening our belts."

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