When I was growing up, my family didn’t really talk a lot about money. I figured out some things by watching, like:
- We have enough money
- Be thoughtful about what you spend
- Saving and donating money are good
- Economic inequality and the fact that some people don’t have enough, is bad
My parents never discussed what they made and our financial situation. When I was in my mid-20’s, I asked my dad why he had never told me what he earned. I vividly remember him saying, “there are just some things that parents shouldn’t talk to their children about.”
I was taken aback by his answer but also motivated to understand why he treated money as such a private thing. I found that many Jews were hesitant to talk openly about money. As I learned more about Jewish history and about how money and finances have been key mechanisms of anti-Semitism, I understood why Jews might have fears about visibly talking about money.
Interestingly, as the executive director of Kehilla, I talk about money all of the time. I am thinking about the long-term health and growth of Kehilla, and, whether it is budgeting, personnel, fundraising, programming, education or building maintenance, every aspect of congregation life entails dealing with money.
Kehilla has grown into an institution with an almost one million dollar budget. That means we spend nearly a million dollars a year AND we must raise almost a million dollars. In order for us to do this well, we, as a community, need to get better at talking about money. We need to be able to talk openly about the synagogue’s financial needs, our financial resources, and we need to be able to be able to ask for money.
At its core, the Kehilla community is committed to the values of social justice and inclusive spirituality. We can and do apply these values to how we deal with money. We can challenge the structural economic inequalities in the society we live in, and recognize that people have different amounts of economic resources. And we still need to learn to talk more openly about money and to get better at raising it.
I recently led a training on budgeting and fiscal oversight for the board of directors and I began by asking people to talk about their relationship to money. I asked questions, such as:
- How was money dealt with when you were growing up?
- What was it like as a Jew (or however you were raised) to talk about money?
- How did your gender, race or class background affect your ability to think about money?
- What is it like for you to talk about or ask for money now?
I encourage you to answer these questions as well. If you do, I would love to hear what you learn from answering them. The more we can talk freely about money, the better we will be able to grow and sustain our community.