INDIVISUAL MEDIA

CRAZY RICH JEWS: BLESSING OR CURSE?

 

The film Crazy Rich Asians was, by all accounts, a critical and commercial success.

The film Crazy Rich Jews didn’t enjoy the same accolades.

It ran for less than 24 hours on Facebook.

It was a Passover program horror story.

Starring a crazed woman, dashing fine china at petrified waiters.

It was tragic.

And comical.

Simultaneously.

It was Fyre Festival meets Hotdog Eating Competition meets Jerry Springer.

Not a pretty picture.

~

Here’s the ironic dilemma.

Jews are richer than ever.

Jews are crazier than ever.

Of course, Jews have been rich before.

And Jews have been crazy before.

But never this rich.

And never this crazy.

We are living in the wealthiest era of all time. The distribution of dough may remain unfair. But we are, as a species, saturated in money. And Jews are, by far, the biggest beneficiaries of this economic boom.

But the numbers turn sour when we flip the coin of affluence to reveal its darker side.

Rates of envy are far higher among the upper middle class than any other socioeconomic group. So are rates of insecurity. And rates of adolescent depression. Adolescent anxiety. Adolescent substance abuse. Adolescent suicide.

Research increasingly shows that affluent teens are more self-centered and depressed than ever before. Substance abuse and overdose deaths are spiking. The emotional world of the well-to-do is unraveling.

“Compared with their grandparents, today’s young adults have grown up with much more affluence, but less happiness, and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology… Divorce rates doubled. Teen suicide tripled. Depression rates have soared, especially among teens and young adults. I call this conjunction of material prosperity and social recession the American paradoxThe more people strive for extrinsic goals such as money, the more numerous their problems and the less robust their wellbeing.”

– David G. Myers, The American Paradox: Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty

Indeed, the upper middle class has its own demons.

But maybe Jews are different?

Maybe Jews are shielded from these tragic trends?

Not quite.

Alcoholism is slightly less prevalent among Jews, but rates of depression and anxiety are much higher. In affluent Orthodox communities, envy and insecurity are exacerbated by close-knit communal ties, covert games of oneupmanship, and an ongoing need to secure status and prominence in a small pond full of very big fish. You think it’s hard keeping up with the Joneses? Try keeping up with the Goldbergs.

Is money the problem?

Is Judaism the problem?

Not exactly.

These are correlations, not causations.

I know lots of very rich, very deep, very sincere people.

Money is not the problem.

Money is a symptom.

The root problem is much deeper.

The problem with affluence is not the money.

The problem is the value we attach it.

I live in a notoriously “Crazy Rich Jewish” community.

If you’re looking for a hybrid strain of Moses & Materialism, look no further.

This is where Teslas and tichels go hand-in-hand.

The land of machers & Moncler.

The peyos wear Prada.

The gartels wear Gucci.

Home of the Thousand Dollar Sandwich.

You guessed it.

The Five Towns.

If you work in Real Estate, or a Hedge Fund, you take the cake. There’s no competition here. But everyone I know seems to be dabbling in deals and talking about tips; I’m left twiddling my thumbs, wondering if Phish opened their second set with Carini.

The Five Towns gets a lot of heat for flaunting and flashing. But our vanity fair is fueled by insecurity, social comparisons, and fear. The need to keep up is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Nobody wants to feel like a loser, but when you’re surrounded by winners, it’s hard to feel otherwise.

This is not a Jewish thing.

This is not a Five Towns thing.

This is not a spiritual sickness.

This is social science.

A natural side effect of affluence and abundance.

This is a human nature thing.

Affluent communities tend to overvalue, and overemphasize materialistic achievement.

We honor the money at our dinners.

We memorialize the money with our banners.

In God we trust, but in money we lust.

“If I were a rich man…

The most important men in town

will come to fawn on me

They will ask me to advise them,

Like Solomon the Wise…

And it won’t make one bit of difference

If I answer right or wrong

When you’re rich

they think you really know!”

– Tevye, If I Were a Rich Man

It’s a soul-sickness with which I currently suffer.

I’m a sucker for brand names.

My car is unjustified by my income bracket.

I build imaginary pecking orders in my mind.

The result is a chronic sense of emptiness.

A sense of inferiority and self-loathing.

A sense of failure and shame.

“The failure of wealth and consumption to help people have satisfying lives may be the most eloquent argument for reevaluating our current approach to consumption.”

 – Worldwatch Institute, 2011 State of Consumption Report

Revaluation means reviewing and revising our values.

It means calling a spade a spade.

It means owning our illusions,

And replacing them with values of substance.

Values of depth.

Values of purpose.

Values of meaning.

 

I am not posing a solution so much as I’m grappling with this inner tension.

It’s a personal reflection more than a communal one.

 

It’s an SOS to others.

Who feel my feelings.

Think my thoughts.

And share my hopes.