Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion. —Pirkei Avot
Teen boys fantasize about becoming people like Bezos, Musk, Zuckerberg, Oprah, or other billionaires—or at least they contemplate what it would be like to have a couple hundred million like Lebron James. But Jewish teens also are aware of the “Shylock” factor—the stereotypes about greedy Jewish men who are solely focused on the accumulation of wealth. This is especially true in the post-Madoff world. What do we teach young men about wealth and a Jewish attitude towards wealth?
On the one hand, Jewish tradition values wealth as a positive. The first Jewish man, Abraham, had great material wealth and it was spoken of as a blessing. Jews do not take vows of poverty as some Catholics and Buddhists do. On the other hand, we want to be realistic about wealth, the price that many pay in the pursuit of wealth, and the responsibilities towards the poor that Jewish tradition places on all people regardless of means.
Many teen programs focus on tzedaka, but few look at the wider issue of money and how it is used. In this session, we learn how money can bring people together and how it can be a factor that ruins friendships and other relationships. But rarely is the link made between generosity to strangers and generosity to friends. We ask teens to think on a personal level: “What do people think of the way that I am using my money?” Teens are aware of the Catch-22: If you always give people money or buy people things, they may see you as spoiled. If you never give and always mooch, they may see you as stingy.
In this session, we move from discussing the idea of money and friendships to discussing money and those who live in poverty. In both cases, we want to stress a sense of responsible use of money and generosity.
- Help the guys understand why people feel uncomfortable talking about money.
- Help them connect to Jewish ethics around money, particularly around fairness, clarity in transactions involving money, and the imperative to give.
- Give them an experience of community giving—namely a tzedaka activity that is focused on poverty and how to address it with philanthropy.
#1 Jackpot Basketball
This game can be played with ping pong balls and cups, tennis balls and wastebaskets, actual basketballs, etc.—you choose the medium.
Set up the baskets (or whatever you are using for baskets) at a distance so that making a shot in is not a given (think free throw line).
Here’s the idea:
- The first shot is worth one point. If you make the next shot after that, it is worth two points. You then make a choice:
You can go back to the one point shot and keep scoring.
You can take the third shot and if you get it in you get five points… but if you miss it, you get negative five points.
- The first person to reach twenty points wins.
- You might want to pair them up and ask one person to be the shooter and the other one to be the rebounder.
At the end of the game, ask:
- What is the point of the game?
(Hint: the game is about risk—who takes risks all the time and who is conservative about taking risks)
- When do you take a risk? What strategy is better?
#2 Pizza Economics
1. Explain the activity:
- In order to get a serving of the food (i.e., a slice of pizza), every person will need four tickets.
- You, as facilitator, are the “holder of the pizza,” and the one who sets the “prices.”
- Note that not everyone will have enough tickets to eat.
- Participants are free to decide—“What are you going to do about it?”
2. Distribute presorted envelopes with ticket distribution as per grid instructions, randomly giving out the number of tickets on the top of the grid to the participants.
3. Announce that the “Pizza Distribution Center” is closed for some time, giving the group the opportunity to negotiate allocation of tickets.
Pay attention to the dynamics for the purpose of the post activity reflection. Do they build coalitions or bully the ticket-holders or impoverished participants? Who reaches out to whom first: the one(s) with 12 tickets towards the single-ticket-holders or vice-versa? What roles do the six-ticket-holders play—do they advocate for the single-ticket-holders? Do they stay on the sidelines? How do(es) the 12-ticket-holders respond?
5. The group might quickly come to a consensus trying their best to distribute tickets evenly or make bargains by offering one another half a serving after tickets are redeemed. Or the group members might get completely frustrated with one another and get stuck. Provide prompts as needed, suggesting options to help.
- For the group of single-ticket-holders, options may include:
- Group your tickets together and distribute the pizza you can “purchase” equally amongst yourselves.
- Band together and advocate for yourselves towards those with tickets to spare.
- Protest the unfair treatment—picket at the site of pizza distribution and refuse to allow anyone through until something is settled.
- Get the “middle-class” on your side to help you advocate for more tickets.
- Barter with the “holder of the pizza” for reduced rates. (You as the facilitator play this role. If they choose this route, be creative in how you answer—don’t cave in too easily: “I need to feed my family, too. What is in it for me to give this pizza away at lower costs? What could you offer to make up for reduced revenue?”)
- Try to go for every man for himself.
- For the group of four-ticket-holders, options may include:
- Stand by and watch, and get your pizza when able.
- Band together with another six-ticket-holder and get three slices for the two of you.
- Offer assistance to those who don’t have enough tickets by just giving them your extras.
- Offer to help advocate or even picket along with those who don’t have enough tickets to get food.
- For the group of 12-ticket-holders, options may include:
- These are your hard-earned tickets. Get yourself three pieces of pizza.
- Give away some of your tickets and keep some for yourself.
- Barter with others for tickets: “What would you do for me in exchange for these tickets?”
- Join with them to protest against the “holder of the pizza” to negotiate fairer ticket prices. Refuse to “buy” from him until the prices go down.
6. End the simulation by inviting everybody to take a slice of pizza regardless of the ticket holdings. Let them enjoy the pizza as they discuss the activity.
Help the guys process the activity, sharing your observations as is helpful.
For those of you who had few tickets:
- What was that like for you?
- How was it not to be able to even get a slice of pizza?
- Did not having tickets change your perception of those who had tickets during the game?
- What power did you have, if any, to do something about the injustice you experienced?
For those of you who were in the “middle-class”:
- What was that like for you?
- Did you want to help or was it no big deal for you?
- If you hesitated to act, what was holding you back?
- What power did you have, if any, to do something about the injustices you experienced or saw?
For the 12-ticket-holders:
- What was that like for you?
- Did you feel a responsibility to help out?
- Knowing that you could not help everyone in need with your tickets alone, how did you think others were looking at you?
- What was your power to do something about the injustices you experienced or saw?
For all participants:
- What did you learn from this experience?
- How might this activity apply to the real world?
#1 What’s Worse?
- To be called “spoiled,” or “stingy”?
- To feel that you always have to ask your friends for money, or that you always have to give money to your friends?
- For people to think that you are the richest guy in your class, or the poorest guy in your class?
#2 If I Were a Rich Man
This exercise is a basic media criticism. Ask the guys to watch two videos and comment on them (questions provided below).
- Drake and Lil’ Wayne’s video, “Money to Blow” (Drake, the first rapper in this clip, is a Canadian Jew): (https://youtu.be/NjNBC4mC5y4)
Questions for this clip:
- What does this video say about money?
- What does it mean to be able to “blow money”?
- What are they purchasing?
- Drake and Trey Songz’s video, “I Want to Be Successful”: (https://youtu.be/j5DySYu5Bfw)
Questions for this clip:
- What does it mean when he sings, “I suppose”?
- What is the difference between “money to blow” and success?
Lil’ Dicky: Save Dat Money
#3 Paired Agree/Disagree
Hand the guys the batches of statements and ask them, in pairs, to go through them one by one and discuss if they agree or disagree. Then ask them to choose one that they really agree with. Then ask all pairs to share what they really agreed with and what they disagreed with.
- Men are supposed to be very rich.
- Men are supposed to buy expensive things for women.
- Men are supposed to drive nice cars.
- Men are supposed to invest money in the stock market.
- Men are supposed to gamble.
- Men are supposed to own buildings.
- Men are supposed to have a lot of cash in their pocket.
- Men should aim to have their name on a building.
- Men should aim to be honored at charity dinners.
- Jewish men are supposed to be good with money.
- Jewish men are supposed to get good deals.
- Jewish men are supposed to bargain so that they can pay less for something.
In Judaism, wealth is seen as a good thing. Abraham is blessed with wealth. We say “Eyn kemach, eyn Torah” — “If there is no flour there is no Torah”
All wealth, however, is to be seen as attached to responsibility. This includes a responsibility to provide for one’s own needs, for the needs of the community, and for the poor.
“Jack Canfield: How to Get Rich” (https://youtu.be/38mCxz7HLLo)
“The Money-less Man: Mark Boyle” (https://youtu.be/3DN99rAmqVY)
“Jew Money” (https://youtu.be/V62PQqr5QTQ)
#4 Pocket Money
Pass out 3×5 cards and pencils. Ask them to write down the question number in the top right corner of the card. Then ask them to write down their responses to the questions and then pass in their responses to you.
- How much money do you carry with you on a typical school day?
- How much money would you ask a parent for if you were going out on a weekend night to dinner and a movie?
- How much money should you expect to borrow from a friend?
- How much money should you lend a friend?
- If you currently can think of someone who owes you money, how much money does that person owe you?
Jewish Texts about Lending
You shall not loan money to a friend without a written record, witnesses or an object that will serve as collateral.
– from the code of Jewish Law titled the Shulchan Aruch (16th century)
Don’t lend money to a person who will not be able to repay it.
– Chofetz Chaim (19th century rabbi and ethical guide)
#5 Who is Rich?
Jewish teachings give us guidance to take pleasure from wealth and to give responsibly. We will look at two questions: What does it really mean to be rich? What is our responsibility to the poor?
In pairs, take a look at this text: Which rabbi do you agree with and which rabbi do you disagree with?
Who is rich?
Rabbi Meir: He who takes pleasure from his wealth.
Rabbi Tarfon: He who has 100 vineyards, 100 fields, and 100 workers.
Rabbi Akiva: A man with a pleasant wife.
Rabbi Yossi: A man with a toilet convenient to his table
(Source: Talmud, Shabbat 25b)
#6 Ten Bucks
Tape a ten dollar bill onto a big post-it board and write the following quote underneath it:
“Happy is the person who looks intensely into the situation of the poor and gives money to increase their honor.” (Midrash on Pslams 41:2)
Announce to the group: We are going to give this ten dollars to help alleviate poverty.
Prompts: tell a story about a time when you saw intense poverty. Ask them to think about a time when they looked out the window of a car or a train and saw real poverty. Maybe it was on a vacation or maybe it was a few miles from where they live. Ask which is more intense: poverty in the inner city or poverty in the Developing World.
- How do we use this ten dollars to address poverty?
- What are the different ways that we address poverty?
i.e. education, health care, literacy, medical care, food needs, homeless shelters, etc.
Come to a consensus decision around a charity or a type of charity to donate the ten dollars to.
There are two natural emotive activities that flow from the pervious session. They are:
- Tell a story about a time in your life when there was a tension in a relationship because of money.
- Tell a story about a time in your life when you felt rich or when you felt poor.
Have the guys pair up and choose one of the options above to swap stories.
Bring a Tzedaka Box. Pass the ten dollar bill around the room and have everyone touch it- symbolizing that everyone is having a hand in giving the ten dollars to tzedaka.