When choosing a sleep-away camp, ask (lots of) questions


Sleep-away camp is a rite of passage. In Southern California, we are fortunate to have many wonderful Jewish residential camps to choose from. But how do you choose the camp that is best for your child? 

Seek recommendations from friends, for sure. In many cases, you can even tour camp facilities. During your research, it’s vital to ask the right questions, even the ones that may seem trivial or silly. 

The Journal reached out to officials at a variety of Jewish residential camps from San Diego to the Bay Area who suggested 10 important questions to ask when considering a camp, or simply when looking for reassurance about the one you’ve chosen. 

1. What activities do you offer and does my child get to choose them? 

It’s a basic question, but if you have a child who lives and breathes basketball or photography, you’ll probably want to seek out a program that offers those. And since overnight camp is all about building the independence of a child, how much freedom there is to choose is significant. 

“It’s the opportunity to explore,” said Dan Baer, director of Camp Mountain Chai in Angelus Oaks. “Camps are trending more toward an elective model where campers get to choose. Everybody has a choice built now into the schedule. But every camp’s balance is a little different. Kids love the ability to choose.”

2. What is a typical day like at camp?

Learning the specifics about the daily schedule can go a long way toward determining if a camp’s activities, program and structure are right for a particular child, said Josh Steinharter, director of JCC Maccabi Sports Camp in the Bay Area. Some camps are highly structured with little or no choice for campers, while others are based around free choice and tailored to a camper’s individual needs. This is important, he said, because some campers thrive on structure while others are more comfortable being able to do their own thing. 

3. How are the counselors trained, and where do they come from? 

The return rate of staff and the retention of campers into the staff corps are important.

“Each Jewish camp that I know of uses their counselors and their staff to impart important lessons about how to live, how to relate to a community, and how to be better Jews and people … This happens best when the staff is stable, and has grown up in this type of mission-based community,” explained Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, which runs Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop in Malibu.

4. What is the ratio of campers to counselors in each cabin?

Some parents feel that smaller ratios of counselors living with their children is the way to go, as it provides closer supervision and can foster closer connections between campers and counselors. Others, according to Lynn, feel that a smaller ratio is stifling to campers interacting with other campers and that it leads to overbearing supervision. 

5. What kinds of financial aid are available?

It’s no secret that sleep-away camp can be expensive. One Happy Camper, a partnership between the Jewish Foundation for Camp and Jewish communities across North America, offers grants of up to $1,000 to eligible first-time Jewish sleep-away campers. Also, many camps provide significant needs-based scholarship assistance.

6. How can I learn about how my child is doing while at camp? 

It used to be that the only way for parents to find out how their child was doing at camp was through snail mail or by calling the office and requesting an update. But parents, many of who are accustomed to their child being a cell phone call away, are asking for more. 

“Camps are responding to this desire while keeping the special bubble of sleep-away camp intact,” said Josh Levine, director of Camp Alonim in Simi Valley.

As a result, many camps employ photographers whose sole job is to take hundreds of pictures, which then get posted to a website every day for parents and loved ones to see. Some camp directors send out general emails looping parents into the highlights of the day’s activities, and at least one local camp, JCA Shalom, does camper-led morning radio broadcasts that parents can listen to online.

7. How is Judaism defined at your camp and infused into the day? 

When parents are choosing a Jewish camp, they are not doing so based solely on a ropes course or art program, as amazing as those might be. That means it’s important to learn about the Jewish ethos — that secret sauce that defines a camp’s Jewishness, said Ariella Moss Peterseil, associate director of Camp Ramah in California, located in Ojai.

8. What is the level of religiosity at your camp? 

It’s key that a camp reflect a parent’s value system, and religion and level of observance may be part of that. 

“Parents may choose a camp with similar rituals and observance level as in their home for the comfort of the camper and religious priorities of the family,” said Dalit Shlapobersky, executive director of Habonim Dror-Camp Gilboa in Big Bear Lake. “Or a family might prefer for the child to experience a summer at a camp that’s more observant, so that the child develops a stronger control of rituals they might not be practicing at home. Or a family might place as a priority the intellectual, social and emotional growth the programming provides, with a lower priority given to level of observance.”

9. Is your camp accredited by the American Camp Association? 

Yes, there are many good — and beloved — camps that do not have this accreditation. But the 2,400-plus camps throughout the country that do have it have met multiple health, safety and program-quality standards, so it’s definitely a plus. 

10. What makes you different from other camps in the area? 

There are a lot of Jewish camps in the area. They have a lot of similarities, but the camps also do a pretty good job of differentiating themselves, according to Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. 

“The best way of ensuring a good match is to ask the camps. They should be able to articulate that pretty well,” he said. “In Southern California, we all know each other very well. We have a very friendly relationship. … So I think we are well equipped to talk about each other and each other’s camps. I still think parents should do their due diligence and call each of the camps they are interested in.”

MORE QUESTIONS:

  • How’s the food? Can you accommodate my picky eater and her allergies? 
  • What happens if my son is homesick, gets sick or bullied, or hurts himself? 
  • What is your camp’s Shabbat experience like? 
  • How do I prepare my child for a first time away from home? 
  • How much time will my child get to spend with siblings and friends in different age groups?

The roadmap to freedom from debt


JoAnneh Nagler and her husband know firsthand how destructive financial debt can be to a relationship.

“Our first marriage wasn’t able to withstand the financial pressure of [nearly $20,000 of] debt, so we divorced,” said Nagler, author of the book “The Debt-Free Spending Plan.” 

When she and her ex-husband remarried 14 years later, they made sure that a prenuptial agreement kept them from ever falling victim to the financial woes that destroyed their first marriage.

“We agreed that we would not engage in credit card debt, and if either one of us did, the other would not be liable. We made sure all the most important finances were laid on the table and that we employed a spending plan. Finally, we had it signed and notarized,” said Nagler, who lived for years in Los Angeles but now resides in the Northern California town of Burlingame.

Although notarizing a financial prenup might not sound like the most romantic gesture, Nagler insists that nothing helps intimacy like financial stability, trust and security.

“Relationships improve as a result of living debt-free. Your love relationship revolutionizes itself,” Nagler said. “You respect your partner more and feel more grown-up. And when you’re responsible to each other and the relationship, and honor it, then you bring more intimacy to your relationship because you’re freer with your love.”

The ascent out of debt

Many experts agree that good spending habits, as well as climbing out of debt, start with creating an easy-to-follow spending plan in the form of a chart.

Nagler recommends limiting your chart to just 10 categories to avoid making the process overwhelming. She suggests starting with the following, although you can add or delete categories based on your own spending habits: food, fuel and transportation, bills (rent, car payments, utilities, etc.), household/cleaning, clothing, beauty/grooming, drugstore, medical copays, entertainment and an extra $35 or so to cover costs if you go over in another category.

The first thing you need to do to create a spending plan is figure out how much money you have coming in each week after taxes have been removed. A general rule of thumb, according to several online financial budgeting tools, is that no more than 60 percent of one’s income each month — 50 percent, ideally — should go toward necessary bills.

The spending plan keeps track of monthly spending and sets individualized, pre-determined limits. If one category ends up costing more than anticipated, that’s OK — as long as that same amount is subtracted from another category, Nagler said.

Most experts also suggest creating an emergency fund, even when trying to pay off debt.

According to Robert Fleishman, a financial advisor at VALIC Financial Advisors Inc., in Orange, the first step of any financial plan is to create a fund for unforeseen expenses, such as major medical costs or damage to one’s car or house. Add to this fund every month, no matter what — even when trying to pay off debt.

“This is short-term savings invested in a money market account or checking account. It should contain no less than three to six months of monthly basic living expenses,” Fleishman said. 

But, it’s important to note that the savings figure varies, depending on the stability of income for an individual. “Someone who has a steady income, like a teacher or member of law enforcement, would require a smaller fund,” Fleishman said, “while someone who’s self-employed would require a larger emergency fund.”

The next step to getting out of debt — and staying out — is to write down every purchase, no matter how small. This includes the $2.50 you might be charged for taking money out of an ATM that isn’t affiliated with your bank. Writing everything down takes some getting used to, but it’s key to keeping track of and controlling your spending, Nagler said.

A common spending trap

Social spending is a common trap for those trying to save money or get out of debt. Drinks with friends, birthday dinners, late-night food truck stops and concerts can all add up — especially when you consider the cost of transportation, clothing and the requisite gift-giving that comes with some of these occasions.

Financial advisors stress that extravagant social spending isn’t worth the monetary headache.

“Yes, it’s possible to still have a social life while trying to get out of debt — it just needs to be done responsibly,” Nagler said. “Set aside some cash each month and make sure you plan, rather than spontaneously head out to drinks three times in a week. For example, my husband and I don’t go out too much if we have an upcoming dinner. And you can always do drinks instead of dinner if it’s necessary to get out of the house.”

Both Nagler and Fleishman agree that you also have to be honest with your friends and family about what you can and can’t afford.

“If you’re going out with wealthier friends, set a price limit on dinner. That way there are no hidden expectations. Most people are very understanding and supportive of friends and family who are committed to financial security. You just have to be honest and thoughtful,” Nagler said.

It’s also important not to be afraid of the stigma of being considered “poor” or “cheap.”

“People can take comfort in knowing that there’s no greater freedom and peace of mind than from being free of debt. That freedom will have a positive impact on a person’s health, longevity, family and social relationships,” Fleishman said.

Social spending gets trickier when it involves family. It’s important to set firm limits on spending and not fall prey to familial pressure to spend money on events  such as weddings and other milestones.

“People feel pressure to create the perfect ‘event of a lifetime’: weddings, anniversary parties, bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras — you have to get rid of that expectation,” Nagler said. “Don’t refinance the house for a kid’s wedding. It’s that simple.”

Cash or credit?

While there is no consensus on the best place to put your money, nor on the best way to pay for things, it’s important to spend consciously and responsibly.

“Placing large purchases on credit cards sponsored by airlines is fine on occasion,” Fleishman said. “The mileage perks can be truly valuable, but you must avoid falling into the trap of paying only the minimum monthly balance as you go.”

Nagler, on the other hand, believes in paying for everything in cash. “Of course, you can use a debit card — rather than carrying large amounts of cash — as long as you keep track of the balance, but in the end they will both keep you from going into debt.”

In the end, the most important tool anyone can use to get out of debt — and stay out — is a spending plan and the determination to stick with it.

“It’s not about deprivation,” Nagler said. “It’s like a diet — you can only completely deprive yourself for so long before falling off the horse. A budget says to people ‘constriction.’ A spending plan should include setting aside money to pay for things that make life meaningful, whether that’s a date night twice a month, a yearly vacation or money for art supplies. You have to be able to enjoy life.”

The Nation and The World


 

New Anti-Semitism Report

The U.S. State Department praised the work of European governments against anti-Semitism, but said law enforcement must do more to respond to anti-Semitic crimes. The State Department�(tm)s report addressing anti-Semitic incidents around the world – slated for release Wednesday and obtained in advance by JTA – comes after Congress passed a law last year mandating increased monitoring of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The report says recent anti-Semitism has come from traditional anti-Jewish prejudice in Europe, along with anti-Israel sentiment “that crosses the line between objective criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism.” It also cites anti-Jewish sentiment among Muslims in Europe, and spillover criticism of the United States and globalization.

Holocaust Lawyer Charged

A lawyer involved in the lawsuit against Swiss banks for Holocaust-era accounts was charged with misappropriating funds from two survivors. The Office of Attorney Ethics in New Jersey, the investigative arm of the New Jersey Supreme Court, charged last month that Ed Fagan, one of the lead attorneys in the case that resulted in a $1.25 billion settlement, transferred funds from the survivors�(tm) accounts to pay off debts. Fagan has yet to respond to the charges, which were first reported by the Black Star News.

Peruvian Community Gets Rabbi

An “emerging Jewish” community in Peru now has a rabbi and Jewish educator. The Jewish professionals serving the community in Trujillo are courtesy of the Israel-based Shavei Israel group. The community dates back to the mid-1960s, when several hundred Peruvian Catholics decided to live as Jews. Some 300 members of the community have already moved to Israel.

WJC Faces Informal Probe

New York�(tm)s attorney general has launched a preliminary inquiry into allegations that the World Jewish Congress (WJC) mishandled its finances. In a statement, the group said it promised to cooperate with the informal probe launched recently by Eliot Spitzer. Officials with the group have said issues of financial transparency, which have roiled the organization in recent months, will be laid to rest at a meeting next week in Brussels. At the meeting, Stephen Herbits is expected to be nominated to the post of secretary-general, and the organization�(tm)s president, Edgar Bronfman, is expected to be re-elected.

Abuse in Ethiopia?

A North American Jewish group was accused of abusing Ethiopian Jews waiting to immigrate to Israel. According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, some people living and working in Ethiopia accused the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ) of refusing to distribute food to the Falash Mura at the group�(tm)s Addis Ababa compound; of treating Ethiopians employed in a sewing facility like slave laborers; of threatening those who cry foul at their treatment; and of dispatching a thug to rough people up. NACOEJ denied the accusations, insisting the claims were born of a labor dispute between the organization and some school teachers that NACOEJ fired and who were refused permission to immigrate by Israel. NACOEJ�(tm)s executive director, Barbara Ribakove Gordon, told the Post that, as a result of some Ethiopian trouble-makers, the group had to shut down its school in Addis Ababa, which also served as its food-distribution hub, for three weeks, and that the group was unable to operate the program during that time. Some 300 Falash Mura Ethiopians whose Jewish ancestors converted to Christianity but who now have returned to Jewish practice immigrate to Israel each month, and thousands more are waiting.

Vatican: Don�(tm)t Return Survivor Kids

The Vatican instructed French churches that protected Jewish children during the Holocaust not to return the young Jews to their families at war�(tm)s end. According to a letter from Nov. 20, 1946, published this week in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the wartime pope, Pius XII, said that children who had been baptized while in the church�(tm)s guardianship should not be reunited with surviving members of their families, Ha�(tm)aretz reported. “The documents indicate that the Vatican completely ignored the Holocaust and murder of Jews,” Amos Luzzatto, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, was quoted as saying in Ha�(tm)aretz. “There is a sticking to theological arguments as though this were an ordinary situation, when in practice these children were not entrusted to churches to convert to Christianity but to save them from murder.” The pope�(tm)s letter was sent to Angelo Roncalli the Vatican representative in Paris who later became Pope John XXIII who shortly thereafter told Israel�(tm)s then-chief rabbi that Roncalli�(tm)s authority could be used to return such children to their families.

Clerics Talk Reconciliation

Rabbis and imams opened a three-day peace conference in Brussels. Around 100 clerics attended the symposium, which began Monday under the auspices of Belgium�(tm)s King Albert II and the Hommes de Parole Foundation.

“For the first time, two religions that have been too often used as a pretext for war will be used to achieve peace,” the event�(tm)s Web site said. Rabbi Michael Melchior, a left-wing Israeli politician and Norway�(tm)s chief rabbi, said Jews had as much to learn from the conference as Muslims.

“There are religious leaders on both sides who incite to violence in the name of religion,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “And that must be stopped.” The attending imams came from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Sao Paulo Jews Face Missionaries

Brazil�(tm)s largest Jewish community published a guide to combat missionary activities. Supported by the U.S.-based organization Jews for Judaism, the Sao Paulo State Jewish Federation published an online guide on its Portuguese language Web site, www.fisesp.org.br, to teach Jews how to resist Jews for Jesus and other Christian missionaries. Some 60,000 Jews, one-half of Brazilian Jewry, live in Sao Paulo.

Farewell, Foie Gras

Israeli geese farmers were given three months to stop force-feeding their livestock, a step in making foie gras. On Monday, the Knesset�(tm)s Education and Culture Committee upheld a High Court of Justice ban, as of April 1, on the controversial practice of force-feeding geese. The decision was a triumph for animal-rights activists and a snub to the Agriculture Ministry, which had argued that a humane method of feeding could be devised.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

For Richer or Poorer


Money has always been a divisive issue in Christina and John Barton’s 19-year marriage. John “nearly broke out in a sweat” when he saw the $60 dinner bill. “I call him the original tightwad,” says Christina, 47, describing herself as more free-spending than her husband.

Recently, the Bartons bought their first new car in 10 years; they still don’t have matching furniture. “I had to introduce him to motorized tools,” she says, “because he was using cheaper manual ones.”

It is common to find couples with different, and even conflicting, attitudes toward spending money. One partner agonizes over purchases; the other buys impulsively. One spends an entire paycheck on holiday gifts; the other gives only inexpensive homemade presents.

While people in a relationship don’t always begin as financial opposites, it isn’t unusual for them to end up in those roles, says Olivia Mellan, co-author of “Money Shy to Money Sure: A Woman’s Road Map to Financial Well-Being” (Walker Publishing).

Dating couples can avoid fights over those kinds of disparate spending habits by keeping their finances separate, according to Mellan. A man may dislike the fact that his girlfriend buys expensive handbags, or a woman may think her boyfriend spends too much on high-tech gadgets, but neither can tell the other what to buy. Disagreements are limited to issues such as how much to spend when the couple goes out: The woman wants box seats at a Dodgers game while the man wants to pay only for bleacher seats.

But once a couple are married or living together and have a shared stake in their assets, disagreements can escalate. Partners feel they have a right to comment on how the other person spends money.

Divergent attitudes toward bigger money issues, such as how much to spend on a car, a house, or care for an elderly relative, can cause serious rifts in relationships. In fact, in the United States, where half of all marriages end in divorce, disputes over money consistently rank among the leading causes of breakups. In second marriages, the number of arguments over spending habits often increases because the couple bring more financial baggage to the altar, including obligations such as debts and alimony payments that can cause resentment or distrust.

The birth of a child can exacerbate these money differences. As the child grows, a couple may argue over whether to enroll him in an expensive private school. When a child is in college or announces an engagement, the couple may disagree over how much financial support they should offer.

Having more money does not necessarily decrease the disputes, experts say. Earning some disposable income can reduce stress, especially for couples living on the edge of poverty, but it can also lead to more fights over how to spend the extra money.

Keeping the Peace

What strategies can help couples with different spending habits keep peace in their marriage? Many spouses avoid marital turmoil by not revealing every detail and dollar they spend to each other. Those who use that strategy confide that, by not mentioning certain purchases or not announcing the price of a new shirt or haircut, they avoid fights.

David Bach, author of “Smart Couples Finish Rich” (Broadway Books, $25), recommends “he, she and we” accounts.

Bach, a financial adviser, recommends that couples wanting to reduce or avoid money fights plan for the future — for emergencies and for fun. Some of his money strategies include:

  • Before marriage, forge a consensus on what to do with income, including the amount that should go into a retirement account and the amount to put away in a security basket.

  • Open up a dream account, where spouses contribute money for short-term dreams, such as a vacation or a boat, or for long-term dreams, such as a summer home.

  • Hire a financial adviser who can help manage and invest money, and be blamed if something goes wrong.

  • For second marriages, sign a prenuptial agreement if spouses bring unequal assets to the marriage.

  • For unmarried couples living together, draft a letter of agreement as to what will happen financially in the case of a breakup.

Appreciating Differences

With communication and compromise, couples can learn to grow together in their spending styles.

Christina and John Barton have frequent talks about money, which helps them focus on their priorities rather than get angry about their different spending patterns. They don’t keep secrets or separate accounts, though John knows better than to ask what some purchases cost. He’ll now agree to go out for an ice cream splurge with their children, and over the years she has become more conscientious about impulsive spending. They have come to realize that they share the desire to retain a lifestyle in which she can be a homemaker, and that they don’t want to own any material things so much that it would require her to go back to work.

At the same time, distinctive styles of spending can serve a useful role for couples. They can balance one another’s excesses: Two big spenders can spell financial ruin, while two tightwads can mean a sterile, miserly existence. Partners in healthy relationships become less rigid in their spending modes and “learn to acknowledge and appreciate each other’s spending styles,” says Mellan, who is also a psychotherapist. Experts suggest that couples regularly discuss their values and goals in order to understand and appreciate each other’s spending habits. Rather than fight over the cost of a cleaning person, they should talk about how much they value having a tidy house. Rather than criticize her husband for wanting to spend too much on a home renovation, a wife can talk to him about how she’s always dreamed of taking a cruise. “Most couples never talk about their values,” Bach says, “but it’s important and fun to ask, ‘What are we working for? What do we care most about? Are we using our money to follow our dreams?'”

Both spouses gain by working with each other’s existing spending habits, rather than trying to change them, which isn’t so easily done, according to Mellan. Spending habits form from a combination of parental influences and societal messages, she says.

Gender issues also affect how people spend money. Men tend to be risk-takers while women avoid risks, Mellan explains. A man may wish to spend more on a home that can potentially be a good investment, while a woman may rather keep the money in the bank. When a woman goes back to work after being home with her children, her spending habits may change as well. That happened to Barbara Selter, 51, when she returned to work as a consultant after staying home to care for her young daughters. While at home, she mentioned every little clothing purchase to her husband, even though he didn’t expect it. Going back to work changed her mind-set: “I work hard,” she figured, “so I’m entitled to spend on an extravagant item if I want it.”

Successful relationships require a certain level of acceptance of different spending styles. A wife may not understand why her husband buys so many music CDs and he may not comprehend why she wants to own 30 pairs of shoes, but so long as they are saving enough for their future, spouses should respect each other’s spending desires. Mellan recommends that to reduce anger or resentment, each partner should put himself or herself in the other’s place and try to understand why he or she spends in a particular way.

People can sometimes inadvertently enjoy their partner’s spending mode if they yield to it. Christina Barton still remembers her first vacation with her frugal husband. They went to Massachusetts in February to take advantage of low rates at a bed-and-breakfast. “We were the only ones there,” she says. “It was New England in winter, we were young and in love, and it was incredibly romantic.”

Bonding Over Bonds


Monique Maas Gibbons believes that in the 21st century women will be more in charge of their finances than ever before.

“Now we have to start thinking about how to save and how to make our money grow,” Gibbons told the Journal.

So Gibbons herself started thinking. The result was “Women and Investing: Private Asset Management,” an intimate lecture recently held at the Four Seasons Hotel.

Gibbons is co-chair of the Business and Professional Women’s Division, a branch of the Women’s Campaign of the United Jewish Fund (and an extension of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles).

Coordinated by Carmen Portnoy, a financial consultant for Merrill Lynch, “Women and Investing” featured representatives from investment institutions Nuveen Asset Management, Regent Investor Services, Munder Capital Management and Credit Suisse Asset Management (CSAM) to share their financial expertise and advice for the 30 professionals in attendance.

Before launching into the intricacies of municipal bonds and customized portfolio management, Lisa Hallaian, Nuveen’s regional vice president, told her intimate audience that women are 46% better at investing than men, as they tend to be more conservative in their decision-making, while less impulsive and emotional.

Michele Sackheim, an attendee who is also a chair of the Federation’s Dental Division, said, “Overall it was a successful event. I certainly learned a lot, although I think it was geared for people with higher net worth.” She added that she believes that the Business and Professionals Division is doing a great job: They have raised $8.5 million in the past year alone.

“I enjoy meeting other professional women,” Sackheim told the Journal. “It’s nice to be inspired by my peers.”

For more information on Business and Professional Women’s Division, call (310) 689-3680. Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Israel: Land of Sustainable Growth?


The captains of Israel’s economy told world economic leaders at the annual conference of the International Monetary Fund last month that Israel’s sluggish economy is set for a revival after a three-year slowdown.

Rosy government forecasts have been backed by a series of recent reports issued by leading financial analysts, who see Israel’s economy pulling out of the slowdown that has pushed unemployment up to nearly 9 percent since 1997.

But at the same time, some economic experts are warning that despite signs of an upturn, the prospects of Israel enjoying sustainable long-term growth are unlikely without a serious change in the composition of the budget and the political framework that creates it.

Speaking to the Ha’aretz daily newspaper from the Washington conference, Avraham Shohat, Israel’s finance minister, said he believes Israel has turned the corner.

“One cannot say for sure that we have already reached rapid growth,” Shohat said. “I feel that we’re passed the lowest point. It depends on a lot of factors but there are definitely positive indicators.”

Shohat said he believes the economy will grow at about 3 percent next year. Israel’s gross domestic product — the total amount of goods and services produced in an economy and a standard measure of economic growth — grew only about 2 percent in both 1997 and 1998, and a mere 0.3 percent during the first half of this year. In contrast, the gross domestic product grew at a rapid rate of about 6 percent a year during the mid-1990s.

Shohat’s optimism was confirmed by reports released last week by Salomon Smith Barney and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, two leading investment banks, which argued that Israel’s credit ratings should be raised. These ratings are measures of an economy’s overall status and stability, and higher ratings can help a country raise funds at lower interest rates.

Both reports cited Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s recent election, and his determination to forge regional peace and to maintain stable economic policies. Salomon Smith Barney said Israel’s leaders have decided “that the country’s future lies in deeper and broader integration with the world economy” and praised the government’s “commitment to prudent economic policies and structural reforms.”

The reports were referring to the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to approve a budget for the year 2000 based on cuts of about $1.4 billion to projected spending for next year. This allayed fears that Shochat, who served as finance minister under the previous Labor-led government from 1992 to 1996, would continue his previous policy of high government spending, which fuels inflation.

However, when Knesset members and ministers returned from their Sukkot vacations, the annual slugfest over the budget promptly began. The budget must be approved by year’s end.

This, say some critics, is the real problem. Even if the budget framework is reasonable, they say, political pressures prevent a distribution of funds to sectors that can give a boost to the economy and create jobs. The way to boost growth, they say, is not a matter of how much is spent, but how it is spent.

For example, government investment in public works projects such as roads and infrastructure is considered a key to economic revival.

Although the government has pledged to increase such spending, it is still unclear to what extent this will be reflected in the budget.

Pinchas Landau, a veteran Israeli economic commentator, said the current Israeli political system, in which every faction fights for funds without considering the bigger picture, has created a “warped and flawed” budget composition in which Israeli government expenditures will always rise — and in the wrong directions.

In the long term, he said, this will be unsustainable: “Either it will just roll on until it blows up — and that is the more likely scenario — or there will be a change in the focus of the government.”

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