“WIWAK” is an anagram for, “When I Was A Kid.” I’ve discovered that one repeats it with even greater frequency as one grows older. Prefacing a comment with “WIWAK,” serves a two-fold purpose: It challenges the foolishness of the current age (Surely, we were never as empty-headed as today’s youth). And second, it makes old-timers nostalgic, reminiscing over days gone by (Note: I do not include myself as an “old-timer;” I continue to relish my mid-life status).
Still, “WIWAK,” life did indeed seem simpler. I could leave on my single-speed bicycle on a summer day and roam for miles unimpeded, so long as I got home before the front porch light was flipped on at dusk. No phones. No texts. No check-ins.
“WIWAK,” there were no rubber pellets lining the playground for our safety. If you fell, it hurt. You “rubbed some dirt on it” and carried on. “WIWAK,” we climbed monkey bars, jumped from swings, and tumbled down slides that were two stories high. If someone broke an arm, he or she was told to be more careful next time, not provided an attorney by which to sue the principal.
Things were cheaper “WIWAK” too. The year I was born (remember, I’m not an old-timer), the median price of a home in the US was $25,000; a new car averaged $3,500; gasoline was 40 cents per gallon. And a four-year college education cost $8,000. That same education costs about $130,000 now; and when today’s kids grow old enough to say, “WIWAK,” their children will pay nearly half of a million dollars for their education.
Such dramatic increases are the result of more than inflation. Helaine Olen has pointed out that families today spend three-quarter’s of their income on housing, healthcare, and education. That’s an unfathomable increase of 25% from “WIWAK.” Wages have risen over this period, but not enough. In no state in the US can a person working for minimum wage afford to rent a median two-bedroom apartment, let alone save for the future.
Judaism recognized that such inequality was bound to develop over time. The radical solution was something called, “Jubilee.” Every fifty years, Jewish society had a master re-set. Debts were forgiven. Indentured servants were set free. Repossessed land was returned. The slide into generational poverty was broken.
Could such a practice become a reality in the era of globalized capitalism? No. But there are those who are returning to this idea, creatively seeking ways to implement the spirit of Jubilee. They do this, not just because it is “right,” but because no society can long survive without giving people a chance to escape economic imprisonment.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” I knew this “WIWAK,” and this generation knows it as well.