The Good Life – In Israel

When my family and I visited the United States this summer, my seven-and-a-half year old son, Shemer, became a businessman. Someone bought him a bag of polished stones and he decided he was going to sell them for a dollar each. By the time Shemer returned to Israel he had turned a four-dollar bag of rocks into $28.

Shemer has always been interested in money and realized at an early age that having money was a good thing. When he was once asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he answered, “Rich.” On another occasion when we told him we did not have the money to buy him something, he simply told us to go to the store and buy more money.

More recently he naively told us that he wished he had a tree that grew money. This was after Shemer’s funds were getting low having had bought himself a soccer ball. Therefore, he took his recent earnings provided by the tooth fairy to the local dollar store and bought himself a bag of about fifty marbles for five shekels with the intention of selling them. He and I set up a table on a neighborhood street corner with his marbles and a sign. After an hour, Shemer decided that it was enough. He had sold nine marbles for a shekel each, almost a 100% profit in an hour with plenty of marbles left to sell on another day.

There is an old joke: How do you become a millionaire in Israel? Come with two million. While that is not exactly true as I know several people who have done very well in Israeli high-tech and venture capital funds, in general people who move to Israel from America leave aside their materialism for other priorities, myself included.

Therefore, it is with some disappointment, but also some pride and admiration, that I find it very difficult to speak with Shemer about what he learned in school, but can have an hour long conversation about commerce, exchange rates, interest rates and business opportunities. While we were in America, Shemer knew that the dollar was equivalent to 4.5 shekels. He learned the 4.5 multiplication table as he constantly calculated the value of his dollars in shekels. However, it was impossible to get him to do his homework.

If business is where Shemer’s talents lies, it is something that I will try to encourage. Like every parent I hope that my children are more successful than I am. Hopefully, my wife and I are raising our sons with good values and if Shemer happens to be obsessed with making money and is good at it, I suppose that it isn’t such a bad thing. However, I also hope that my children’s values will reflect my own so I try to temper Shemer’s preoccupation with money and I try to sensitize him to the rest of the world. I am especially aware that raising children in Israel, they have very little contact with non-Jews.

Ironically over the past few months, we have become friendly with several converts to Judaism. This fact only emerged as we became close friends. These are people who converted on their own as they became alienated with Christianity and searched for something that made more sense to them. Speaking to them, and to Shemer about some of the differences and similarities between Christianity and Judaism, I have become more appreciative that I was born a Jew.

Living in Israel, I am always mindful of the supportive community we have here. In the past year, our synagogue, Moreshet Avraham, a Conservative synagogue in the East Talpiot neighborhood of Jerusalem, has grown from about 110 families to around 150. Most of these families are new immigrants from the United States. They have joined saying, “This is what we were looking for.” It is a nice reminder for me to hear after being in Israel for close to seventeen years reaffirming the main reason that I moved to Israel which was to be in a warm community of people like me, in a place where I feel I belong.

Just as meeting others who have decided to come home to Israel reinforces my feelings, hearing the stories of those who have chosen to be Jewish gives me an appreciation of having been born a Jew.

It is easy to look at the difficulties of being a Jew, of living in Israel and of having children whose priorities may differ from my own. However, as Shemer counts his money every morning and every evening and as I worry about how consumed he seems to be with wealth and material posessions, I am mindful of how lucky I am to be blessed with a bright, resourceful and intelligent son. I do not take this for granted just as I appreciate the many other things in my life which others, were they in my place, might not.

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