MEM 106: Supporting the Local Economy
When Missy Older and I traveled to Israel, in 2002, on the occasion of her becoming Bat Mitzvah (family members having been lavish in their gift to her of two airline tickets), I tried to make a point of “supporting the local economy.” At the time, I had figured that any money I invested in goods or services, while in The Holy Land, would help resident Jews. I was mistaken.
On the one hand, all of the eateries, where we guested, and most of the shops, where we bought presents for our generous relatives, for our other relatives, and for our friends were Jewish-owned and staffed. Money spent at those places did go into our kin’s pockets. However, in Israel, as is true of the rest of the Middle East, all was and still is not what it appears to be.
Consider, for example, the money I handed over to the seller of stuffed camels. Whereas it is necessarily kitsch to bring such plush beasts back to Hutz l’Aretz, I have never been beyond engaging in such sentimental behavior. Just as I had to have a picture of a live, four-legged Bedouin “vehicle” during that initial visit, I also had to have manufactured samples of the same. The problem was that I believed that by buying what I knew to be overprices goods I was helping my Israeli brothers and sisters. So, I purchased many gifts in the shop of the first hotel in which we stayed. Sadly, my acquisition of those knick-knacks did not help any Jews pay any debts.
Other people were wise to the profit to be had from the wallets of naïve, foreign, religious Jews. Some of our ethnic cousins were running and staffing that hotel, smart in their assumption that observant Jews from far away lands might be gullible. When I learned the truth behind the identity of the proprietors and management of that place, I was crushed; I thought I had intentionally giving over my hard earned, imported currency to helping my brethren noble enough to stake a claim in the wilds of Israel. Instead, I was funding the folks who meant to drive my extended family out.
Hand wave. A decade passes. Baruch Hashem, my family makes aliyah. My husband and I merit, b’ayin tova, to watch our children grow and even to get married here. Hopefully, we’ve grown, too. Mindful consumerism has become increasingly important to us. In both times of plenty and the opposite, our mindset about money had to change.
That change can be marked by contrasting our responses to situations that occurred during the early years of our aliyah, to ones that happened later. “Fryers” describes the former whereas, I hope, “fortified” describes the latter.
In our early span in Israel, a certain nonprofit organization, one to which I, as a young girl, had send my paltry coins, was revealed to favor our ethnic cousins’ “right” to destroy our forests over Jews’ right to improve our ecosystem. Few major news sources reported this big organization’s tendency, and fewer made mention that such practices continue unabated. Simply, the fundraisers of this well known organization look away when our ethnic cousins level prime real estate through arson, but engage in behind the scenes prestidigitation, which causes civil liberties to be taken from Jews, who protest such nonsense. When I complained about one such incident, I “got off easy” since I was merely yelled at for reporting it and then was repeatedly hang up on, sent to voice mail, or otherwise ignored. Those folks thought they had dissuaded me from testifying to the media or the law.
Another early aliyah incident I suffered in the marketplace. My family needed to buy appliances. We were not yet savvy to the reality that some people are so determined to be in charge of the amount and the advent of their income that they willingly step on others. In brief, my family was offered what we now refer to as “special American pricing.” Based on our accents and on our inferior command of Hebrew, the salespeople offered us extraordinarily inflated prices for inferior goods. Sadly, we had assumed that folks who attended a synagogue, of any type, would be honest.
Then there was the family that wanted to sell us their apartment. The problem was that their unit boasted an illegal addition. Had we bought it, we would have had to pay to demolish that room. A different seller tried to charge us twice the market rate for his unit since “everyone knows” Americans came to Israel “with bags of money.” What’s more, when we called out those Israelis for their unscrupulous behavior, they neither denied their intentions nor apologized for trying to gyp us, but, instead, muttered something like “you won’t catch me next time.” I expected higher morals from kin.
These days, (my husband and) I act more jaded. Last week, for example, when a cab driver tried to shoo another driver from making a collection, I reported him. More specifically, although I had called his company for a ride, that driver greeted me with a car already containing a patron, the lady whom the shooed away driver was supposed to pick up. I refused to ride with the enterprising driver despite his protest that sharing would cause me only to “detour a little” and would “save money.” When I reached for my cell phone to dial his manager, he pulled away. A minute later, the other driver, the one that had been shooed, gave me the private ride I had ordered.
Also recently, on an intercity bus, some late stop, belligerent passengers decided to hold a sit in. Their choice caused us existent passengers to be unwillingly stopped in our journey for almost an hour. Those would-be riders thought they could make the bus company comply to send more vehicles if they held a bus hostage. While we were waiting, I pointed out to the ringleader that their practice was creating an ethical dilemma. Offset against any good their action might achieve was all of the harm they were causing the people already on the bus. Not surprising, that leader literally turned his back to me. Unfortunately, in the end, most of those persons were escorted, by the police, off of the bus. No additional buses were ordered (except, perhaps one to the police station) and dozens of people were inconvenienced.
While my family’s grown savvier, we’ve also grown more world-weary. We’ve seen some people pose as who they’re not, and we’ve noticed that some people have no gumption about cheating or otherwise stealing. In balance, we’ve retained the belief that financial generosity still builds schools, hospitals, mikvot, and more. Smart responses to economic quandaries, even for those of us who only dream of having to wrestle with “questions of investments,” remain an important part of life.