Tourists are back, but are things back to normal? - opinion

Are things back to normal now that tourists are back in Israel for Sukkot?

 THE ‘UMBRELLA STREET’ in downtown Jerusalem is seen nearly empty. Will the streets now be filled again? (photo credit: SETH ARONSTAM)
THE ‘UMBRELLA STREET’ in downtown Jerusalem is seen nearly empty. Will the streets now be filled again?
(photo credit: SETH ARONSTAM)

The tourists are back for Sukkot! Walking around Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, the predominant language heard is English. Just before I sat down to write this column, I went into the supermarket in my building and had to serve as a translator between the Arab worker and the tourist-speaking Brooklynese. It seems that after a few years of coronavirus, maybe, just maybe, things are back to normal.

An important aspect of Sukkot is unity. We take the lulav along with the other three species, hold them together as one unit, make the blessing and shake them. This Sukkot, which follows shmita (sabbatical year, the seventh year in which the land is to lie fallow), we will reenact the ceremony held during both the First and Second Temple periods, where every seven years, the entire nation, men, women and children, came together for the Hakhel ceremony to increase Torah observance and study and foster an environment of fear of Hashem. In many ways, this was the ultimate expression of national unity.

Pre-COVID, during Sukkot, I would receive calls from children who are here visiting their elderly parents and want to discuss managing their parents’ finances. As life expectancy continues to increase, the burden of both financially and physically caring for aging parents is one of the most important and pressing issues for adult children that exists today. 

Just to complicate matters, the trend of many brokerage firms discontinuing servicing accounts of US citizens living abroad makes it even more challenging than ever before. It’s sometimes difficult for families to retain harmony and still provide the necessary care needed for their parents. 

Is there a "best" method for success?

 JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) JEWS PRAY at the Western Wall on Jerusalem Day. The Kotel is the most visited site in Israel, according to the Tourism Ministry. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

I don’t believe that there is a “best” method for success. No two families are alike, and each family needs to understand its own dynamics. The goal should be to limit the amount of family discord while providing the greatest quality of financial oversight.

The most common case I see is where there is one child living in Israel, and the rest of the siblings still live abroad. The elderly parents then decide to make aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh. The siblings come to consult on a financial plan for their parents. We discuss the assets, the basic income requirements and health-related expenses. The sibling living here accepts the burden of physically caring for their parents, and all of the siblings plan on jointly handling the money. Then, they all return to their various homes. Can you smell trouble?

Since the rest of the siblings are far away, they begin to lose touch with the day-to-day issues involved in caring for their parents. But when it comes to financial decisions, they are all supremely confident that their opinion is correct. The child actually cares for the parents, on the other hand, though no money wiz, is the one who has to pay all the parents’ bills. There is often an incredible disconnect between them in terms of financial priorities. They all seem to have their own agenda.

Furthermore, each sibling doesn’t want to burden the other, so they call the adviser(s) with minor details. The lack of clear communication between the siblings themselves and their parents makes for a tricky situation.

No emotions

Siblings need to communicate with each other, and they definitely should consult with an adviser if they need help in creating a financial plan. It often takes an objective third party to smooth out emotional flashpoints and maintain family unity. A financial adviser can develop a plan for an elderly parent in consultation with the responsible sibling and then can invite the rest of the siblings in to hear the proposal. 

Assuming control of your parents’ financial responsibilities can be emotionally draining and time-consuming and can tear apart even the best families. Having a concrete plan as to what needs to be done, and who should do it, can help mitigate some of the emotional energy. Siblings should be prepared to consult with one another and assign specific duties to all the family members according to their individual abilities. With some smart planning, each family can make it through this process unified.

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Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial professional both in the US and Israel.