Sunday, July 13, 2014

Whose Money Is It Really?

The last time my father saw his parents and his brother Emanuel was in 1934,  when he was 21 years old. My father had worked for a Jewish firm  in Berlin, and when the firm was transferred to Palestine he moved with them. Immigration to British Mandate Palestine was banned, but some Jewish businesses were granted a certificate, and this is how my father was saved from the Nazis. My father’s younger brother Ignaz miraculously survived the war and multiple concentration camps, and settled in Germany. In 1956, twenty-two years after they had last seen each other, my father boarded a ship to go visit him.

In the fifties, Israel and West Germany signed a reparation agreement, and my father was granted compensation for the property that he had lost. At that time they were big demonstrations against signing the agreement, and my father too did not want to take any money. My mother, who immigrated to Israel in 1935 from Romania with her parents and enjoyed the support of a loving family, told him: “you can’t refuse the money, it is not for you but for your children,” so my father agreed.

My mother believed that as my father was deprived of his inheritance and the support of his parents, the money from the reparations could at least compensate for the financial loss. My mother, usually a mild and understated woman, was adamant about accepting the reparation money. Thanks to that money my brother was able to get expensive cello lessons, I got my teeth straightened, and we were able to buy an apartment. Only twenty years later did my parents  take their first trip together, when they were already in their fifties.

When my parents died they left me a small inheritance, which was more than I had expected. While I am grateful for their love and concern, I am also sad that they did not take more trips and vacations while they were still young enough to enjoy them. But I also find that in a curious way, my mother's advice and example is always there to remind me not to be too relaxed with [my?] money.
Some time ago I read with my students an article by Jeff D. Opdyke  (Family Money: "Whose Inheritance Is It Anway?" Financial Times  8.10.2004); it dealt with the question of inheritance, how much money should  parents leave their children. The writer, a young man, noticed that several friends of his were worried that their parents were spending  all "their” inheritance money.  He asked his own father how he felt about that issue. The father said that he believed that if children behaved decently toward their parents it was their responsibility to leave the children some of what they themselves had received as an inheritance. I asked my students to write their opinion about this issue, unlike the friends of the Financial Times’  writer, many responded that they they wanted their parents to enjoy their  money.

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