by Tinamarie Bernard June 21, 2010


the price of being jewish

I divorced last year. One of the consequences included a settlement from a home my ex-husband and I owned in Mission Hills. He bought me out. For most of the year, I relaxed my financial concerns because of the buffer the booming real estate brought to my bottom line. It wasn’t until last month that I realized I spent $30,000 from my savings over the course of a year. I said to myself, “Whoa Girl! You gotta get a handle on your money!” Yes, I furnished a home, paid for a divorce, bought an entirely new wardrobe to go with my smaller body, hired a consultant to assist me with my book and literary efforts, and traveled to New York and Israel. The money that slipped through my fingers was in addition to my earnings as a pharmaceutical salesperson. I was living larger than my budget. Clearly, I could benefit from a reality check (with lots of zeros at the end, please!) and budget sheet.

Some folks may be squeamish to read about my money matters (That’s an over-share, Tinamarie). Others may inquire as to my relationship status (She owned that home for how long? Six years of equity in Mission Hills is worth a date). I’m neither boasting nor searching for advances, financial or romantic. I share this private information to highlight a shift in attitude regarding money. The attitude I refer to old, but my experience of it as a Jew-to-be is new.

My propensity to spend is long-standing. My friends and family know me as generous; perhaps a little too free-handed with my cash. They’ve often counseled me on the virtues of budgets. Many times. Making a budget appeared prudent. It was sticking to a plan that usually derailed me. Now I’m finally heading their advice. Becoming savvy about my spending, I anticipated, would elicit accolades and support. Finally, she’s getting the hang of living within her means! Well, the kudos are there, but I notice a subtle change in attitude and response too. Silence. Or even worse, joking comments about how I really am becoming Jewish. Now that I’m joining the Tribe, I’m learning how to negotiate, bargain and guard my money with the best of them. Ouch.

My money management goals have nothing to do with being a “convertee.” They have everything to do with fiscal intelligence. Spending like the government may be acceptable for the big guys; the IRS and the Governmental Budgeting Office work funny math. For a single mom going it alone, common sense and basic arithmetic must prevail. Money Out must equal or be less than Money In. What does being Jewish have to do with that?

Nothing and Everything. The world views Jews different when it comes to money. Whether this perspective is couched in positive terms (“Jews just want good value for their dollar”) or in unconcealed anti-Semitism (“I just got “Jewed” on that deal!”), this difference is as real as my la-la-like spending over the past year. Tinamarie the Goy being frugal: she’s prudent. Tinamarie the Goy-Between being frugal: she’s stingy. I don’t know whether to laugh from discomfort or look folks in the eye and ask them if I’m imagining this censure. It’s happened enough times over the past few months to convince me I’m not. As I move towards Judaism, I notice the changes in how I relate to others, and how they relate to me. Some of my interactions include objectionable views about Jews and money.

These comments come from strangers and acquaintances, but also from intelligent, accepting and open-minded people I’ve known for years. Apparently, prejudicial thinking creeps in, even among the brightest and kindest. It’s a slippery slope. I even caught myself questioning if my money smarts result from some newly discovered Jewish sensibility. That thought made me feel weird. What if I became a Catholic? Would implications about repressed guilt over money be forthcoming? If that sounds nutty, than the dissonance of my experience is apparent. That religion or culture may have anything to do with how a person is perceived regarding financial matters is obnoxious. I’m also preaching to the choir or kvetching depending on your idiomatic inclination. Some people reading this probably think, welcome to our world, Tinamarie. You pay a price to be a Jew.

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