BY CHARLES GOLDBERG / AJT //
For many of us, Rosh Hashanah is a time of spiritual reawakening.
It’s a time for reflecting on our Jewish values and remembering actions we have taken this past year to live by those values. Have we, in fact, been true to ourselves and lived by the values that we teach others?
When I began my financial and tax planning career 23 years ago, my Jewish faith was obvious to most people because I didn’t eat pork at business meals and kept Shabbos even during tax season.
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Most of my fellow CPAs and clients I worked with in public accounting were not Jewish and were unaware of our traditions and rules. While I explained specific Jewish practices when people asked me about them, most of the time I kept my conversation to values that are universally shared.
Today, the majority of my clients are neither Jewish nor strongly religious, but I believe many have been drawn to me because they feel I stand for something which is lacking on Wall Street and in Washington today.
The recession has awakened many people to value saving and to stop spending on things that they can’t afford. As a financial advisor, my job is to have real conversations about why responsible financial behavior is good for the family, society in general – and for the soul.
Having been raised in a traditional Jewish family in New York, I have learned not to worry that opening a conversation about values means asking questions that will be intrusive or uncomfortable.
Whether I meet with Jews or non-Jews, we can still focus on common values, not the small differences between religious practices. By focusing on common values, I believe many of my clients stayed with me because of the way we talked about their lives, not because I chose the best-performing mutual funds or stock of the day.
There are some distinct Jewish values that influence the way I relate to clients in my practice. They include:
The English translation is “healing the world.” Every person has innate talents that can make the world a better place. Each one of us is needed to uplift and transform our world into a better version of itself. I encourage clients to find their unique contribution to this process.
Being a mensch
A “mensch” is the Yiddish word for a human being who contributes something by his presence to the world he lives in. As an advisor, I try to be upright and ensure that I do what I say.
This Hebrew phrase contains the thought that we are all created in the image of G-d. Remembering tzelem elokim helps me to be compassionate and empathize when clients fail or struggle with changes. My respect for their efforts helps to keep me on track, remembering the importance of their task.
For example, I have a few clients who, some might say, were not really tackling the changes they needed to make. In fact, one Dunwoody couple recently expressed to me that they were incredulous that I continued to work with them in spite of their slow progress.
Yet the couple told me about small changes they were taking on: bringing lunch every day instead of eating out, taking MARTA to work to make use of an employer subsidy rather than paying high daily fees to park, and limiting their meals out by paying in cash instead of putting it on a credit card.
Slowly but surely, they were building cash reserves where there had been none.
I told them that I saw them as working hard to change their financial behavior and that I had deep respect for their efforts. The important thing was they were becoming conscious of how they spend their money and were trying bit-by-bit to contain overspending.
Many of my clients reacted to the recent recession with relative calm. As many expressed to me, they felt comforted by their cash reserves, control over monthly expenses and that they had a comprehensive financial plan to get them through good times or bad.
We achieve teshuvah, repentance, only when we change our behavior. Wanting a change is simply not enough. We must act and live it and be committed. My job is to be encouraging and supportive, to help clients keep their eye on their goals, not to berate them about failures.
This word actually translates to “justice,” not charity. It is right and just that we share some of what we have with others – money, time or even kindness. Even the poorest person has this obligation. Tzedakah does not divide the world into givers and takers because we all are takers sometimes and givers other times.
However, tzedakah also includes the idea that those who need help will not take more than they need. As a financial advisor, I try to inspire and guide clients to be responsible, live within their means, and save for retirement so none of us will be a drain on our families or future generations.
Several years ago near Rosh Hashanah, I began a new tzedakah tradition. Like many parents having young children, I found myself with limited time and not able to volunteer for all the charities I had once been involved with. I needed another way to strive for teshuvah, repentance, and to improve my self-purpose.
So I decided to set up a “tzedakah” budget.
Many of my clients have charitable organizations in Atlanta and nationally that are important to them. During each Jewish New Year, I prepare a list of those organizations and allocate my budget towards those groups. My budget is usually about $2,000 and is allocated equally.
My goal is to turn this into an annual client appreciation event. By doing this, my clients and I have created a special bond in serving our community that expresses the higher purpose of money. I hope that this client appreciation event will inspire my clients. It reflects my own sense of purpose in a professional and meaningful way.
Don’t be afraid to discuss your beliefs with your financial advisor.
Having conversations about finances as a tool to be an upright person and to do good in our world are sorely needed. Your financial plan should include strategies to not only enable you to retire and live with dignity, but to also achieve teshuvah and to live righteously.
About the writer
Charles Goldberg is an independent fee-based financial advisor with Financial Innovations, LLC. He can be reached at (404) 459-2711 and by email at Charles@financialinnovations.biz.