How to Be Richand LiveSoulfully


There was a time when Adlai Wertman measured his success in dollars — how much he made for the company, how much the company paid him, how well he spent the money.

Four years ago, Wertman, 44, left his job as an investment banker, and his wife, Janet, left hers as a corporate attorney. They sold their Manhattan apartment and Connecticut country home and moved to Pacific Palisades with their three children. They lowered their monthly credit card bill by 80 percent.

Janet is now a grant writer for nonprofits and Adlai runs Chrysalis, a $6.5 million agency that helps 2,000 homeless and impoverished people a year get jobs. His preoccupation with money now has only to do with raising enough to make payroll and keep the organization running.

"My measurement of success is no longer money; it is about lives being changed and people being saved," said Wertman, "and that is very gratifying."

Wertman exemplifies what Rabbi Steven Leder hopes people will think about after they read his new book, "More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul" (Bonus Books), set to hit stores at the end of this month.

"All of us to some degree or another feel that our net worth says something about our self-worth," said Leder, sitting in his office at the Westside campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, where he is senior rabbi.

Leder has taken the lead on a topic that is high on the minds of many Jewish leaders: how to get people — including both the extremely wealthy and those of more moderate means — to think both about how they spend their money on themselves and disperse it to others, and how that use of resources intersects with the values that guide their lives. It is a topic most people don’t discuss even with close family, but one that is a leading source of stress and problems.

Nowhere is that more true than in Los Angeles, with its supersized display of materialism, where the pursuit and disposal of income can become a full-time distraction.

In the Jewish community, the usual upper-middle class expenditures are augmented by the high cost of living a committed Jewish life — from synagogue membership to private school tuition to kosher food to just keeping up with the Schwartzes. It is a reality that can lead even those who thought they were comfortable to feel as if they never have enough.

The median household income in the Jewish community is about 30 percent higher than the average U.S. household, according to the 2000 National Jewish Population Survey. While it is hard to pin down numbers on how many Jews are in the ranks of the wealthiest Americans, it is fair to assume that the number is out of proportion to the Jewish population, especially in Los Angeles, where Jews figure prominently in the upper ranks of the entertainment, apparel, real estate and financial services industries. Almost half the names on a list of the 100 wealthiest Angelenos, published by the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2002, are Jewish.

Leder described "More Money Than God" as a long sermon on money, not just for the wealthy but for anyone who thinks about money (which is everyone). He preaches but does not scold as he addresses money’s role in marriage, how to teach kids to value money but not idolize it, how to approach wealth and, of course, the importance of tzedakah, both for the recipient and the giver. The book is a weave of wisdom and stories, both from traditional sources and from anecdotes gleaned from Leder’s 16 years at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, as well as from his childhood with a demanding father, who made his sons work hard for their money.

"I don’t have any illusions about the book," Leder admitted. "I don’t think it is going to completely turn around someone who has crassly materialistic and shallow values through and through. But I think more importantly, it gives good people the support and encouragement to be even better, and that in itself is a positive thing."

While the press, including a piece in The New York Times Sunday Styles section, has focused on the irony that the rabbi to some of Hollywood’s biggest earners is preaching about money, Leder said it never occurred to him to worry about offending synagogue donors.

"Who is going to stand up for these good Jewish values if not the rabbi?" he asked.

Judaism has a long and complex relationship with money. The religion values the pleasures of the material world, but also recognizes that money is merely a means to achieve a higher purpose.

"We don’t think money is the root of all evil. On the contrary, it is the root of all good if used in the right way," said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of communications for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox umbrella group based in New York.

For Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, defining "excess" is always relative, but he asks congregants to make sure their monetary behavior fits into the overall picture of their value system.

"Money is one of those resources, along with time and health, that goes along with the question of what is your bigger purpose in life," Feinstein said. "Do people have a sense of purpose? Then money fits into that."

It is no easy task, balancing the need and desire to earn money with the appropriate way to actually use it.

Wertman said he tries not to be judgmental but often has a hard time living with one foot in the Palisades and one on Skid Row, where Chrysalis is based.

"It’s hard for me some days, when I’ve barely made my $100,000 payroll that week and I’ve got $100 left in the bank, and at the end of the day, I go to dinner with friends who are perfectly willing to drop $1,000 on dinner and bottle of wine. I find it hard to accept that as justice."

He said he tries not to judge those who spend on themselves, as long as they also acknowledge their responsibility to others.

The dichotomy between lavish spending and generous giving often manifests itself most prominently at weddings or bar mitzvahs. Rabbis have spent some time reining in over-the-top parties, and many hosts now make giving a part of the simcha, whether through food-basket centerpieces or donating some of the gifts.

Around 20 prominent leaders in the Orthodox community signed a letter advising people to downgrade weddings, Shafran said. It limited the number of guests to 400, the band to five pieces, the appetizer buffet to fruits and cakes and the meal to three courses — soup, main and dessert. It discouraged the use of centerpieces that get thrown away. While such detailed restrictions are beginning to have an effect in the tight-knit communities of Brooklyn, other rabbis have to rely on more general guidelines.

Leder engages families planning bar or bat mitzvahs in an exercise where he draws a line down the center of a board and asks families to list on one side the values being promoted in the synagogue service and on the other those on display in the evening party.

"Money is one of those areas where the disparity between professed values and real values is most prominent," Leder said. "The best kind of life is where there is no disparity between your professed and your lived values."

One family, after going through the exercise with Leder, decided to go from a $40,000 bar mitzvah to a $10,000 party and give the rest to charity. Leder advised the family to include their son in the decision of where to direct the tzedakah.

Wendy Mogel, a child psychologist who is writing a book on privilege and pressure, said that involving children in decisions about tzedakah is key in helping them be grateful for what they have.

Parents, she said, are up against a mighty marketing machine and need to muster their courage to refrain from giving children everything they want — even if they can afford it. Parents must also remind themselves not to resent their kids for making them feel as if they are being deprived.

"If they have everything their heart desires by the time they are 14 — both consumer items and experience — what reason do they have to want to grow up?" asked Mogel, who also wrote "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" (Penguin USA, 2001). "I’m not saying buying things is bad, but that instant satisfaction can become kind of an addiction. If you are feeling angry or anxious or even happy, do you mark it or alleviate it with stuff, or do you learn other ways to handle it or celebrate or feel better"?

In fact, recent studies show that children of privilege who have been handed everything can’t function when they grow up and leave home, she said.

There is also a growing recognition that heirs to great wealth — especially a few generations down the line — often end up with serious emotional and psychological problems.

"Born Rich," the recent HBO documentary produced by the heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, exposed for the first time the struggles involved with knowing you never have to work a day in your life.

That reality, in some measure, will come to bear on the Jewish community, as the parents of baby boomers die and leave sometimes significant estates to their children.

In Los Angeles alone, about 9,000 Jews will inherit a total of $2.5 billion annually for the next 10 or 15 years, according to Pini Herman, who has conducted many studies of the L.A. Jewish community through Phillips and Herman Demographic Research.

Leder believes that if people — those with a lot of money and those with modest means — are confronted with the needs that are out there, they will respond in a charitable way.

Active participation in tikkun olam (healing the world) "has to inculcate a deeper sense of gratitude and responsibility," Leder said. "I’m one of those people who believe that if you create the right environment with the right values, good things will happen."

Those things have already begun to happen, thanks to the book.

One member — someone who is not particularly wealthy — read "More Money Than God," then sent Leder $1,800, telling him to give it to a family in need. The day before, a struggling single mother had come to Leder for comfort and support. Leder sent her the money.

"It was almost mystical," Leder said of the match.

"None of us can escape this charge to be thoughtful about what we do with our resources," Leder said, "because all of us have more resources than someone else.

Rabbi Leder’s ten Money commandments


NET WORTH DOES NOT EQUAL SELF-WORTH

Stop equating what you earn with your value as a person. The true measure of a person has precious little to do with money.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY

Whatever our issues are concerning money, they are probably masking a deeper, more profound problem. Try to figure out what’s really going on while changing your negative money behavior. See a therapist if you think it will help you to get to the root of your problem.

UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN YOUR WANTS
AND NEEDS

Are you a slave to excess and materialism? Do you have an insatiable set of wants? Ask yourself if you really need whatever it is you want the next time you go shopping.

DON’T LIVE BEYOND YOUR MEANS

Remember that you cannot buy things without money, even if the banks and credit companies want you to believe that you can.

TEACH TRUST, NOT JUST TRUST FUNDS

While we all want our children to have a financial cushion, give them a legacy of values in addition to an inheritance. Remember that the time we spend with our kids is more important than the money we spend on them.

STOP WORKING YOUR LIFE AWAY

Are you working seven days per week? Give yourself a day for rest and reflection by keeping the Sabbath or setting aside some time from prayer or meditation.

SAVE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS BY BEING CLEAR WHEN
LENDING MONEY

If a family member or friend asks you for a loan, offer to be a co-signer at a bank instead. Even if you don’t use the bank as an emotional buffer, make sure you write down the terms of your agreement to avoid problems later on. If things still don’t work out — learn to forgive. Losing your family over money isn’t worth it.

DON’T LET MONEY BREAK YOUR HEART

In marriage, money is an opportunity to create a shared vision for your life together. It doesn’t have to be a deal breaker or heartbreaker.

RECEIVE BY GIVING

Joseph Campbell said by giving to those who are less fortunate, money is like congealed energy, “and releasing it releases life’s possibilities.”

LEARN TO BE GRATEFUL

God has created an abundance of what we need most (food, family and love), yet we often fail to see how well our needs are taken care of. Be grateful for the daily manna we already have. Over and over again when people come to see me who are suffering in some way, be it cancer, a divorce, a loss of any kind, they wish they could rewind their lives. Why? Not only to go back to a time before their troubles began, but also to go back in order to appreciate the things they took for granted. When sorrow comes, it’s the simple things we miss most — laughter, the company of friends, the sun, the rustling of leaves.

Excerpted from “More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul,” by Steven Z. Leder.

The Nose Knows


What is it like to be one of People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People? I have no idea.

I can tell you what it’s like to work closely with one of these magically attractive people day in and day out, to wake up to Matt Lauer and Katie Couric discussing his muscles and come home to dozens of e-mails asking how I can possibly control myself working with such a "hottie."

As anyone who marries a supermodel can tell you, you get used to the kind of intense physical beauty that first stops you cold. It dulls over time until there are days that you don’t even notice it. Of course, there are days you do, because flat out, undeniable, in-the-eye-of-every-beholder beauty has a way of piercing through your day.

I see how other people react to this paragon, whom I’ll call Hunky Carpenter Guy. There’s generally a quick, almost imperceptible pause when he walks into a room. New people need a second just to take it in, to adjust to the fact that someone so genetically different from us has arrived. The moment passes, but I never miss it.

I was happy for him when he made People’s list, because he’s a decent person and I’m no player hater. But I am human, so I prepared myself for a few days of good old-fashioned self-doubt. I’d need a fuzzy emotional sweater for the week that issue was on the stands, and for weeks after, because it was going to get mighty cold in his beautiful shadow.

Right away, I told myself all the usual things, the things you may even be thinking to yourself right now — beauty is meaningless, it’s just a favorable recombination of DNA, it isn’t a reflection of a person’s soul or their contribution, it isn’t objective and it isn’t lasting.

These notions, while true, miss the point. The more I churned them through my head, the more convinced I became that they were nothing but a sad salve for poor losers in the genetic lottery.

I tried to clutch at whatever maturity was within my grasp but it slipped away, replaced with a wailing siren in my brain screeching "Why? Why aren’t I perfect? Why?" If you can remember how Nancy Kerrigan sounded after getting slammed in the knee, it was a lot like that. And studies show hearing Kerrigan’s voice in your head is the first sign of madness.

"Let’s face it, even at my fighting weight and on a good skin day, I’m lucky to make Cat Fancy Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful Cat Owners," I told a friend over the phone.

At this point, there was an emotional pileup that went like this: real emotional pain over something petty; guilt over feeling pain over something stupid when other people have real problems; discomfort resulting from trying to shove down feelings that aren’t on the "approved feelings" list; and, finally, excessive snacking.

I needed a way out and it was right there, plain as the Semitic nose on my face.

For the first time in my life, the idea of a rhinoplasty seemed genius. That week, the world became a world of noses. I didn’t notice the person owning it, just the nose, the nostrils and the bridge.

For someone who doesn’t even own a full-length mirror, I couldn’t stop looking at my profile. I ran my fingers over the bridge of my nose so often it bordered on a creepy tic. Is there a bump or isn’t there? Does it curve under? To me, there was no difference between those jagged, pointed noses featured in Shylock caricatures and my own. It went from nose to shnoz to major life obstacle before you could say, "Hey, look what happened to Jennifer Grey."

I recalled some postings about me on an Internet message board. One said, "Go back to the mall, JAP." Another read, "Your nose is sexy LOL." LOL? What’s so funny, dude?

The nose knows. And I knew it had to go.

No more fears about being shallow, culturally self-hating, selling out. No more worries about the political ramifications of being a Jewish girl with a nose job. My only worry would be how to save up for the procedure, where to stay during recovery, how to juggle all my new work opportunities. The second I got the idea I latched onto it, carried it with me, let it soothe me when I caught a bad angle of myself or saw an unflattering photo.

What happened next will seem too pat, too "wrap up this column with a pretty bow." But it’s the truth. I was trying on a dress with a friend and I had one of those moments of self-esteem grace. I looked beautiful to myself. I did a quick nose check and a voice from somewhere easier and more divine whispered, "It’s your nose that’s making you beautiful."

The problem with this story arc is that it reoccurs. Insecurity comes and goes with all the loyalty and unpredictability of an outdoor cat. Ugly as it may be, this is the truth for me, and to paraphrase John Keats, "Truth is beauty, beauty truth."

Keep your eye out for the latest collector’s edition, People Magazine’s 50 Most Truthful People. If I can avoid that nose job, I might just make it. Hope they allow airbrushing.

Teresa Strasser can be seen Fridays 8-10 p.m. and weekdays at 5 p.m. on TLC’s
“While You Were Out” and is on the Web at www.teresastrasser.com.

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