The Player

Names: Sylvia Gershenfeld

No. of Children: 3

Age: 89

Place of Residence: New York

 

The Background

Retirement is a modern invention. The idea of a period later in life devoted to leisure, supported by government funding, which is taken for granted in our society, was an unknown concept throughout most of history. People expected to work until they died — and that tended to happen sooner rather than later. Even when the Social Security Act was passed in the US in 1935, establishing a national retirement age of 65, the life expectancy for men was 58.

That soon changed, but, nevertheless, the average person could expect to start working in his twenties, remain in the same firm until he retired some time in his sixties, and then live for about another decade. His pension, together with Social Security, would more than cover his financial needs for his retirement years.

No longer. If retirement is a modern invention, then retirement planning is a modern headache. Life expectancy has shot up — almost a quarter of Americans now live into their nineties — but at the same time, steady long-term employment is no longer a given. Current statistics show that the average person changes jobs ten to fifteen times during his working years — often with periods of unemployment in between.

Therefore, properly planning for one’s retirement years has become more important than ever. It can be hard when we’re young to think about the distant future — especially when we are consumed with the urgent demands of the present — but failure to do so can have dire consequences, as the following story shows.

 

Sylvia’s Narrative

My story starts 30 years ago. Well, actually, it begins several decades before that — almost 70 years ago, when my new husband, Stanley, ran into Moishe Kleinman one day in shul. Moishe and Stanley had been close childhood friends back in Poland before the war. Stanley managed to escape to America just in time; Moishe had come over several years earlier. Now newly married, like Stanley and I, he had recently moved to our city. It was an emotional reunion, and the two men quickly renewed their old friendship. I became close to Moishe’s wife, Ann, as well, and, in those postwar years, when extended family was so hard to come by, we treated each other like brothers and sisters.

Stanley was working as an electrician for a small company. It wasn’t a high-paying job, but he made enough, and there was decent prospect for growth. Meanwhile, Moishe tried his hand at several business ventures. The first two attempts were short-lived. With the third business, however, he struck gold.

Not right away, of course. But his new contracting business showed promise right from the start. However, Moishe, determined to learn from his previous failures, understood that the only way to make it a genuine success was to invest lots of time, sweat, and love. To that end, he turned to his closest friend, Stanley, and begged him to come work for him.

“With your help, I know this can be a winner,” Moishe urged him.

And, though Stanley and I had our real misgivings, ultimately, we decided that “family” — even if they weren’t actual family — should come first. Moishe needed Stanley’s help, and since early indications seemed to show that the business really did hold potential, Stanley left the security of his job to come help Moishe build up his enterprise from the ground floor. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 709)