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Money Trap: Cleaned Out

Gila Arnold

When they discovered that all of their possessions had been stolen, they thought they’d hit rock bottom. But things only went downhill from there.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

 Mishpacha image

 

The Players 

Menachem: 35, kiruv professional

Hindy: 33, homemaker

Miriam*: Financial coach, Mesila, an organization promoting financial stability and independence

 

Menachem:

When Hindy and I were going out, I told her my dream was to work in kiruv. While she herself was not interested in playing the role of kiruv rebbetzin, she was very encouraging of my dream and assured me she would be supportive of my less-than-lucrative career choice. She didn’t grow up in a wealthy family, and I took that as a good sign she knew what it meant to live simply.

We’re a “mixed marriage” — I’m from the States and she’s from the UK. For the first few years we lived in the US, where I joined a kiruv kollel in an out-of-town community. Hindy worked as a secretary at the local day school until our first baby was born; after that, she became a stay-at-home mom and has been ever since. The kollel was relatively well-paying and we managed nicely during this time, even buying a house (home prices were cheap where we lived).

But as the years went by, Hindy grew increasingly homesick for her family. Our once-a-year trip to England wasn’t enough; in fact, it only strengthened her desire to move closer to her parents. Eventually, her misery wore me down and, despite my success in the community, I agreed to move to England. We sold our house, packed up our worldly possessions, and bought plane tickets for ourselves and our five children.

My in-laws found us a rental home before we arrived, so as soon as we landed, we had a place to crash — cranky children, exhausted parents, overstuffed suitcases, and all. We’d shipped over our furniture and appliances, and the shipment came just a few days after we did. Prior to our move, I’d been in touch with a London-based kiruv organization. Soon after arriving, I went for an interview and was offered a position. Meanwhile, our children were accepted into the local yeshivah, which, as part of a vibrant chareidi community, was certainly an improvement over the coed community day school they’d attended until then. And, of course, my wife was thrilled to be near her parents once more, and to get back in touch with all her school friends who still lived in the area.

All in all, things were looking quite good. Until one night, when everything changed.

It’s hard to imagine how one single event can alter your life so drastically. If it hadn’t happened to me, I would have dismissed the above statement as a too-obvious attempt to sound dramatic. But in fact, it did happen, on the night of Rosh Hashanah, a few short weeks after we arrived, when we were all eating at my in-laws. The meal had gone late, the children were falling asleep, and my in-laws suggested we stay over for the night rather than make the 15-minute trek home. So we didn’t return to our house until the following afternoon, after lunch. When we walked inside, my heart stopped.

 

Burglars had broken in while we were away, and the place was literally emptied. Our furniture, our silver, the moving boxes that we hadn’t yet gotten around to unpacking — all gone. Later, we would hear from the non-Jewish neighbors that they’d seen a moving truck outside and had assumed we were moving. How the thieves knew we were away for the night, I have no idea. Perhaps they just tried their luck.

Immediately after Havdalah we notified the police, who, to their credit, seemed on top of things and eager to help. Yet after weeks of fruitless manhunts, it became clear our property was not going to be recovered.

And the worst of it was, we had no insurance.

We’d planned on taking out a homeowner’s contents insurance policy but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. Never in our worst nightmares did we imagine this. Now, after all the costs of shipping, we were forced to start buying everything from scratch. Neither of our parents were in any position to help us. The only money we had was the proceeds from our house sale. After paying off the mortgage and all of our moving costs, it wasn’t all that much; we’d intended to use it as a down payment for a house in England.

But what could we do? We needed beds, tables, a fridge, and washing machine. We accepted help and other people’s cast-offs wherever we could. But ultimately, the cost of refurbishing our entire home came out to much more than our savings amount.

And thus began the new phase of our lives — living in the shadow of debt.

The robbery was the part of our tale that I like to think of as the “Act of G-d.” It was beyond our control, and therefore, all we could possibly do was try to accept it with bitachon and love. But the ensuing part, while not as dramatic, was more difficult to accept.

See, it became clear very fast that my kiruv salary, while adequate for our expenses in a simple, out-of-town American community, was not going to cut it for the higher cost of living in London. I suggested, quite sensitively, I believe, that Hindy consider taking on a job to supplement our income. But Hindy became so angry and defensive every time I brought up the subject that I eventually dropped it.

But, boy, did I resent it. After all, it was only because of her constant kvetching that I agreed to move to England in the first place. We’d been doing perfectly fine back in the US on my salary. And while I couldn’t blame her for the robbery, the fact that she wasn’t lifting a finger to help us get out of debt — that she wasn’t doing anything other than complaining that I should be earning more — made me burn with bitterness.

And there was another thing. I was beginning to notice a disturbing trend in Hindy’s shopping. While not a big spender herself — and this was something I’d always admired in her — now that she was back in her family circle, extra expenses kept cropping up on our credit card bill. When I asked her about them, she would tell me that she bought a present for her sister’s daughter’s graduation, or a lavish housewarming gift for her brother’s new home. This expensive gift-giving habit was adding to our mounting debt. But when I tried to suggest she curb it, she just got all huffy and started blaming me, once again, for not earning enough.

Wasn’t she the one who assured me, back when we were engaged, that she would support my kiruv dream wholeheartedly? Meanwhile, our debt is mounting, and our expenses are rising. And I’m the only one who understands how desperate our situation is.

 (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 725)

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