I met a man in Israel in 2001. (Yes, I did actually travel to Israel in 2001, leaving very shortly after the air traffic restrictions were lifted following the events of September 11, 2001.) This man’s name was Avi. He had a profound and enduring impact on my life, although I only got to be with him for a few hours.
When I met Avi, he was 94 years old. He lived in the area around Jerusalem. He made hummus for a living. He had the perfect setup: He owned a well, a plot of chickpeas, a grove of olive trees, an orchard of lemon trees, a patch of garlic, a patch of sesame, and a large block of salt. (The salt, which he purchased, was the only part of the final product that Avi did not produce himself.)
I was taken to see Avi by my tour guide. He thought Avi was really an amazing fellow, and he was right.
When I met Avi, he was up a ladder in his olive grove. Remember that Avi was 94? Yeah. That’s amazing. I asked Avi why he was harvesting olives around 30 feet in the air at the age of 94. He replied: “Someone’s got to do it, and there’s no one but me.” (Technically, this was not true. Avi was surrounded by family. His sons, grandsons, and great grandsons were there with him on the hummus farm. But he never let anyone touch his olive trees except himself. They were over 2,000 years old, and they were his pets.
Avi was a Palestinian Christian. Whether by virtue of his being a Christian, or some other means that I could never figure out, Avi survived the expulsion of the Palestinians from the area known at the time as Palestine by the Brits in 1947 – 48. He remembered it though. Very, very well. He did not like to talk about it very much. He called it the Palestinian Holocaust.
Anyway, Avi practiced a traditional form of Christianity similar to Catholicism. Given the language and communication difficulties, I never really figured out the exact type of orthodox, traditional Christian that Avi was, but I quickly learned that Avi’s Christianity was very different from mine. He had a much more interesting and nuanced view of the bible than I did at the time, for example. He was intimately familiar with many other ancient texts, especially those of the early Christian writers (whom he regarded with equal reverence as the works of the New Testament).
The most interesting thing to me about Avi was his attitude about work and money. He got up at 4 a.m. every day except Sunday, and worked generally for about 5 hours until 9 a.m. During that period, Avi did everything that he needed to do to produce his daily quota of hummus. And hummus it was! Avi’s hummus was a work of art: Literally so delicious that it made you weep. And talk about demand! The folks who had been buying Avi’s hummus had been doing so for generations, and no one else was allowed to access this treasure!
As an American, I quickly saw the potential. Wow! You have a great product! You have tremendous brand recognition. The path is obvious. Buy more land! Plant more olive trees, chickpeas, sesame, lemons and garlic. Make more hummus. Make more money!
To which Avi replied: I don’t want to make more money. I make enough money. And I am done by 9 a.m. every day. The rest of the day is mine.
I will never forget that moment. My American capitalist pretensions collapsed in a heartbeat. I saw immediately that Avi’s way of life was better than mine in every way: He was happier, more at peace and less stressed out. Simply because he had let go of greed. He did not want more than he had. He had enough for today, and for him, that was enough.
Avi had an interesting approach to investment and savings as well. He did not try to save money, olive oil, or anything else. If he had more than enough of anything he needed, he gave it away to his friends and neighbors. For Avi, this was a form of savings. Why? Because if Avi needed anything, he could go to his friends and neighbors and they would share whatever they had with him.
With our individualistic American self-reliance mentality, this form of collectivism is inconceivable. It’s all on me. I have no neighbor who will share with me. I envy Avi that, as well as the other aspects of his full, rich life.