Portable wealth

Have you noticed how immigrants and foreigners seem to prosper more in any society compared to the locals? This phenomenon can still be observed in people who move from one area of the country and settle somewhere else. For example, the Indian and Chinese seem to prosper more in our country. The same thing applies across the world. The Jews who were persecuted in Europe have come to control a disproportionate amount of wealth in America. Even the Indians who were chased from Uganda by Idi Amin have gone on to prosper in Europe and America.

Why is this so?

The search for an answer to this question led me to a book called “The Jewish Phenomenon,” which was written by Steven Silbiger. The author studied the progression of Jews in American society and discovered seven critical keys to their success. Intriguingly the first and most important key is this idea of portable wealth. 

Portable wealth is basically knowledge. Any society which possesses knowledge will prosper in any circumstance. In the Jewish Phenomenon, the author describes how the Jewish culture promotes learning and literacy at the household level. Jewish children are expected to attend formal school and achieve college degrees. It is the pride of every Jewish parent to have their child graduate as a doctor, engineer, or lawyer. It is considered odd to have your child drop out of school. Most Jewish parents will go to the ends of the earth to secure a quality education for their children. The Jews are disproportionately more educated than other races in America, which explains a lot of their success as a group.

Gaining knowledge for knowledge’s sake is a core value in Jewish tradition. And it’s also true that wealth follows naturally from knowledge. Income is generally directly correlated with the level of education. Part of this emphasis on acquiring knowledge is the fact that the Jews have been persecuted throughout history. So they had to acquire a form of wealth which they could easily carry from place to place. This form of wealth is knowledge. 

For centuries the Jews have been referred to as the people of the book, and from an early age, Jewish children are taught to cherish education. As part of their religious training, Jews intensely study the Bible or Torah, the Talmud, and the Mishna.  The Talmud consists of books of detailed rabbinical commentary on the Bible. The Mishna consists of books codifying the Jewish laws for prayer,  religious observance, and everyday living. The Jewish religion focuses on the individual and his or her own spiritual exploration and journey. It is therefore important that Jews are involved in spirited discussions and debates about the various stories and laws in their religious texts as a means of forming a personal and intellectual attachment  to their religion.

Jewish parents intensely debate the contents of the Torah with their children and don’t just take its contents as gospel truth. Such debates improve children’s critical thinking and enhance their verbal acuity. It also triggers their sense of curiosity and creativity. These traits will eventually become essential in the professional and entrepreneurial careers which the Jews tend to pursue. 

So we can see the central role that education plays in the story of Jewish success amidst much suffering. This tale is suffered by most immigrants who leave their homes in search of better fortunes. Having nothing else to fall back on, immigrants tend to work harder and acquire more knowledge than locals. They also invest in their children’s education as a form of intangible wealth. They don’t squander resources, live in close family groups, look out for each other, and promote a spirit of creativity, curiosity, and independent thinking at home. These mindsets form an invaluable asset in the form of portable wealth which is then carried across generations.  

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