The following is a recap of my tribute to Roneet delivered at Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, May 2019
May 7, 2019, would have been my 30th anniversary with Roneet. We met towards the tail end of her senior year at UCLA. I was one year younger and we met there when we lived across the hall from each other in a small apartment building. After she graduated she moved back down to Orange County, California where she grew up. The problem for her was that I grew up in Chicago. She said that if I wanted us to stay together then I would have to move to Orange County because she wasn’t going to move to Chicago. Little did we know that our future daughter would grow to love Chicago and go to college there. Upon being presented with the option of being with Roneet in Orange County or without in Chicago, I thought about it and being the strong-willed person that I was, I said: “Of course I will move down to Orange County.” I was putting my fate and future in Roneet’s hands as I knew no one in Orange County and had no connections for potential employment. This was of no concern to her as she had faith in me and in us and she was a risk taker when her gut told her to go for it. She subscribed to the philosophy of Charlie Munger’s hero Maimonides’,“The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.” Click To Tweet
Roneet asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to work for an investment management company and manage stocks and bonds. She told me to go to a business area of Newport Beach with my resume, find such businesses, and leave my resume with them. The first building I went in showed on its list of tenants a company called Clayton, Williams & Sherwood, Inc. which was located on the 4th floor. Next, to its name, it said “An investment management company”. Aha. I saw my target and I headed right to the elevator and pressed the button for the fourth floor. I exited the elevator, turned right, entered suite 400, and immediately asked the receptionist if they were hiring and she said she thought they were. I wrote on my resume “Interested in a financial analyst position” and left it with her. My initial adrenaline rush soon dissipated as I went around to a few other firms and was shot down one by one by each receptionist with whom I came in contact and was increasingly embarrassed and deflated with this repetitive rejection. I felt quite silly and quickly concluded that it was futile trying to find a job this way.
I returned home and told Roneet how lame her idea was and how humiliating I felt and that I would never get a job that way. I was not a very happy camper with her, but more so with me for falling for her shenanigans. Much to my surprise, however, a week later I got a call from an H.R. representative of the first firm I went to and she said they wanted to interview me at CWS. I asked them what CWS did again and she said “Real estate,” and I said, “I’ve always wanted to be in real estate.” That was in 1987 and I am proud to say that I am still with CWS and became one of the partners in the firm. I was so fortunate to find such a great company to work for with people who are some of my closest friends and partners that have been incredible to work with. And I owe it all to Roneet.
Roneet always pushed me to strive for more and to be constantly improving. In the words of another great Jewish philosopher, Bob Dylan, “He not busy being born is busy dying”. Roneet was the embodiment of this. She was never satisfied with the status quo. As Warren Buffett said, the most important decision you will make in life is who you marry and in my case, this was absolutely true. Roneet elevated me.
We built a life of tremendous connection, friendship, love, and so much fun. We had two kids together, Jacob and Ariella, we built a great life, and I was so incredibly fortunate to have found her. I had grown up in Glencoe, a predominantly Jewish upper-middle-class community north of Chicago. What was interesting for me was that being Jewish was the norm which obviously is not typical in the United States as the Jewish population is quite small, roughly 1.4% in 2018 whereas Israel makes up over 49% of the world’s Jewish population. Because that was the case, being Jewish was generally taken for granted and one’s participation in Judaism was more out of obligation and checking the box and doing what was right for social purposes than any deep religious or spiritual connection to Judaism.
After I met Roneet I became very close to her family and her parents, who are Sabras. I had never been to Israel. My first trip was with Roneet after we got married. For me, it was life-changing as it is for so many people, particularly Jews. But to get to see it from the eyes of her parents and specifically her father, who is so deeply connected to his hometown of Nez Tziona, and the state of Israel with his deep well of friends changed me forever. Through his eyes, I was able to see all of the fascinating historical aspects of Israel and, more importantly, the heart and soul of the Israel people.
Barbara Tuchman, the late historian, used to say that Israel was the land of unlimited impossibilities, which I think is the best description of this remarkable country and its people. Each time I return and see the progress here and learn about the contributions that Israel makes to the rest of the world the more proud I am and the more I want to come back. I have Roneet and her family to thank for that.
She was an Israeli and a Jew and an American through and through. Roneet always wore her heart on her sleeve. She was the kindest, nicest, and at the same time the toughest, most courageous person you could ever meet. As I like to say, she never met a stranger. Roneet would give her heart and soul to anyone that needed it and was deserving of it. But she also had very high expectations of herself and others. She wanted people to rise up and face the challenges of life and she was going to hold you accountable to make sure you did so. Hillel said something that summed Roneet up beautifully. “A single candle can light a thousand more without harming itself.” She brightened everyone’s world that had the privilege of getting to know her.
Roneet was always there for others. She had a calling and that was to be a good friend, a wonderful daughter, a loving wife, an incredible mother, and someone who could do her part to repair and enrich the world. When we were in Poland last year we had the pleasure of meeting David Bernstein, the Dean of Pardes, and our tour guide. He brought to life Auschwitz and Birkenau and Polish life in the context of Judaism in a way that was deeply moving and interesting. David and Roneet instantly hit it off and formed a bond as both are so kind and giving.
When Roneet passed away unexpectedly a little more than six months ago I could no longer rely on her to push me forward. I was now on my own personally, professionally and as a parent to our two adult children. I was determined to honor this beautiful, generous and special woman. There were certain things that I wanted to do as we have been fortunate in life. I wanted to invest some of our resources to memorialize Roneet in the medical arena, by supporting Jewish life through places of worship in the United States, and to foster Jewish learning in Israel among non-Israelis. And this is where Pardes fits in.
I talked to David about ways in which we could connect Roneet to Pardes such that future participants would be able to learn a little about her while having her connected with the Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmut ceremony each year. Yom Hazikaron/Yom Haatzmut mark the anniversary of the establishment of the modern state of Israel and Memorial Day for fallen soldiers. I thought that honoring Roneet this way was so fitting as It honors the rebirth of the Jewish homeland. It represents the creation of one of the most remarkable countries and peoples in the history of the world. Strangers in strange lands finally able to return home.
As freedom is not free and liberation invariably comes with struggle, and sacrifices have to be made. That is why there is a somber aspect to this memorial. With that being said, however, it would not be a Jewish commemoration if there were not some celebratory aspect to it. We rejoice in what has been accomplished in this remarkable country and the unlimited possibilities that lay ahead. These holidays are the embodiment of Roneet as she felt so deeply as she could be moved to tears in an instant and in the next moment be the most joyful person in the room and celebrate with the best of them. We shed tears for the sacrifices that were required to bring about the creation of the state of Israel and we celebrate its rebirth.
Roneet loved life, she loved people, she loved her family, she loved being Jewish, and she loved Israel. For those reasons, it is my honor to do my small part to support Pardes and honor Roneet on this beautiful day. Thank you for attending and being the first group of people to honor my late great beautiful wife and soulmate. I also want to thank the many members of Roneet’s family and friends who were kind enough to attend this ceremony as well.