What You Want Your Kids to Be When They Grow Up

In the brief curriculum vitae on his blog at the Reshimot academic Web site, author Yoav Avni writes about himself in the third person: "He was persuaded to do a B.A. in economics and management at Tel Aviv University. He blames no one but himself. He suffered, but in silence and kept pressing on until the end."

In conversation, too, Avni takes responsibility for his choice of degree.

"All my parents did was to suggest that I open up options," he says. "It's one of those common expressions, like 'Don't put all your eggs in one basket' or 'Don't take risks.'" Avni, who is now 40 years old, married and the father of a 4-year-old girl, took his parents' advice. He "opened up options," only to close them after more than a decade, when he decided to make writing his profession.

Back in 1995 he had published a book of short stories entitled "Those Strange Americans" (Tammuz Publishing), but it took quite some time for the need to write to erupt again, during which he managed a start-up company.

In his blog Avni demonstrates the prolonged suffering in his career with the help of endless repetitions, line after line, of the Hebrew verb "avad" (worked) which can also be read as the noun "eved" (slave).

After the high-tech bubble burst in 2002 Avni changed direction.

"The feeling was that you were in fact sitting on an unstable wave and there was no longer any control of what you were doing," he says. "I started to write because that was the basic thing I could hold onto and that had always been in me."

He wrote two novels in succession.

"Three Things for a Desert Island" was published in 2003, while "To Be" came out in 2006. Both were published by Kinneret-Zmora-Bitan.

The books, Avni says, tell stories about people who are looking for their place in the world, seeking happiness and a kind of destiny, including in their choice of profession.

There is the tale of a man in the high-tech industry who is sent to a fictional desert island in the Indian Ocean.

"He realizes that all the big talk about huge freedom and endless choice is bullshit," says Avni of the protagonist he created. "All in all, just another item on the checklist of life. The work in high-tech was like that too."

Nonetheless, he has no regrets about the long road he took and the years during which he was a "high-tech slave," as he puts it.

Perhaps his parents were right. Although he now invests most of his energy in writing, Avni still earns his living from high-tech.

Another man who took time to realize what he wanted to do in life is Gadi Kositz. At 39, after having managed a successful business, he is now showing paintings for the first time in an exhibition that opened on Saturday at Kibbutz Givat Haim. Kositz, who was born on Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh and has returned there, is a graduate of Hatahana, a Tel Aviv school of painting opened by artist Aram Gershoni and his wife Liza.

In order to continue to develop full-time as a painter, about six months ago Kositz left his job at the stage and event design company he set up. He says that his family, "in which everyone is an artist who has never exhibited," always believed in him and supported him.

In 1998, after completing his military service and making a trip to South Africa, he enrolled at the Bezalel art school but chose to major there in industrial design rather than in plastic art.

"For sure something in the kibbutz education led to this choice," Kositz says. "In the sub-consciousness the image of the artist is of someone who isn't connected to the earth. It was important to me to get recognition as someone who has a defined and practical profession."

In the end he left Bezalel because he was disappointed with the studies. He opened the events company and worked there for seven years. The breaking point came when he returned last September from a short stay in Berlin, where he drank up art.

"I came back and I felt like I couldn't do designs for weddings any more," he says. After informing his partners that he was leaving, he began to paint non-stop out of doors, producing the landscapes he is showing in the exhibition.

Although they are not looking back in anger, the question arises as to whether the long, winding road Avni and Kositz followed to their goals could have been shorter. Need they have suffered so much?

Their stories, which are not unique, make one wonder who is responsible for a person's choice of career. How is it possible to channel children or adolescents and help them in the process of figuring out what they want to be when they grow up, despite the social steamroller that often shoves them into safe or prestigious careers? Liza Gershoni who has sent her children to a progressive school run on democratic principles, often asks herself whether it is at all possible to direct children and whether in her capacity as a mother she should be telling her children what is worth doing and what is not.

In a capitalist society young people usually face difficulties in fulfilling artistic leanings or talents, which are not considered guarantees of financial success.

In the Gershoni family, which has produced many artists, the situation is reversed. Aram and Liza's eldest daughter, Alma, 13, has known from the earliest age that she would be an artist.

Her mother, a grounded, practical person, is trying to decide whether to express the maternal reservations she sometimes feels. "Our generation developed a reaction to the previous generation," she says. "It used to be that all children were forced to be like daddy; an engineer, a doctor. Nowadays parents like me don't intervene. We raise children to total freedom as far as possible and the question of to what extent to intervene and help is a real one.

Aram's family is especially artistic. His mother, Bianca Gershoni, is a sculptor and jewelry designer and his father is an Israel Prize laureate for art.

"They sell and live their art," says their daughter-in-law. "They are successful. But I am concerned about the high price exacted by artistic freedom"

She adds that the creative life is often accompanied by loneliness and financial hardship.

"An artist chooses to be alone, a kind of isolation that is difficult. I, as a mother, am afraid of that place," she says. "Artists deal with the dregs of life. It isn't that I have something else to offer the children. I hope that from within the education and the art they will find themselves and beyond that, I believe they will acquire tools and arrive at their choices under their own steam." Our society is one in which parents give their children an environment full of enrichment classes and spend hours in the car driving them from one activity to the next. On the other hand there is a growing trend toward home schooling and alternative schools, so it is hard to know what the model is for 21st century children.

"Professional life does not begin with the choice of a profession," says Prof. Rachel Gali Cinamon of Tel Aviv University, who studies the relationship between work and family." It begins to develop from birth in messages a person receives from their parents and from society about what is proper to do, what occupation is appropriate for boys and what for girls, in the labeling of what professions are highly thought of and how it is possible to earn money, in the values attributed to various activities and so on."

Those early experiences form the child's character. Cinamon says, adding that there is no doubt that parents influence their children's career path.

"They do this if only by virtue of who they are, their lifestyle, the model they provide and the pressures they are under with respect to their own professional development," she says. One of her studies found that when both parents have careers their children will do better as adults in managing conflicts and a plurality of roles in the families they themselves establish. Michael Murmansky, who teaches piano at the Conservatory of the Academy of Music in Jerusalem, says he doesn't want any of his daughters to become a pianist.

"It's hard work," he says. "The career of pianist is a hard life."

He would rather they become engineers like his wife, Rita. However, perhaps he has no control over this. Children can choose the opposite path from their parents.

Will Avni's daughter become a writer like him or work in high-tech? Will he pass along to her his insights into life? "The agreement between us is not that she will know how to write but rather that one day she will read my books," he says. "At the moment she can recognize them on the bookshelves."

According to Cinamon, there is no point in trying to determine whether it is nature or nuture which has the greater effect. She prefers to talk about life stories rather than suitable choices of profession.

"Every individual develops differently and experiences things in a different way," she says, adding that dialogue and flexibility are important in parents' attitude to a child's inclinations.

She regrets the lack of career-oriented programs in Israeli schools that would help adolescents make the transition from school to the world of work. She says schools here ought to be teaching children to know themselves and their interests better, to help them develop their talents. Such is the practice in the United States and Europe, she says. "In the poor family I grew up in I didn't get any instruction, but we did get real tools for life," says Liza Gershoni, who was raised in a family of seven sisters and brothers in Jerusalem.

"Half of us went in the direction of the arts, perhaps because no one ever told us, 'do that, go there,' or maybe from within the forced freedom," she says. She believes it is necessary to ask whether the parent who intervenes is doing so from affection and caring or from a desire to fulfill himself through the child. One must also question if non-intervention is stemming from neglect, she adds.

"At the democratic schools you see all kinds of parents. There are those who have come there out of ideology but alongside them are parents who want their children to grow up by themselves, who think they should just be left alone with no homework and no after-school activities," she says.

"Then there are also parents who channel their children to a place that is comfortable, familiar and comfortable, 'be like me, work at my office' and are insensitive to the child's personality." Avni believes the responsibility for choosing a vocation is solely the child's.

"I don't feel any anger towards my parents, "he says. "I think they tried to give me the right advice and I will do the same with my daughter. The important thing is somehow to know how to listen to yourself and to know what of all the hobbies you have pursued in your life, be it sculpture, writing or investing in the stock market, is right for you. What parents can do is to listen to their children and from my experience, one way or another you'll arrive ultimately at what you want to be."