'I Can’t Afford to Retire in the U.S., but Things Aren’t Simple in Israel, Either'

This week at the Tel Aviv airport: A semi-retired Maryland man contemplates moving to Israel, while honoring the one thing his mom ever asked of him

Jon Enten, Hillel Vissoker, Roni Enten Vissoker and Levi Vissoker.
Tomer Appelbaum

From left, Jon Enten, 66, lives in Bethesda, MD., with Hillel Vissoker, 4, and Roni Enten Vissoker, 40, with Levi Vissoker, 7 months, live in Rehovot; Jon is arriving from Washington

Tomer, the photographer: Remember us?

Roni: Of course. You interviewed us two years ago.

You were researching nutrition and autism, right?

Roni: Still am. I have to move around now because of the baby, so talk to my father.

Okay. Jon, what’s doing in Bethesda?

Jon: I like living there and in general it’s nice in the United States – except for one family that we don’t like so much who moved into a big white house in D.C. We’ll be happy if they leave soon.

I remember that you’re a stalwart Democrat.

Jon: I don’t remember ever seeing so many accusations and criminal acts in government.

Which country are we talking about?

Jon: I don’t think we ever had so many thieving politicians. Now there are, because of Trump.

Maybe there always were and we just didn’t know.

Tomer, the photographer: It seems he’ll be president for another four years.

Jon: There’s no certainty he’ll be reelected. He is doing serious damage to the economy.

Are you still a marketing consultant?

Jon: I’m semi-retired but still have a few clients.

What do you do in the other semi?

Jon: I have a part-time job as a golf scouter (helping players on a course). I play a lot of golf. People are always happy and friendly when they play, and you’re outside, in nature. I go with friends on occasional golf trips. Canada has perfect golf weather. In Maryland it’s hot and humid, so it’s hard to maintain a course.

Have you played in Caesarea?

Yes. I’ll be happy to play if I move to Israel.

Are you thinking of moving?

Jon: I would buy an apartment in Israel and come for a few months a year, but I’m not sure I’d manage. Also, my mother says I can’t leave the U.S. as long as she’s alive. She’s 91 and she wants me to stay nearby. It’s the only thing she ever asked of me. She’s a wonderful woman. Her physical health is good, but she starting to show some dementia, and lately hasn’t even been watching TV. She’s in an assisted living facility. The situation where you look at your parents and know the inevitable is about to happen, is hard. My dad died a year and a half ago, at 92. Now, as I get older, I think about quality of life at those ages. My father was also in assisted living. One day he broke his hip. That’s what happens to old people, they fall and get hurt, and from there things get complicated. It’s hard for to recover and heal. I wonder what the point is of living a life like that.

Tough question.

Jon: My mother is generally calm, but many times she says, “I want to leave here, I don’t want to be in this place.” So I take her out for a walk, and when I bring her back I’m sad. It’s not easy to be a baby boomer like me, in a sandwich: We want to help our children financially and also need to take care of elderly parents.

Roni: We’re in a similar situation: looking after parents and taking care of small kids. There’s always someone who wants something.

Jon: In my view, you have to plan your retirement at age 40. I suggest you start now.

Is that what you did?

Jon: No. And it was a mistake. I think about where I’ll go when I get old. Assisted living places are very expensive – $10,000 a month. I can’t afford to retire in the U.S. On the other hand, things aren’t simple in Israel, either. I understand it’s impossible to buy a home without help from your parents, so maybe the quality of life here isn’t as wonderful as I imagine.

What do you imagine?

Jon: A simple and pleasant life in nature, in some moshav. I’d paint and write. But maybe that’s just a fantasy, and nothing like that actually exists.

Shlomit Romanov and Dina Konson.
Tomer Appelbaum

Shlomit Romanov, 12, and Dina Konson, 40; live in Tel Aviv, flying to Prague

Hello, what are you doing here in the middle of the night?

Dina: We missed our flight because we went to the wrong terminal, and now we’re waiting for the next flight, which is at 5:30 in the morning.

Is it a bat mitzvah trip?

Dina: It’s a trip with my daughter to Prague to visit the biggest stage design and sets exhibition in the world. Every four years Prague has an exhibition that’s called the Prague Quadrennial. Representatives from all over the world come. There are lots of performances and there’s also an Israeli pavilion where my students from Tel Aviv University are exhibiting. I’m a stage designer and I also teach. I’m going to cheer them on and also see what’s happening. It’s the most important event in my professional field.

Shlomit: And one time Mom also took part.

Dina: That was 15 years ago.

Shlomit: I remember.

Tomer, the photographer: But you weren’t even alive yet.

Shlomit: But Mom told me. Now can we talk about me?

Be happy to.

Shlomit: I like to be at the university when Mom teaches. I help all kinds of second-year students to build maquettes, and I go to all the plays with Mom and to all the rehearsals.

Dina: Shlomit helps me deal with props and so on.

Shlomit: I really love it, but I love fashion design more.

Dina: We have two mannequins at home and Shlomit is always inventing all kinds of costumes for them, using clothes and sticking pins in. And she painted the picture of the fox on her T-shirt.

Wow, that looks totally professional.

Tomer: I thought it was from Zara.

Shlomit: My grandmother draws, too.

Dina: Yes, my mother is an artist, it’s in the family. I have a lot of materials at home – the whole house is full of paints and she can always do something.

Shlomit: And I go to museums with Grandma.

Do you like museums?

Shlomit: A lot. I’ve been abroad four times and every time I went to lots of them. I really liked the British Museum – we were at a Matisse exhibition – and I loved his colors. And van Gogh is also really good. And we saw dancers of, umm …

Degas?

Shlomit: Yes. I really like them because I also dance a little. Here, I have a notebook with pictures of dancers. I like to draw and paint when I’m feeling good. I also like to read books. Mom will be angry at me for saying it, but especially Harry Potter.

Dina: She’s read all the books a thousand times already. There was a Harry Potter in every room in the house.

Shlomit: And I also have a dog, a fish and a chicken.

A chicken? As a pet?

Shlomit: Yes, she walks on the sofa.

Dina: We got a chick, and somehow it grew.

Shlomit: Sometimes she also lays small eggs and we eat them; they’re very tasty.

Dina: She’s also very sensitive. There was a period when she didn’t want to go out and didn’t lay eggs. We took her to a vet and it turned out that because she was home by herself a lot she became depressed. So we started to talk to her and pick her up.

Shlomit: And then she bounced back. Now she bugs the other animals – the dog is really afraid of her.

It must be nice to be both mother and daughter and friends.

Dina: Is that what it looks like from the outside?

Totally.

Dina: Shlomit has a mature outlook on quite a few things and it’s nice to share fields of interest with her. I think it’s important to talk about what you’re doing and what interests you. I tell Shlomit a lot and I expect her to talk about herself in return. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this now, so as not to spoil things.

What will you do until morning?

Dina: We’ll wander around as long as we can hold out. Luckily for Shlomit, she brought a book.

Shlomit: “White Boots.”

Dina: It’s the fourth time she’s reading it.

Shlomit: No, the 10th. I’m a real nerd.