1 With the addition of Aaron Katsman to our stable of JTNews columnists, we can truly say we are a world-renowned organization.
A Seattle native, the son of Rabbi Phillip Katsman and the late Tzivia Katsman, Aaron attended Seattle Hebrew Academy, Northwest Yeshiva High School (class of ’88) and Yeshiva University, but has lived in Israel since graduating college. He’ll be writing, for this paper’s bimonthly seniors’ section, which debuts in this issue.
“My plan was always to work on Wall Street,” he confessed, but he promised himself if he got a job in Israel he would stay. He got an internship at a financial firm “and it stuck,” he said. “I lost a bet with myself.”
With his 17 years of Jewish education, Aaron says he arrived in Israel “able to conjugate verbs,” but unable to carry on a conversation. Entering the army fixed that fast. He then met and married his wife Yael, director of the aliyah program Nefesh b’Nefesh, and worked his way up in the financial community, eventually becoming head of private banking for Citibank there.
As a licensed financial adviser, he’s had his own firm for almost five years. He has “a global clientele,” he says, including “a lot of Israelis, but also Americans or Anglos who have come on aliyah,” plus clients in Europe and Asia.
This past August, McGraw-Hill published his book, “Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing.” Aaron writes regularly for The Jerusalem Post, Seeking Alpha (a financial website), and the Wall Street Journal’s MarketWatch website.
Outside of work, he’s often busy with his five kids and is active in his central Jerusalem neighborhood’s council. As a volunteer he helps people in debt, and as a sports-lover he plays on a softball league. Yes, softball, and Aaron reports there are a handful of leagues there, for adults and kids. His own team and his son’s team both won their recent respective league tournaments and Aaron reports that while 65 percent of his son’s team is made up of kids whose parents made aliyah, “the rest are Israelis who go to school with [those kids] and think it’s kind of cool.”
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Jason Schneier in one of his five gardens. (Photo by Betsy Schneier)
I don’t think I’ve ever done a second-hand interview of an MOT, but that’s what happened inadvertently when I reached out to Jason Schneier to learn more about the vegetable garden he started and tends to at Congregation Beth Shalom in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. The congregation donates the produce to the Jewish Family Service food bank.
Jason was tending one of his five gardens at the Magnuson Park p-patch — where he is a founding board member — when I called, so I spoke to his wife Betsy. Jason is a gastroenterologist with a full-time practice and Betsy wisely suggested she might be easier to pin down than her husband.
Jason started gardening about 30 years ago, Betsy recalls, around the time they bought their house and had identical twin girls.
“He just wanted to mess around in the yard,” she says. “I think he started as a kid…he just loved digging.”
That house now has two vegetable gardens, one in the front and one in the back. Jason maintains the synagogue garden almost entirely on his own, with some help from congregants. Then there’s the Magnuson garden and another p-patch on Decatur Island, where the couple has a second home.
“It’s a good outlet for him,” observes Betsy, a Seattle native. She attributes some of his success to his scientific approach to dirt.
“Chemistry has always been his thing,” she says. “Dirt has always been his thing.”
Jason and Betsy met when he came to Seattle to do his residency at the University of Washington. Growing up in Middletown, Penn., home of the infamous Three Mile Island nuclear facility, Jason went to Harrisburg Yeshiva and earned money for college at UPenn doing construction on the nuclear plant. He studied medicine at University of Pittsburgh and after his residency the couple moved to Boston while Jason completed a fellowship. After that, Betsy says, she offered him “a choice between Seattle and Hawaii.”
Jason confirmed all this in a later conversation, and says gardening for the food bank adds a dimension to charitable giving.
“In Jewish life, everyone is asked to open up your checkbook,” he says, “but sometimes it’s nice to just live it a little.” Gardening has a spiritual component, too, observing that “nothing works according to plan.”
It’s like “a Tibetan Buddhist sand painting—you do it and it blows away,” he says. “It makes you humble.”