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  • Writer's pictureJodi Samuels


Updated: Mar 12, 2021

We have just returned from a fantastic cruise in the Caribbean. It was my parents’ 40th birthday gift to me – they treated the whole family.

If you have ever been on a cruise then you certainly know that food is a major attraction. Copious amounts of food, all day buffets, free room service, 24 hour ice cream and pizza, fancy dining and midnight carvery – just in case one’s blood sugar dropped dangerously low 15 minutes after that umpteenth slice of pizza.

Food, food and more food – 3,000 people living to eat and eat and eat. Well, 2,995 living to eat and eat and eat – the five of us had to make do with tomato and cucumber salads, cereal and smoked salmon which happened to be kosher and some almost inedible kosher airline meals. I think we were the first people in history to come off the cruise weighing less than when we went on the cruise!

I could not help but wonder about the cleaners and wait staff on the cruise from countries like China, Indonesia, Philippines and Sri Lanka. A few months ago they were living in a small village without running water doing subsistence farming or living in a city scratching out a meager living. I wonder what they think when they see all the food, how much people eat and waste. It’s free so people pile the food high, eat half a plate and go onto the next buffet. Those who opted for the unlimited drinks program were even worse. The whole thing was an unfolding public health catastrophe. One word comes to mind EXCESS.

Gavin and I try not to spoil our kids. We don’t believe in allowances or earning money for doing chores. We don’t reward our kids for being a mentch or good behavior – this is the most basic of expectations that we have and not worthy of reward. My kids get $18 on each holiday like Hanukkah and Rosh Hashana so they can learn to budget and save. They have to give 10% tzedaka from this money and then can use the rest to buy their special things. Likewise on Hanukkah we give only one small gift and we certainly don’t do a gift a night. Even with birthday parties we try to teach our kids sensitivity and suggest that they ask for a donation to the charity of their choice in lieu of gifts. My kids are not spoiled relative to their peers but that said, they still lead a life of EXCESS.

My children definitely have so much more than the children of the cleaners and wait staff on the ship. They also have so much more than Gavin and I did as kids. We both came from modest homes where our parents had to think twice about paying for after school activities or going away for a weekend. Going out for a meal on a Sunday was a big treat. I had a job from age 12, and Gavin can still put together an amazing table centerpiece or rustle up a mean mojito from years of working at a catering company in high school and college.

I do struggle with how to teach my kids to appreciate what they have and to help them not grow up feeling entitled or living a life of EXCESS

As usual, when confronted with these deep existential questions, we can find help by looking to the wisdom of our Torah and Sages: Ben Zoma says, “Who is rich? The one who is appreciates what he has…” (Talmud—Avot 4:1).

Originally published: February 20, 2013


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