Moshe Bernstein* : 45, rebbi and father of seven
Tuvya Stern : Lawyer and to’en rabbani
I’m the last person I would call naive. What’s more, I come from a family of skeptics. My father was a highly successful real estate professional who, during his 40 years as a top-level executive for a major development, leasing, and management company, developed a well-honed instinct for whom to trust and whom to stay away from. My mother, too, is both super-wise and super-cautious. She’s always told me she trusts no one other than Hashem, my father, and her children. Growing up, this attitude was ingrained in me as well.
Which only goes to show that even the wariest of people can be taken in by a con man, if they don’t know what to look out for.
My story begins just as my father’s career was coming to an end. The ownership of the real estate firm he worked for had changed hands, and as a result, though only in his early sixties, he felt forced to retire early. Retirement didn’t suit my father, however. Used to being a vigorous leader and builder all his life, he suddenly found himself with nothing to do, and with the depressing feeling that all of the skills he had acquired over a lifetime were suddenly worthless.
It was during this time that David Abrams* contacted him. David was a New York–based real estate investor who had developed a reputation for his savvy and success. That success was clearly manifest in his high-roller lifestyle, which included luxury vehicles, Rolex watches, and exotic vacation homes. David began turning to my father for his professional advice about various real estate investments, and their relationship quickly deepened. When David presented my father with a joint investment opportunity in European real estate, my father agreed to invest over $1 million in the deal.
What made my father trust him? I don’t know, and, unfortunately, he’s no longer around to ask. David certainly had a way with people that convinced you he was looking out for your best interests.
We also came to the realization, only after his death, that my father had actually been in the undetected beginning stages of dementia in his final year, and therefore his normally shrewd judgment was impaired. But all this is hindsight speculation — in fact, at the time, we had no reason to question my father’s decision to invest such a large chunk of his assets with David. All we knew was that my father and David had clicked from the start, instantly developing a warm relationship that extended into the personal realm and was almost like father and son — socializing, davening, and learning together.
Unfortunately, before my father was able to use his acumen to make these buildings profitable, he passed away. His death was sudden, and a blow to us all. After the dust settled, I learned that he’d left me with an inheritance of $500,000. Obviously, as a chinuch professional living in Eretz Yisrael with seven children to marry off, news of this money was quite welcome.
One day, shortly after my father’s death, I got a phone call from David Abrams.
(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 733)
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