Informed By Struggle

Hardship forged a sense of gratitude in SCU finance professor Meir Statman and his wife, Navah.

Informed By Struggle
Meir and Navah Statman at their 1969 wedding. Photo courtesy the Statman family.

Those lucky enough to spend time with Meir Statman, the Glenn Klimek Professor of Finance at Santa Clara, and his wife, Navah Statman MBA ’84, learn in due course that this is a family that has experienced its share of uncertainty and turmoil.

Meir was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after his family fled the Holocaust. Navah’s mother was secreted across borders during World War II. The pair grew up at a time of scarcity and conflict. They moved to America as young immigrant parents—navigating circumstances that didn’t always pave a generous welcome.

But to hear them tell it, the path has been nothing but joyous.

“If you ask us, ‘How was it in New York?’ We’ll tell you, ‘Great,’” says Navah. “If you ask us, ‘How was it in Philadelphia?’” We’ll say, ‘Great.’ Same with Israel.”

“We are very blessed,” adds Meir.

This could well be known as the Statman way: Accept the reality of your situation. Always stay positive, while searching for the best possible outcome. And show gratitude for every blessing along the way.

It’s a resilience that can be traced back generations. Ancestors of both Meir and Navah charted new lives that converged in Israel, each facing uncertain futures—and fleeing Nazi aggression, in the case of Meir’s progenitors.

Each wound up changing the course and the fortunes of generations to come.

CHASING A DREAM

Navah’s father was a teen in Romania in the 1930s—a time when antisemitism was an everyday fact of life. Her great-grandfather, a rabbi, became a leader in Romania’s Zionist movement, which dreamed of a homeland for Jews in what is now Israel.

By 1935, that dream seemed to inch closer when her great-grandparents secured travel certificates from the British-controlled government overseeing Palestine.

Documents in hand, Navah’s great-grandparents and four of their 14 grown children and their families—including Navah’s then-teenage father—left Romania for the British territory.

The timing would prove fortuitous, as the fascist party Iron Guard was on the rise—helping spur vulnerable Romania to join the Axis powers in World War II (a stance it would later reverse).

Tragically, of the family who remained behind, only four of Navah’s cousins survived.

Statman.wedding2
Meir and Navah at their wedding with the mother of the bride. Photo courtesy the Statman family.

Meanwhile, Navah’s mother and her family lived nearby in French-controlled Syria. By 1940, they too sought to leave their home for Palestine, driven away from Syria by an ominous uncertainty as the country sought its independence from Nazi-friendly French Vichy control. Travel was forbidden between neighboring Palestine and Syria. But crossing the border one or two at a time, eventually all six children and their parents made it—with Navah’s then 20-year-old mom making the journey stowed away behind a load of vegetables in a British army truck driven by an uncle.

A JOURNEY ACROSS CONTINENTS

Meir’s paternal and maternal ancestors fled their homes in Poland, near what is now the Ukrainian border, amid the Nazi 1939 invasion.

His father had recently gotten a uniform for high school, but never got to wear it. Instead, the family joined others fleeing through Siberia, then Uzbekistan—where Meir’s parents would meet—under the protection of the Soviets as the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. While in a refugee camp in Siberia, Meir’s paternal grandfather worked in logging, and Meir’s father worked as an accountant at a collective farm in Uzbekistan, later becoming a manager.

After six years and travel east, south, and west by foot, train, or car, Meir’s family returned to Europe. A Polish Christian family had moved into the Statman family home in Swirze, Poland. After the war, they met the Statmans outside of town to pay for the house. Meanwhile, the Statmans lived in a displaced persons camp in Germany, where Meir was born in 1947.

After six years and travels that crossed continents, the families returned to Europe.

That same year, the United Nations approved a partitioning of Palestine that led to Israeli independence in 1948. The extended family emigrated to Israel in 1949.

Although his father, like many around him, never attended high school or college, his abilities helped him rise quickly—accountant, and later manager of grocery stores that turned into supermarkets.

“Most people of that generation missed their education,” says Meir. “You saw a lot of people who would have gone to higher education but could not. Somebody had to work in order to put some food on the table.”

A COUNTRY OF REFUGEES

Life in the fledgling country of Israel was not easy, but the ordeals the families had been through made hardships like food rationing, poverty, language barriers, or culture shock seem bearable by comparison.

“My parents are my benchmark. I know that I would never need the kind of resilience they needed to make it,” says Meir. “So whenever I face difficulty, I am able to say, ‘This too shall pass.’”

The adjustment for Meir’s family and families like them came with special challenges, as Israel sought to establish itself as a country of strong people, a “never again” place where no Holocaust could ever be inflicted.

Some veteran Israelis, those who had lived longer in the region, disparaged Holocaust-surviving immigrants and those who perished as weak, failing to have risen up and fought the Nazis, like they did in the Warsaw ghetto, in which tens of thousands of Jews tried but tragically failed to resist Nazi deportation to death camps.

What almost all the new arrivals—whether from Europe or elsewhere—had in common was scarcity, and a need to rely on one another to get by.

In the Israeli city where Meir’s family first decamped, his mother realized that her small food rations would not last if she tried to cook what she was most accustomed to cooking. A fellow refugee, a woman from Iraq, taught her how to cook with the native foods like eggplant, squash, and zucchini.

A COUNTRY OF REFUGE

Both Meir and Navah remember small comforts with great gratitude. For Meir, it was the fact that his father as grocery manager had access to surplus chocolate—Meir’s favorite—despite rationing. Or that his father, later on, was given a car for work. At the time, cars were beyond the means of most Israeli families.

They both remember their childhoods as egalitarian and free of classist bullying that can sometimes leave scars. Children in Meir’s school wore a uniform of navy slacks and light blue shirts, masking any differences in the financial resources of families.

Showing off was frowned upon, and for the most part, “We all had the same amount of nothing,” remembers Navah.

Navah also was profoundly grateful to have grandparents and extended family nearby—as so many of her classmates had lost grandparents in the Holocaust.

“Most of the kids in my classroom had no grand- parents,” she recalls. “Sometimes I would say ‘I’m going to my grandparents,’ and a whole line of kids would come behind me.”

They attended the Hebrew University in Jerusalem after their mandatory stints in the Israeli Army, receiving diplomas their parents and others of their generation had been denied. This is also where they met, at a gathering organized by Meir’s cousin who was Navah’s high school classmate. They married in 1969.

AMERICAN DREAMS

The job Meir landed when he graduated from the Hebrew University, as a financial analyst, turned out to be monotonous. As he says: “Projects lasted longer than my interest in them.”

The pair decided to move to the United States for Meir’s Ph.D. in business and Navah’s master’s in library science at Columbia University. Later, they moved from New York to Philadelphia and then to Cupertino in late 1979, when Meir started his work at Santa Clara University.

In this new country, the biggest test of their resilience came with their older daughter’s struggles with bipolar disorder.

Meir Statman
This past April, Meir and Navah Statman donated $3 million to advance faculty excellence at SCU’s Leavey School of Business. The funds will be used for teaching and scholarship grants to faculty members, and for teaching and scholarship expenses such as research databases. “When people ask me for one word to describe Santa Clara, it is decency,” said Meir. Photo by Jim Gensheimer.

Years ago, psychologists and psychiatrists attributed symptoms of autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar illness to parents’ deficiencies, painfully—and wrongly—suggesting that parents who behaved more warmly toward their children wouldn’t face such trouble.

This is what Meir and Navah encountered in the early 1980s when they sought help for their daughter. The only question to be answered, it seemed, was whether blame for their daughter’s difficulties rested with Meir or with Navah. It put a huge strain on both of them, but they kept searching for answers and help. It wasn’t until their daughter was an adult that she was diagnosed correctly by a psychiatrist who knew that mental illnesses can be present in young children, even if fully manifested only in adults. They also found much help at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Meir and Navah wish they had known earlier what they learned only later. They continue to help their daughter and long ago forgave the therapists who misled them. Navah has turned her sorrow into helping families like hers by her continuing volunteer work at NAMI.

Still, they look back with gratitude for the serendipity that has blessed their life in the U.S.

It was a scholarship that funded Meir’s doctoral degree at Columbia. Meir answered an ad from Santa Clara University for a faculty position, interviewed, and was offered the job here. As the family prepared to move across the country, Navah’s position at the library fell through—but SCU was able secure a scholarship for Navah to get her MBA.

On campus, Meir would meet collaborators and friends. His working relationship with Paul Locatelli, S.J., then academic vice president, deepened into a friendship. Eventually, Fr. Locatelli became University President. Through Meir’s collaborations with SCU professors, especially Hersh Shefrin, he became a pioneer in the field of behavioral finance and a sought-after speaker.

MANY GIFTS

Meir’s success led to a level of financial comfort that their parents could have only dreamed. The couple realized they had more to share, beyond what they have given over the years to places and issues about which they care. So, they turned again to the Statman way—acceptance, positivity, gratitude for every blessing—for guidance.

They’ve always agreed with the adage “It is better to give with a warm hand than a cold one.”

The result: The couple decided to use their good fortune to express their gratitude for the blessing that SCU has been in their lives.

In spring 2021, they announced that they would be donating $3 million for the benefit of faculty teaching and research in the finance department that had so nurtured Meir in his career.

To the Statmans, such giving just makes sense. For one thing, the couple regularly donates, and donates even more when they experience good fortune—calling it “good luck insurance.” And they’ve always agreed with the adage “It is better to give with a warm hand than a cold one.”

“That really resonates with us,” says Meir, “because we are measured by what we give, not by what we have.”

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