Chapter 1. University student at age 15
I was born in Georgia, Tbilisi, into a Jewish family.
Our lives were good. My dad had two small sunglass factories. There was almost always a jar of black caviar in the house, and in the garage stood three of Dad's vehicles. One of the vehicles was even a "Toyota" - considered very rare at the time. There were maybe 2-3 people in the city who were traveling in a car made abroad.
Life was calm and peaceful, until in 1991 when the Soviet Union began to disintegrate and Georgia was the first country to demand independence. Riots broke out in the country, people were robbed in broad daylight, children were stolen, people were indiscriminately shot and the government failed to maintain power.
Life in Georgia became dangerous and in December 1992 my dad decided to abandon all of his property - a big house, cars, and factories, and immigrate to Israel. I was then 15 years old.
We packed boxes within a few days. I remember my mother's tears. I remember how we packed quietly, without making any noise, so that the neighbors would not find out we were leaving. Why did we have to leave quietly? Because if they found out we were leaving, they could rob us on the way to the airport. I remember how my dad gave one of his vehicles as a gift to a trusted man, who secretly brought us to the airport at night.
Dad only had $12,000 in his pocket - that's all that was available at home. After we left, everything Dad didn't have time to take with him was robbed and torn to pieces by his former partners. They took everything - work machines in factories, vehicles and all the rest of the property. Until the last item.
In Israel, we were met by relatives who had arrived there six months earlier, also from Georgia. They settled in Ashkelon and the hand of fate led us there as well.
Dad decided to buy a small apartment of 70 square meters, but the $12,000 he brought with him were only enough to pay an down payment. The rest of the amount he agreed to pay in a mortgage spread out over 28 years.
We had to somehow keep living, to do something. Without money it is impossible to start a business. It was impossible to establish a spectacle factory in Israel. It required enormous resources, which my father did not have. Therefore, he decided to move to the jewelry business - a field of knowledge acquired from my grandparents.
After two weeks of arriving in Israel, Dad rented a small shop in Ashkelon, after reaching an agreement with the tenants that he would start paying rent in just two months, and opened a jewelry workshop there. When we left Georgia, we took tools for making jewelry with us, hoping we would need them in Israel. And that's exactly how it turned out.
I helped Dad tidy up the dishes, paint the walls, sweep the store.
The workshop opened a week later. 5 products in the showcase showcased our wealth - that's all my father managed to save :) ..
It was clear to us that it was unrealistic to compete with old jewelry stores that had 30 pounds of gold in a store. But my dad was determined. We were hereditary jewelers and that means we can create unique jewelry that no one else can make. While other people's storefronts display regular products, we can make handmade jewelry. Handicrafts are always more valued and more expensive.
Every morning I would go to the store with Dad - to open the store, for a whole day to sit and wait for new customers, in the evening - to close the store. The day we received an order, it was a happy day. But even that happiness was not enough to cover the rent of the store and sustain a family.
Slowly but surely, Dad got into new debts, taking out bank loans to cover previous loans, as is common with most Israelis.
Then tell us how to work "right": you take goods from the supplier for sale and try to sell them. If you do not succeed - you can return the goods to the supplier. It turned out that almost all jewelry stores in Israel work this way. Very quickly the store was filled with new jewelry.
We worked from morning to night, so we could pay rent, repay debts to suppliers, pay taxes. We would have left crumbs - if we had managed to earn 5% of the turnover, it would have been good.
After two months, Dad looked at our "business" and said to me, "Eli, nothing good is waiting for you here. This is a difficult road that leads nowhere. Go to university. You will get a degree and you will be able to find a normal job."
I was amazed. I thought, "Go to university? Me?! Where? After all, I do not even know Hebrew properly! I am only 15 years old! The university is in a different city altogether! How will I live alone? What will happen to the store? I must be in the store to help you sell!"
But Dad said "go learn."
So I went to study. Period.
When we arrived at Ben-Gurion University, in Be'er Sheva, we entered a reception office for new students. The clerk who received us said to Dad: "What?! It is suddenly to study! He is only 15 years old! He will not be able to study at university! It is impossible! He does not even have a high school diploma!"
But in fact, I did have a high school diploma. My dad taught me how to read and count as early as age 4, so I went to first grade at age 5, not age 7. Because of this I finished school two years early, that is, at age 14.
No, I was not a child prodigy. I simply had a father who always encouraged me to study. Even then, at the age of 15, he insisted that I be accepted to university, despite the fact that I did not know Hebrew and did not have enough money to pay for my studies and he was left in the store alone with all the problems that a new immigrant has to deal with.
Dad told the woman at the reception: "Give him a chance, let him try to pass an entrance exam. If he does not succeed, do not accept him for studies."
She looked at us very strangely, but went to consult someone in a nearby office. She returned after 15 minutes and said: "Okay. Let him try. If he passes the exams, we will get him to the preparatory school so that he can learn Hebrew and prepare himself for studies. He has a week to prepare for the exam. Come back in a week."
The exam included math, basic Hebrew, basic English, Russian, logic and thinking. They gave me books to prepare for the exam and we returned to Ashkelon.
Could I have hoped that I would be able to prepare for the exam in a week? No. Could I have hoped to be accepted to university? No. I have never been a scholar and a nerd.
But I have one "but." I am stubborn on an irrational level. If I have to do something - I'll do it. I will sweat, moan, insist, but I will do it. I will not sleep at night, I will not eat, but I will do it. Perseverance is a trait that has saved me many times and brought me to the goal.
I dove into the books and started preparing for the exam. From morning to late at night, with small breaks for lunch, without any magic act and without any secret teaching methods. Just focussing on the books. Page after page. Formula by formula.
Exactly a week later we arrived in Be'er Sheva again. Exams usually take place in a group setting, but I received special permission to take the exam on my own. I was put in a separate room and I received the exam notebook.
The examiner said, "You have three hours to complete all the tasks."
I was alone in the class. The exam was in Russian. I left the room after 50 minutes. Dad looked at me anxiously, and in his eyes I saw the question: "What, Eli, it didn't go well?"
I smiled back at him: "All done, Dad, and what they got!" :)
My father, mother, and I. Meir, Leah and Eli Shavit. 1995.
The examiner was very surprised that I left the exam too early, but checked the exam and ...
Two days later, I moved to Be'er Sheva, to the Altshuler dormitory, and began studying at the preparatory school at Ben-Gurion University.
Studies began. Lectures. New pace of life. Alone in a new city. Without my parents. Independent. Foreign language. New rules. New friends. New dating. Lots of lessons and assignments.
Once a week, usually on Friday, I would return home to Ashkelon. Saturday night - back to Be'er Sheva, to get to school in the morning. Sometimes on Saturdays I would stay in dormitories - to have fun and go wild with friends.
The truth is that friendships with them were not easy: the guys were 21-23, most of them were after military service. There were also 18-year-olds - they had come to university right after school. And I have only recently turned 16 years old. I even had a hard time starting with girls - I was too small for them :)
In all this whirlwind of events, I had to successfully complete the prep and go through a psychometric. I had no discounts and I must not fail. I knew that if I did not pass a psychometric test and did not receive a bachelor's degree, I would have to return to Ashkelon, to sit in a jewelry store and sell gold pendants for the rest of my life. So I went ahead with full force! If necessary - do what is necessary!
Slowly as I learned Hebrew, I began to understand almost half of what the lecturers we saying.
If the subject was interesting, I would have devoted myself entirely to it, but most of the time I checked out and burned the time. The main thing was to prepare well for psychometrics and that's the only thing I focused on. Somehow I miraculously managed to pass the psychometric and get accepted for a bachelor's degree at Ben Gurion University, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering.
The new school year began in September. The students examined me with suspicion - the guys did not understand what a 16 year old boy was doing in such a serious institution.
Key # 1 to Success
Neither the fastest nor the smartest reach the finish line. Stubborn winners who do not stop reach the finish line. When you do not stop and do the right thing - the impossible becomes possible.
"The most important is to do whatever you decided to do.״