CareerUp: Linking careers, high tech and Jewish millennials

October 20, 2016
CareerUp co-founder Bradley Caro Cook (left) speaks with Eytan Elbaz of Google AdSense. Photo by Manny Saltiel

Jewish networking in Los Angeles is a cottage industry, with a number of organizations trying to help young Jews find career advancement, social connections and romance.

The newest entry into that market, CareerUp, recently held its debut event at the UCLA Hillel Center for Jewish Life.

The goal of the event, said its co-founder Rabbi Adam Grossman, was “to anchor career advancement in Jewish identity and understand from each other where our own path starts.”

Grossman started CareerUp with Bradley Caro Cook, a veteran Jewish networker who previously founded Project Beyond, an organization that sets up industry leaders in Israel with former Birthright Israel participants hoping to immigrate there.

The two never would have met if not for Cook’s persistence.

“I actually tried to blow him off when he first tried to get in contact with me,” Grossman said at the Sept. 29 event.

But Grossman relented, and the two met in Gainesville, Fla., where Grossman is the CEO of the University of Florida’s Hillel. At the time, South Florida was in the grip of a heat wave, and Hillel’s air conditioning wasn’t working properly. So for two days, the pair baked in an 85-degree room as they teased out ideas about how to engage young Jews who otherwise might turn their back on their faith. Eventually, they settled on career advancement.

Cook said CareerUp distinguishes itself from other, similar organizations by building professional networks in different fields and then approaching partners, such as Hillel of UCLA, to recruit young people, rather than simply finding millennials on its own.

Just over a year after Grossman and Cook’s conversation in Florida, about 50 people gathered in an upstairs hall at Hillel of UCLA for an evening program focused on entrepreneurship, media and high tech, titled “From Silicon Beach to Hollywood.”

The students in the crowd were recruited by Hillel along with AEPi, the Jewish National Fund Futures program, and the campus group Tamid, which stresses entrepreneurship as a way to connect youth with Israel.

Weeks before the event, Cook asked student participants about their career goals and “made the shidduchs [matches] between the industry leaders and the students.”

To open the program, Cook and Grossman landed one of the city’s most vaunted young Jewish entrepreneurs, Eytan Elbaz, who with his brother, Gilad Elbaz, co-founded the company that would become Google AdSense. Eytan lectured on the six things he wished he had known at age 25, including, “ ‘No’ has many different meanings” in business and “struggle precedes growth.”

He recounted a story about the company they founded, Applied Semantics, that could have been a plotline from the HBO series “Silicon Valley.”

Early on, the young entrepreneurs agreed to accept as their CEO a “traditional, older, gray-haired tall guy” to appease investors. While their company was scrimping and saving every bit of its $6 million in venture funding, the CEO spent lavishly on luxuries and “strange consultants,” Eytan said. Before long, the Elbaz brothers were down to $400,000 in remaining funds and on the verge of giving up the company.

When the founders decided to fire the CEO, he threatened a lawsuit. At the time, Eytan suggested vandalizing the CEO’s house by covering it in toilet paper. Gilad responded with the voice of reason.

“[Gilad] looked at me with his wide eyes and he said, ‘Why don’t we make the stock so valuable that he regrets he ever did this to us?’ ” Eytan said.

Eventually, they sold the company for $102 million and immeasurably changed the world of online advertising.

After Eytan’s presentation, wellness coach Jordana Reim moderated a panel on “Creating Your Creative Dream Career.” The panel consisted of actor Jamie Elman, who co-founded the Yiddish web series “YidLife Crisis”; Mexican-American singer and lyricist Sam Woldenberg (better known as Jacbern); Israel-Hollywood liaison and activist Lana Melman; music agent Civia Caroline; and Matthew Helderman, CEO of the creative management company Buffalo 8.

Finally, students and professionals broke up into groups of about a half dozen to discuss how virtues named in Pirke Avot could help them increase their effectiveness as networkers.

By the next day, Cook said, many students had already arranged informational interviews with the industry professionals.

Cook considers himself a professional networker. After nine years teaching special education and earning a doctorate in the subject, he decided to move to Israel at age 32. Observing the constant influx of Birthright participants, he decided to create Project Beyond to help young people find careers in Israel.

His CareerUp partner, Grossman, admitted at the event that his own path was a “unique journey into the rabbinate.” He began his career in the Midwest doing freak-out comedy on the streets for a syndicated radio show. After a stint in concert promotion in Boston, he said, “I dyed my hair blond and moved to Australia to surf and bar tend.”

Returning home, he searched for a meaningful career and settled on the rabbinate.

With CareerUp, he hopes to marry Jewish theology with networking, an area that many young people see as crucial to grow their nascent careers. At the September event, just days before the Jewish New Year, he seized on the holiday to drive that point home.

“With Rosh Hashanah upon us, our goal is to more than just change ourselves,” he said. “Our goal is to actually look inside ourselves, to look at our strengths, to see our weaknesses, and to challenge ourselves not just to do better, but actually to see where we can go.”

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