November 19, 2018

Tackling the Job Search

After some 40 years in the business world, Gordon Steen never thought his morning would start outdoors with hyenas, elephants and monkeys.

But that was more than six years ago, before he had closed his 17-year-old shipping-and-packing business. While contemplating his next career move, he became a customer-service representative at the Baltimore Zoo.

“That was a tough job, being out in the sun all day long,” Steen, now 65, said of the seasonal work that ended with winter’s onset. “But I thought it would be interesting, and it was — and the economy hadn’t tanked yet.”

But in the late summer of 2008, the country plunged into a deep economic recession, and Steen soon found himself doing jobs he had never considered as he searched for an elusive full-time position. In the past few years, he has worked part time as a writer, researcher, photographer and leasing consultant.

Struggling senior adults are just part of the national unemployment picture.

In August, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent, or about 12.5 million people, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Economists often accompany such statistics with comments about the uncounted “under-employed,” or those who have stopped searching. Among Americans ages 65 and older, there were 493,000 unemployed people seeking work, up from 480,000 a year earlier, according to the Department of Labor.

Those seniors face some challenges specific to older adults. Although age discrimination is illegal, prospective employers are put off by what they perceive as the seniors’ potential skill deficits, fears about higher health-care costs and concern about longevity in the position. 

“With so many of the jobs I am applying for, they involve technology and the people applying are in their 20s and are three times faster,” Steen said. “At the same time, I am very adaptive to learning, and in fact, my ability to learn is a lot better than I thought it would be.”

Jeffrey Davidson, 67, understands what Steen is up against. The online LinkedIn profile of the Los Angeles-area professional exudes skills and experience — “Professional Consultant/Public Speaker/Trainer specializing in PowerPoint, Excel, Word & WordPerfect at PC Consultants” — but it’s still been an uphill battle.

“There are 4,000 people looking for four jobs in any given vocation,” Davidson said. “I will honestly say that right now I’m not trying as hard as I was. It’s a combination of frustration — what I’m looking for isn’t available, I don’t know who to contact. I’m trying to put the word out, nothing’s happening.”

After seeing his consulting work dwindle in recent years, Davidson turned to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) of Los Angeles for moral support among like-minded people at a weekly group.

“Prior to the onset of the recession at the end of 2008, I don’t think even 5 percent of the individuals seeking services with our agency were over 65,” said Jay Soloway, training and education director for JVS Los Angeles. Today it’s between 15 to 20 percent, he said.

For Jewish vocational service agencies across the United States, the challenges facing seniors have not gone unnoticed. Some JVS operations have seen increases as high as 20 to 30 percent in the senior category, according to Genie Cohen, CEO of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services. Her operation provides technical, informational and communications support to 28 JVS operations in Canada, Israel and the United States.

“Everybody is struggling to find help and programs for this part of the community,” Cohen said.

Jewish Family Services in Columbus, Ohio, has a “2 Young 2 Retire” program that focuses on financial needs, staying healthy and “encore career choices with the goal of discovering work on your own terms related to personal values, passions and aspirations.” Jewish Vocational Service of Metro-
West in New Jersey runs the Center for Creative Maturity, which covers people older than 45 and targets subgroups such as those with disabilities ages 55 and older, older refugees and immigrants, and even nursing home residents. In Louisville, Ky., the Mature Work program of Jewish Family & Career Services covers assistance with returning to the workforce and developing strategies to enter new careers.

In Los Angeles, JVS started Mature Ability, a program aimed at people 55 and older. The agency also created the eight-week Bank Work$ program, which guides people toward jobs in banking, often as tellers.

“We get into issues of the realities of working today with younger supervisors and maintaining self-esteem,” Soloway said. He is concerned that some people will not take such jobs as they look for something more lucrative and prestigious, which in turn prolongs the job search.

Other issues abound, points out Tracey Paliath, economic services director of Baltimore’s Jewish Community Services. Even one’s e-mail address — or lack thereof — can be a detriment.

“You have to explain to them that they have to apply online and that paper is sort of past,” she said. “And if they have an e-mail that’s aol.com, that sends up a red flag” because some see it as an outdated system.

The challenge is not just teaching people the new methods of job hunting — the Internet did not exist the last time some older Americans were job hunting — but the reality that works in their fields may not return.

Paliath says that about 40 percent of her colleagues’ clients are 50 and older. “We have had people in their 70s and even a couple in their 80s,” she said.

Not everyone is working to recapture what once were retirement funds, she added. Some people are picking up a mortgage or health-care costs for children and grandchildren in difficult economic straits.

Despite the subtle and overt roadblocks, Steen, who has an adult son living at home — “but at least he’s got a job” — is not giving up.

“They talk about the hidden job market, which is people you know who know someone else,” Steen said. “That’s kind of what’s hidden behind the green door, and it takes some imagination to open it.” 

‘Like’ this Israeli site for jobs

Here’s a dirty little secret in the job-recruiting business: All those Web sites that help employers and potential employees match up don’t really work that well. Despite all the bells and whistles, the automatic résumé builders and the ability to search on keywords for specific skills and expertise, the best way to find the right candidate hasn’t changed much in the last 100 years. Word of mouth is still king, especially when a cash reward is offered.

Israeli startup Zao aims to bring the recruitment business into the 21st century. The company has built a “social recruiting” system that allows HR departments to get the word out virally about open positions and track the results from a single user-friendly dashboard (goodbye Excel) with all the analytics you’d expect in the age of Google.

Very often, the best source of referrals comes from a company’s vendors and business partners. Using Zao, companies can reach beyond their own staff and automatically pay the lucky referrers that cash bonus, even if they work for a third-party supplier.

Here’s how it works. If an employee doesn’t know someone who fits the job description, he or she can post it on Facebook or LinkedIn. If a friend or colleague makes a successful referral, both parties split the cash bonus. If a friend of a friend finds the right person for the job, everyone takes a piece. Zao handles the entire process, from e-mail to pay-out. Zao makes money by charging the employer an added 30 percent.

Founder and CEO Ziv Eliraz said he conceived of Zao after having the same troubles while recruiting for an Israeli company whose U.S. office he was managing. Job boards, external recruiters and even Craigslist were generating too many junk résumés. How about utilizing the power of the crowd? Eliraz thought.

“We all know hundreds of people,” he said. “But there was no good tool to get to them, no way to expand the circle beyond a company’s employees.”

 

Targeted recommendations

On Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, it’s considered good manners to let your friends and colleagues know about a job opening via a generic blast to everyone you know at once. To incentivize someone to target the message, the cash bonuses come in handy.

“They’re not a must,” Eliraz said. “But they increase engagement. And they’re respectful of people’s time. If you send a request to 20 people to forward a job listing, without a reward, maybe two out of those 20 will respond. With a reward, it might jump to five out of the 20.”

One more goodie: Once you let Zao access your Facebook or LinkedIn friends, Zao can scan their résumés and recommend to whom you should forward the job posting.

Eliraz, 42, was born in Israel but worked for 10 years in the United States for Israeli companies including InfoLink, Hotbar, Emblaze and Amobee — the latter of which was sold to Singapore Telecom for $320 million (Eliraz was VP of strategic alliances at the time). Zao is his first startup. He’s been programming since he was 12 but became a lawyer. After working for a big Tel Aviv law firm, he found he missed tech too much.

Zao recently announced financing of $1.3 million from Oren Zeev, the founding partner at Orens Capital and a former general partner at Apax, a venture capital firm. Other investors include executives from Audible and Time Warner.

Zao is not without competition, Jobvite being the most formidable. But that company doesn’t offer the cash rewards and bonus-splitting functionality that Zao does (at least not yet). If that’s important to a customer, Zao is the go-to address for juicing up the referral process.

Israeli water power that doesn’t give a dam

You don’t have to build dams to get hydroelectricity from water flowing through municipal pipes, says Dr. Daniel Farb, the Los Angeles immigrant who previously shook up the Israeli clean-tech power scene with his Leviathan Energy company’s award-winning Wind Tulip.

The ecologically conscious physician recently unveiled his latest brainchild, a turbine that turns excess pressure inside existing underground water pipes into energy for the electric grid.

The Negev-based Leviathan team is still fine-tuning the invention at its new testing site rented from Kibbutz Re’im. The Negev kibbutz’s Isralaser industry is fabricating many of the parts for the turbine, dubbed “Benkatina” in tribute to Second Temple High Priest Ben Katin, who made a machine to lower and raise the ancient Temple’s laver to and from the water table.

The modern version based on Farb’s vision was engineered by Avner Farkash, Leviathan’s vice president for research and development.

 

New, eco-friendly energy market

The Benkatina beta model already has been implemented in pilot areas by Israel’s national water carrier Mekorot as well as in the South Philippines. An Italian partner is lined up next, and Farb met recently with a power company in Mumbai that is interested in doing business.

He says that the invention is creating an international buzz because it opens a new energy market using existing infrastructure and even solves a problem in that infrastructure.

“Managers of water systems already know where there is excess pressure, and often they put pressure breakers in those locations to prevent leaks from forming. One of the great things about what we’re doing is that we are battling the water and energy shortage at the same time,” Farb said “An estimated $14 billion worth of water is wasted each year through leakage, and decreased pressure means decreased leaks.”

The company received a grant from the chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor under the Eureka program to develop the technology, as well as a grant from the Ness Fund for business development in the Negev.

Farb is optimistic that thousands of potential installation sites in Israel could start adding several more megawatts of power to the seriously overtaxed electricity grid by next summer.

A smaller version of the Benkatina turbine could provide off-grid electricity in remote areas of the world in need of moderate amounts of power, as long as there are nearby water pipes. This would be more consistently reliable than either solar or wind energy, Farb said.

And if a proposed Dead Sea canal ever gets built, the Leviathan technology could play a role.

“I can foresee desalinated water coming from the Gulf of Eilat or from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea through pipes, and taking off some of the extra pressure in many points along the way to use for hydroelectricity,” Farb said.

Leviathan’s Benkatina turbine in use in the Philippines.

Radically different approach

The device is groundbreaking, according to Farb, because it is radically different from the way hydroelectric power has been accomplished for the last two centuries.

“In the past, they used a dam, used up all the pressure, worked in an environment of stable flow and used turbines that could be exposed to the air. In-pipe conditions are different, so there is no dam, which makes it more ecologically viable. Only the excess pressure is used so the integrity of the piping system can be maintained; the flow is variable; and it functions in a difficult, closed-system environment with splashing water,” he said.

The turbine would only be installed in parts of the piping known to have extra pressure. “We don’t want you to turn on the tap and have nothing come out,” Farb said.

He’s a firm believer in the need for a mix of wind, wave, water and solar energy alternatives.

“We’re in an energy crisis that will last at least 100 years, and we have to provide solutions in more than just one area,” he said. “Leviathan has provided a series of solutions that, when fully implemented with the right financial and bureaucratic support, can make a serious difference in the world we live in.”

Harvesting solar power in Negev Desert

Yosef Abramowitz is running out of time. 

With only minutes to go until he has to speak to a group of donors at the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Abramowitz looks like he just finished a workout. He’s wearing sneakers, shorts and a white T-shirt featuring an outline of David Ben-Gurion’s head superimposed on the picture of a sun. 

He excuses himself from the table at a Tel Aviv cafe and jogs to the bathroom to change into his “costume,” which includes slacks and a clean, ironed shirt. Immediately after the donor meeting, he flies to the United States for a few weeks to court more donors. 

Abramowitz, 48, is fundraising for the Arava Power Co. (APC), which aims ultimately to provide 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs through solar power. The company now has a 4.9-megawatt field up and running in the Negev Desert and is building a 40-megawatt field nearby. 

It’s an unlikely mission for the Boston-raised Abramowitz: His background is in human rights activism and journalism, not science and technology. 

“Isn’t that crazy? It’s the craziest thing,” he said. “It’s not like you wake up one day and say, ‘I’m going to move to Israel and do solar.’ “

But as he tells it, that’s more or less what happened.

After success as a college student in the 1980s fighting for imprisoned Soviet Jewry activists in Russia and against apartheid in South Africa, Abramowitz served in the Israel Defense Forces and earned a graduate degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. Abramowitz, whose activism has rankled the organized Jewish world for years, then spent the 1990s and early 2000s writing for a handful of Jewish publications. His journalism career included writing a 1996 series of articles that called into question JNF’s finances.

In 2006, looking for a quiet lifestyle, he and his wife moved with their children — they have five, including two adopted from Ethiopia — to Kibbutz Ketura, near Israel’s southern tip, where Abramowitz had volunteered following high school. The plan was to spend the year writing, but Abramowitz scrapped that almost immediately upon arriving at the kibbutz.

“We got there on Aug. 24 at the end of the day, and this hot rush of air just hits you, and you go,‘Oh my God,’ and the sun is setting and it’s burning my skin,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m sure the whole place works on solar power.’ ”

It didn’t, because no commercial solar power existed in Israel. Hoping to change that, Abramowitz partnered with Ed Hofland, an investor who lived on the kibbutz, and David Rosenblatt, an investor based in New Jersey, to found the Arava company.

From left: Ed Hofland, David Rosenblatt and Yosef Abramowitz, co-founders of the Arava Power Co. Photo courtesy of Arava Power Co.

Since then, Abramowitz laments the “100 regulatory battles” he says he’s had to fight against the Israeli government to build the 4.9-megawatt field, which began running last year, and to launch several other solar energy projects.

Officials from the Public Utilities Authority, which administers Israel’s energy infrastructure, did not respond to several calls for comment. 

For Abramowitz, the process is grating. While he has launched ventures and organized campaigns before, and while he understands budgets and bills, he speaks the language of a social justice organizer, not a businessman. He calls his work “Zionist activism” and likens himself to Don Quixote “slaying dragons and tilting at windmills.” 

Abramowitz’s analogy for APC’s success is the story of the Soviet Jewry movement, not the achievements of other solar companies. 

“My point of view was, I can get a Prisoner of Zion out of solitary in the gulag and we can’t change the laws in our own country?” he said. “It was just clear as day that it was doable.”

To Abramowitz’s employees, his idealistic attitude is both an inspiration and, at times, a hindrance. Engineer Ram Duani calls Abramowitz the dream “of every engineer: He has the vision, he has the money, and he wants to invest in something new.”

Hannah Schafer, APC’s director of communications, notes that Abramowitz’s ambitions don’t always consider the company’s logistical limitations. 

“There are two opposite ends of the spectrum,” she said. “Yosef is the dreamer. Yosef likes to run off, and sometimes you have to pull him back in on a leash.”

Despite decades in the Jewish community’s public eye, and as much as he sees himself as a visionary, Abramowitz projects himself as a colorful character as well as an entrepreneur. After he left the Tel Aviv cafe to address the JNF donors, his publicist sent out two links at his request: One was to an article about Abramowitz’s near obsession with Madonna — he has traveled across continents to watch her perform. 

The other was to “Scissor Sheldon,” a video that urges billionaire Sheldon Adelson to donate his money to President Barack Obama in exchange for a sexual favor from comedian Sarah Silverman — whose sister, Susan, is Abramowitz’s wife.

While his daring personality has pushed him to dream beyond the company’s limits, it also has given him the confidence to start a solar company with no experience in the field. Schafer said that when launching APC, Abramowitz and his partners realized that all they needed to do was “look like we know what we’re talking about.”

So instead of spending years researching solar power, APC’s founders managed to install one solar panel at Ketura, which they would show investors as a model of their larger concept. 

If he is a dreamer, Abramowitz is relentlessly focused on one dream. APC’s official goal is to provide one-tenth of Israel’s power; Abramowitz dreams of a country run entirely on solar energy. He sees APC as one part social action, one part Zionism, one part Jewish values and one part business. 

Abramowitz, for example, decided that APC would donate the profits from the solar field’s corner panels to four nonprofits, in accordance with the Jewish commandment of pe’ah, which mandates that farmers leave the corners of their fields for the poor. 

He has a grandiose vision for his small company — one that is less about revenues and expenses than about values and ideals. Abramowitz sees solar energy as the key to lowering Israel’s high energy costs, cutting pollution and fulfilling Ben-Gurion’s vision of making Israel’s desert bloom. 

“I feel like we’re out of time,” he said. “That’s why I’m always on three hours’ sleep. I’m in a rush. The whole planet should be in a rush. The Jewish people should be in
a rush.”

Rami Levy: Israel’s new grocery store king

The corporate offices of Rami Levy, Israel’s nouveau riche supermarket mogul, sit atop one of his grocery stores in southern Jerusalem. It’s not a busy neighborhood, nor is it easily accessible by public transit. But once the building comes into view, there’s no mistaking that it’s his.

Plastered across the side wall in bold letters on a yellow background are the words Rami Levy Hashikma Market. The company name appears at least six more times elsewhere on the building.

Meet the new Israeli mogul – with a net worth about $1 billion, according to Haaretz – whom many Jews outside Israel do not yet recognize, but who is emerging as a champion of the country’s economically struggling families.

Levy, 57, is the owner of the third largest grocery store chain in Israel, with 24 stores across the country en route to the goal of 50. Other competitors have much larger chains, but Levy has gained attention in part by cultivating the persona of a poor boy who made good and now is passing along the benefits to his customers. The benefits include sales and special deals for Jewish holidays, like low prices on matzah for Passover.

Last week, as the cost of bread in Israel rose 6 1/2 percent, Levy’s stores said they would not raise their prices until after Sukkot. Levy’s larger competitors will raise their bread prices after Rosh Hashanah, according to Israeli reports.

“I want the consumer to be happy,” said Levy, a man of few words who sticks to his message. “You want to kill two birds with one stone—to do business so that it’ll be good for the consumer.”

Levy grew up in the crowded Jerusalem neighborhood of Nachlaot, near the open market of Mahane Yehuda. He decided to open his first store when he witnessed a nasty interaction between his grandmother and a shop owner there during one of his furloughs from the Israeli army.

“He didn’t talk to her nicely and it troubled her,” Levy said. He thought, “I’ll get out of the army and I’ll open a store.”

His grandfather owned a small warehouse down the block from the shop owner, on Hashikma Street, a side road in the market that would give his chain its name. In 1977, Levy cleaned, painted and converted the warehouse into a grocery store. He attracted customers by selling food at the same price as his wholesalers.

After three months he connected directly with the companies that supplied his wholesalers and began to buy directly from them, which allowed him to turn a small profit and later to expand his chain.

Levy has since launched an insurance company and a cell phone provider, both of which bear his name. The Israeli business publication Calcalist reported two weeks ago that Levy’s cell phone provider now serves 66,000 customers, compared to several recently launched providers with more than 100,000 customers.

Below his corporate office, attached to the store, customers can also eat at Hashikma Pizza or Hashikma Burger. Levy said he would enter any industry “where I can do well for my customers, sell at low prices and make sure my customers can have good service.”

Customers at the store said they shop there for the low prices, but some other potential buyers prefer the supermarket across the street—a branch of the larger Super-Sal chain. They said they chose to forgo Levy’s deals because his shops are too crowded.

“He wants every meter,” said Moshe Zaken, 29. “You can’t turn the corner. You bump into people.”

Store owners on Hashikma Street, where he began, say he hasn’t changed from the days when they knew him as a friendly and generous grocer.

“He was a nice guy, a regular guy,” said Aviezer Zaken (no relation to Moshe), who runs a fish and poultry shop that like Levy’s chain is named for its owner. “We didn’t expect him to become a billionaire.”

Like a few others, Aviezer Zaken attributed Levy’s success to “the blessing of God. Just the blessing of God.”

Shop owners recalled that although Levy gave free matzah to needy people before Passover, he never gave himself a break.

“What free time? He worked 24 hours a day,” said Yaakov Gazit, who used to own a Turkish restaurant on the corner of Hashikma, near Levy’s store.

Even so, Gazit remembered a night years ago when he was stuck on the other side of Jerusalem with a flat tire and Levy came to assist him at 3 a.m.

“You’re stuck, so I’m helping you,” Gazit recalled Levy saying after Gazit had called for help.

Levy still maintains a storefront on Hashikma whose sign offers food for “cheaper than cheap.” Shop owners there say he comes by every few months, but the interior of the store is empty and some shelves need repairs. Passers-by said it hardly ever opens. The number advertised on the sign does not take incoming calls.

Whether or not God’s hand is guiding Levy’s success, religiously themed pictures of Jerusalem hang in his office and Levy has remained Sabbath observant. Beyond the time he spends that day with his family, his wife—whom he calls “my right hand”—and three of his four children, all adults, work for him. He also has three grandchildren.

“There’s less time one on one because everyone is busy, but we see each other during the day,” he said.

While Levy focuses on his business, he also has become entangled in political controversy. After his West Bank locations in Sha’ar Binyamin and Mishor Adumim began attracting Palestinian customers due to their low prices, the Palestinian Authority discouraged Palestinians from buying there. The PA claimed that patronizing the stores helped the economy of Israel’s settlements, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Still, Levy said, “The people kept buying. I serve my customers regardless of race or nationality.”

He also doesn’t discriminate between Jews and Palestinians when hiring.

“We have a lot of Jews in the Diaspora,” Levy said, so he hopes his hiring practices will prevent people from outside Israel saying to prospective employees, “You are a Jew; I won’t hire you.”

After he expands to 50 stores, Levy said he will have to stop because any additional branches would make his current cost structure unsustainable. Although he “can’t serve all of Israel,” he said he likes to see the larger chains imitate his tactics.

“The moment you blaze a trail and your trail does well for people, and your competitors are doing the same thing, I’m happy,” he said.

Perhaps the opening day of the 50th store will be when Levy takes respite from his never-ending work. What will he do then?

Levy is not talking about retiring, but his former colleague, Aviezer Zaken, said, “He’ll sit on the beach and fish.”

Cookies for a Koz: How mom’s cookies made a difference

Audrey Koz was a pharmacist, but her best medicine was the love she baked into her chocolate chip cookies.

“The cookies pack my mom’s magic in every bite,” said her daughter, Roberta Koz Wilson.

They were so good, Audrey Koz credited her cookies for launching the musical career of her son, Grammy Award-nominated saxophonist Dave Koz. When he started out in the jazz world, she sent cookies with him to every meeting and performance, and Capitol Records even took her — and her goodies — to meet record executives.

“We would send my mom in with batches of cookies to grease the way,” Dave Koz said.

When Audrey Koz died suddenly in 2005, Wilson decided that she needed a way to impact people like her mother did. She already had left her role as longtime vice president for affiliate sales and marketing at MTV Networks in search of a new challenge.

After tinkering with other small-business ideas, Wilson started baking her mother’s cookies for her daughter’s elementary school holiday boutique. Her success there gave her an idea, and with no previous experience in baking or starting a business — aside from her background in sales and marketing — Wilson launched Cookies for a Koz in 2008.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I learned everything I could.”

Wilson created a Web site and moved into a West Valley commercial kitchen as demand increased. When clients asked for different flavors, she introduced oatmeal raisin, white chocolate raspberry, snickerdoodle and red velvet. Seasonal specialties developed, too, such as pumpkin chocolate chip for Thanksgiving and apple pie cookies for Mother’s Day.

“I try very hard not to eat too many cookies while I’m baking them,” said Wilson, a Calabasas resident whose favorite cookie is shortbread.

To honor her mother, Wilson donates 10 percent of retail purchases to Starlight Children’s Foundation, Audrey Koz’s favorite charity. The organization, for which Dave Koz is a global ambassador, works to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children through entertainment, education and family activities.

“Anything that anyone can do on any level to make the world a little bit better for those in need is tikkun olam (repairing the world), and working with an organization like Starlight lets us see a tangible impact that we make on the lives of others,” Wilson said.

So far, her company has donated more than $30,000 to the foundation, but that’s not all that keeps her going.

“The greatest joy, by far, has been that it has kept me feeling connected to my beloved mom,” Wilson said. “I know this was her dream, and I feel like I am helping to fulfill that for her.”

Wilson’s brother, who is also her best customer, said there is something that sets his mother’s cookies above the rest.

“It’s like the way someone sings that takes your breath away. It’s not definable,” Dave Koz said. “When I tasted the cookies, there was a secret ingredient of love — a big, huge helping of it that sets them apart from other cookies.”

Hollywood has noticed. The cookies have been featured on the “Rachael Ray Show” and “The Bonnie Hunt Show,” and they have been included in gift bags for nominees and presenters at the Academy Awards and at numerous celebrity events.

With efforts to grow the business, Wilson hired a food consultant who shared the cookies at meetings across the country, and, in November, Cookies for a Koz hit the shelves of 375 HomeGoods stores. More recently, they were introduced at T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, resulting in a total of 2,200 stores across the United States and Canada that will sell a dry mix and cookie assortment.

Wilson said this is especially satisfying because Marshalls was her mother’s favorite store to shop at for bargains. Now its shelves feature packages with Audrey Koz’s photo and story.

“The fact that her cookies are at Marshalls truly gives me the chills,” said Wilson, a mother of two teenagers who she hopes will one day run the growing enterprise.

Her brother, who is the owner of Koz Wine, donates proceeds of his sales to the Starlight Children’s Foundation as well. Now the two are working to expand their brand as a socially conscious food company known as Koz Kitchen. Once again, their inspiration is their mother, whose kitchen was home to a steady stream of friends, family and love.

“My mom had the ability to make everyone in her presence feel like they were the most important person in the world,” Wilson said. “And it was all truly genuine.”

The siblings recently paired up on Dave Koz’s tour aboard a Royal Caribbean Mediterranean cruise. Wilson was on board to teach cooking school.

“The great irony is that when she started out, she was really lousy,” he said of his sister. “Over the years, she has become a really great chef.

Romney: U.S. ‘not a kibbutz’

America is not a kibbutz, Mitt Romney said in a bid to underscore his commitment to individual liberties.

“It’s individuals and their entrepreneurship which have driven America,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said at a Chicago fundraiser Tuesday in remarks first reported by BuzzFeed. “What America is not (is) a collective where we all work in a kibbutz or we’re all in some little entity. Instead it’s individuals pursuing their dreams and building successful enterprises which employ others, and they become inspired as they see what has happened in the place they work and go off and start their own enterprises.”

Romney returned from a visit to Israel last week and praised the country’s culture as a critical element in boosting its economy.

Kibbutzim, although internally adhering to varying degrees of collective principles, long ago adjusted to interacting with Israel’s free-market economy.

Israel’s whiz kids

Mickey Haslavsky of Holon is only 18, but he’s already on his second startup.

“When I began my first startup at 16, I thought I was the only one creating Web sites at this age, but I was amazed to discover a huge community between [the ages of] 10 and 18 around the world, and I know of about 10 startups by Israelis my age,” Haslavsky said.

By invitation of Israeli high-tech godfather Yossi Vardi, Haslavsky recently gave a TEDx Youth@Holon presentation, “Teenage Nation,” about how he founded an online youth magazine.

One thousand people registered the day Haslavsky launched his second site, Machbesa (Laundry), this past spring. It’s a viral scheme for racking up genuine “Likes” on Facebook, pluses in Google Plus and views on YouTube.

“I want to bring the system to Brazil next because it has 51 million Facebook users and it’s spreading all the time,” said Haslavsky, who needs to find someone to run his enterprises come November, when he gets drafted for military service.

That shouldn’t be hard, as he is at the older end of the spectrum of Israeli teens helming a surprising number of high-tech ventures.

Mickey Haslavsky, 18, presenting at TEDx Youth@Holon.

Tal Hoffman of Haifa says Israel’s designation as the “Startup Nation” has encouraged young business developers. “Israel’s entrepreneur community is really big among my age,” said the 15-year-old founder of Itimdi, a not-yet-launched site where teens can meet and interact based on their interests.

Another 15-year-old, Gal Harth of Herzliya, was interviewed at TechCrunch Disrupt last year in San Francisco about his Doweet Web site (motto: “So, what do you want to do?”), described as “a fun and easy way to create activities with your friends.”

Harth said he founded Doweet with his pal Nir Ohayon in reaction to all their friends playing Xbox and PlayStation instead of engaging in social and physical activities. “This is a way to get together easily to go to the gym, go swimming, play soccer. It’s an app that links everyone in one spot.”

Harth and Ohayon got initial funding from Israel’s Rhodium, the first venture capital firm they approached.

“My passion is startups,” Harth said. “My passion is to change the world.”

Nurturing whiz kids

Enterprising Israeli teenagers have plenty of role models. Gil Schwed, founder of Israel’s Check Point Software Technologies and one of the world’s youngest billionaires, is a prime example. Schwed was taking computer courses at the Hebrew University before graduating high school. Drawing on experience gained in the Israel Defense Forces’ Unit 8200 intelligence corps, he invented the modern firewall at just 26.

Many up-and-coming entrepreneurs are eager to follow the same path, knowing that their military service can pave the way to successful careers. It’s no coincidence that many Israeli startups are co-founded by former army buddies.

However, programs to recruit high school students for high-tech military units focus on top achievers and tend to miss a considerable number of kids whose tech abilities far surpass their grades. Finding and cultivating these diamonds-in-the-rough has become a priority for StartupSeeds, a 1,300-member community for entrepreneurial Israeli teens founded in 2007 as a private philanthropy-supported project of the MadaTech-Israel National Museum of Science in Haifa.

One of its original members, Ido Tal, created a wildly popular Flash video game at the age of 14, but — perhaps because of his addiction to video games, he said — wasn’t exactly a model student. Likewise, Haslavsky, whose math teacher once told Haslavsky’s mother that the boy wasn’t going to amount to anything.

“From our research, nobody is dealing with this population of kids,” StartupSeeds Director Saar Cohen said. The organization is hoping to fill that gap by reaching out to parents of teens who show a talent for coding, Web design, video editing, animation, social media, security and other needed skills.

Through contacts in the military and academia, StartupSeeds brings these teens out from under the radar for the benefit of themselves and their country. “Everybody wants their kid in a special unit because if you get in, you’re set for life.”

This is just one of the organization’s programs devised to nurture and encourage Israeli whiz kids, with support from Israel’s high-tech industry and academia. In 2008, StartupSeeds was invited to lead a panel on entrepreneurial youth at the prestigious Israeli Presidential Conference.

“StartupSeeds promotes excellence, entrepreneurship and innovation among technological youth,” Cohen said. “We believe in strengthening their existing strengths by giving them tools and a platform for them to reach their potential. We help them make connections through an online community as well as physical forums.”

Every two weeks, StartupSeeds hosts meetings and lectures along with social activities. There are periodic regional conventions and field trips to army units and high-tech industries. Members get access to events such as TEDx, groups such as MIT Forum and competitions such as BigGeek, a live broadcast from the Microsoft R&D Center in Herzliya where four teams of techies scramble to develop a working application within 24 hours.

What is special about Israel that seems to encourage what Cohen calls a technological youth phenomenon?

“Everything here happens fast,” Cohen said. “Kids are encouraged from an early age to think on their feet, ask questions, be curious and not be afraid to try anything. The high-tech industry and the startup industry in Israel are very strong, and they take great pride in that, so it’s contagious. The army helps, too, because a large percentage of those in high-tech startups went to these special tech units.”

Boys and girls together

StartupSeeds, as well as Israel’s military, academic and industrial leaders, are eager to get more girls into the high-tech mix.

“Research shows there’s an early age at which kids decide what to go into, and everyone wants to get girls to choose technological fields,” Cohen said. “We recently decided to target this audience by starting an all-girls forum, offering meetings with female leaders in industry, to see if we can create a community. Our goal is to get to 30 percent girls [in our membership]. We think they are out there, and we are approaching them at the perfect age.”

For now, most teen entrepreneurs are boys, including recent immigrants such as Ben Lang, 18, who co-founded the Innovation Israel community for startups, entrepreneurs and investors; and, most recently, Mapped in Israel, a Web site pinpointing Israel’s many startups.

In March, Lang and three young colleagues ran a successful Hackathon Israel event, sponsored by Carmel Ventures and ROI Community; their stated vision was “to share the incredible high-tech scene in Israel with the entire world.”

“Because Israel is so small, it’s easy to create a startup and give life to an idea,” Haslavsky said. “In the media you see every day how startups sell their companies for millions of dollars, and that also encourages us. Every young entrepreneur wants to be a CEO. I think Israel is amazing in this field.”

Lauder to acquire control of Israeli news Web site

Ronald Lauder is expected to acquire complete control of an Israeli news Web site and has plans to establish a new English-language Web site about Israel.

The American businessman and philanthropist’s company JCS, which operates Jerusalem Capital Studios, has finalized a deal to acquire Nana 10, Haaretz reported. Lauder currently owns 24 percent of Nana 10, which features news from Israel’s Channel 10 and reportedly is the fourth most popular Hebrew language Web site in Israel.

Haaretz also reported that Lauder, who is president of the World Jewish Congress, has plans to establish, with other American Jewish businesspeople, a new Web site in English to present Israel’s position to Jews around the world.

Israel cited in Caterpillar’s delisting from influential investment index

The sale of Caterpillar tractors to Israel was a factor, but not the determining one, in the delisting of the company from an influential index that prioritizes good governance and human rights.The move, however, is poised to further complicate the difficult ongoing conversation about Israel taking place between American Jewish gruops and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

A senior official at MSCI-ESG, a subdivision of MSCI, Morgan Stanley’s investment advice arm, said Caterpillar already had a low rating before its delisting earlier this year, in part because of its association with the Israeli army’s use of the tractors in the West Bank and past use in the Gaza Strip. The role of Israel’s use of the tractors in the decision also suggests that a sustained campaign by pro-Palestinian groups has had some effect, although officials at MSGI-ESG and one of its clients, the TIAA-CREF pension fund, deny succumbing to direct pressure.

TIAA-CREF’s divestiture amounted to $72 million in funds, dwarfing previous divestitures by liberal religious groups such as Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker group that divested $900,000.

The news of the delisting comes ahead of the biennial general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), where divestment from Caterpillar and other companies selling products used by the Israeli army, will be considered.

Ethan Felson, the assistant executive director for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and the Jewish community’s lead official in countering the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aimed at Israel—known as BDS, said that news of the MSCI-ESG decision would cause “damage” just ahead of the Presbyterian colloquy.

He said that linking Caterpillar to Israeli practices was “nonsensical,” noting that it had no say in how the U.S. military resells the tractors, and that it could not legally turn down the U.S. military as a client.

The MSGI-ESG official told JTA on Friday that what drove Caterpillar off the index was the company’s decision in February to shutter a London, Ont. plant after a high-profile dispute with employees. However, the official acknowledged several factors played into it, including the association of CAT with Israeli army practices in the occupied territories.

The death in 2003 of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist, while she was protesting such a demolition in Gaza, helped spur the BDS movement forward. Corrie’s parents and witnesses say she was caught beneath an armored tractor.  The army denies fault and maintains she was killed by debris.

MSCI-ESG – ESG stands for Environment, Social or Governance – has as its clients a number of progressive groups that base their investments in part on social justice issues, including care for the environment, the treatment and safety of employees, and involvement in human rights abuses.

MSCI-ESG’s decision, made in February and effective as of March 1, came to light this week because of claims by groups associated with the BDS movement that a decision by TIAA-CREF – a pension fund for teachers and other academics – to divest from Caterpillar was a result of their pressure.

“It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, the national coordinator for “We Divest,” a coalition of several groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, where Wise is director of campaigns.

Caterpillar, in a statement released to Jewish groups, once again denied direct sales to Israel of the D-9 Track-Type tractors.

“This is how it works,” corporate spokesman Jim Dugan said. “Caterpillar sells equipment to the U.S. government, which then transfers the equipment to the Israeli government, which then transfers it to the Israeli military.  Israeli is one of about 150 countries that take part in the program, which supports U.S. allies. For the D9s, the protective armor plating, the bullet resistant glass and other modifications take place after the machine has been transferred to the Israeli government by the U.S. government.  These changes happen after the sale, not in our factories. We hope and wish for a peaceful resolution to the unrest in the Middle East, but that solution is a political matter to be worked out by the appropriate parties.  Caterpillar does not and should not have a role in that political process.”

The Jewish Federations of America’s Israel Action Network derided the haste with which pro-BDS groups claimed credit for the divestment.

“Pro-BDS groups have constructed the ‘Caterpillar Myth’ that insinuates a conflict between the machine and the Palestinian people,” Geri Palast, IAN’s managing director said in a statement. “It is designed to invoke dystopian images, link BDS to specific Israeli policies and appeal to fear.”

Officials of TIAA-CREF, however, denied such pressure was a factor and pointed JTA to established policy that devolves such decisions to its “social screen vendor,” in this case, MSCI-ESG.

And while the MSCI-ESG official, who spoke on background, affirmed that Israel’s use of the tractors was one of several factors in the decision, he also said that an established methodology determines which company is listed and which is not, and that decisions are not based on representations from interest groups. The official’s emphasis suggested that shuttering the Canadian factory had greater weight than Israel’s use of the tractors.

Rebecca Vilkomerson, the Jewish Voice for Peace spokswoman said she was “confident” that representations by the We Divest coalition and other groups both to MSCI-ESG and to TIAA-CREF played a role.

In any case, she said, activism by groups such as hers has resulted in a “consensus in the human rights community because of its role in human rights abuses in Palestine, Caterpillar is not an ethical actor.”

Pro-Palestinian groups have for a decade campaigned against the sale of the tractors to Israel. Caterpillar sells the tractors to the U.S. military for resale to allies. Caterpillar says it does not determine to which countries the tractors are resold and how they are refitted for military use.

The pro-Palestinian groups, backed by a number of human rights NGOs, say that Israel uses the tractors to destroy Palestinian homes as a means of inhibiting growth and as collective punishment. Israel says the tractors are used to destroy illegal structures, and in Gaza were used until 2005, when Israel pulled out, to destroy tunnels used by terrorists for smuggling purposes.

Google donating N.Y. office space to Cornell-Technion school

Google will donate office space to the new applied science graduate school of Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

Google CEO Larry Page and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the partnership Monday at a news conference at the company’s New York headquarters. Officials from Cornell and the Haifa-based Technion were on hand.

The high-tech firm will be providing 22,000 square feet of space in a temporary arrangement designed to help the school fulfill its promise of beginning classes this fall.

The CornellNYC Tech school, which was announced last December 2011, was the winning bid in an initiative announced by Bloomberg 18 months ago—also at Google headquarters—to foster collaboration between the public and private sectors here. The joint venture between Cornell and the Technion beat a bid by Stanford University, the alma mater of Page and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

“This is a major step towards the fulfillment of Mayor Bloomberg’s vision to seed the city with entrepreneurs and start-ups,” said Technion president Peretz Lavie.

Citing Google, The New York Times reported that Cornell will be responsible for most of the costs of operating in the Google building and that the program has to be out by the fall of 2017, when the school’s state-of-the-art Roosevelt Island campus is scheduled to open.

Bloomberg noted in the news conference that New York University, IBM and Cisco are partnering on a similar initiative in Brooklyn.

Tokyo bank freezes Iranian assets

A Japanese bank has halted transactions by the Iranian government in response to a U.S. court ordering a $2.6 billion asset freeze over the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut.

A spokesman for the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UJF confirmed the move to the Agence France-Presse, on Thursday.

The court order reflects “the amount that the court in 2007 upheld for compensation demands by families of victims of the 1983 attacks on US forces in Beirut,” the spokesman said.

The bank lodged an appeal against the U.S. court order on Thursday, saying that the action is “problematic” under Japanese law. He would not reveal the amount of money involved or who held the assets. The spokesman, however, said the bank “handles a relatively large number of transactions for trade with Iran,” AFP reported.

The ruling stems from the Oct. 23, 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut, which killed 24 U.S. troops. Tehran has denied responsibility for the attacks, but Washington subsequently named Iran on a list of terrorism-supporting states. A 2007 court ruling in the United States ordered Iran to pay $2.65 billion to victims’ families.

JDC appoints Darrell Friedman interim CEO

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee named Darrell Friedman as interim CEO following the abrupt resignation of longtime CEO Steven Schwager.

Schwager, who had been at the helm of the JDC for 10 years, announced last Friday that he’d be stepping down as CEO effective June 30.

Friedman, a Jewish organizational consultant, has been working with the JDC for the past nine years as an inhouse senior consultant to Schwager, according to the JDC. He will start his interim position on July 1. Friedman had served for 17 years as the CEO of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

“Darrell’s proven leadership and expertise, along with his years of experience with JDC, will be of great value to our organization over the coming months as we continue to address the critical challenges faced by Jews worldwide,” JDC’s president, Penny Blumenstein, said in a statement Tuesday.

Friedman also will serve as an adviser to the JDC board’s international search committee for a new CEO.

Facebook IPO: Good for the Jews?

If the Talmud were written today, would it look like Facebook?

First, the rabbis of the Mishnaic period post a Jewish legal rule. Then, Talmudic sages weigh in with their comments, all pithy and lacking punctuation. Almost immediately, the comments grow far longer than the original post. Eventually, outside links to the Shulchan Aruch and Maimonides’ compendium of Jewish law appear on the right side.

It may sound too cute by half, but if you look closely, the Talmud and Facebook actually share similar layout.

They also share a few basic ideas about commentary and community. The Talmud enabled scholars who lived in different times and different places to argue with each other, creating a virtual community. Facebook allows people who live in different places and may not know each other to do the same.

“Every piece of information that’s offered opens up the opportunity for commentary, for amplification—whether it’s a link from The New York Times or something that happened to you at the Israeli Interior Ministry or an idea that you simply want to express.” said Esther Kustanowitz, a Jewish social media expert who works part time for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “And Facebook doesn’t just amplify the message, it expands the conversation.”

On the eve of Facebook’s initial public offering, scheduled for Friday, Jews—like everyone else—are still figuring out how Facebook can serve their personal or professional needs.

What started out in a college dorm room in 2003 as a way for Harvard students to rate women’s comparative “hotness” (it was then called Facemash.com) has morphed into a medium for more than 900 million people worldwide to communicate with each other, rally support or opposition, publicize news, make money, flirt and fulminate in ways both profound and mundane about the million and one things happening at any given moment.

For a few in the Jewish community, Facebook’s IPO raises the $64,000 question—or in this case, the $64 billion question—of how much of that newly created wealth will go to Jewish causes. The jury’s still out on whether Facebook’s Jewish creator, Mark Zuckerberg, will turn into a major Jewish giver following the IPO, when the just-turned 28-year-old figures to become one of the richest people in the world.

But the real story of Facebook’s impact on the Jewish world ultimately is likely to be more about the ways it is prompting Jews to change the way they think, behave, organize, and even mourn and celebrate than it will be about Zuckerberg’s tzedakah.

Facebook helped thousands of Israelis coordinate last summer’s socioeconomic protests, the biggest in Israel’s history. The site helped J Street turn from a fledgling, little-known upstart into a broad-based, left-wing alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Most Jewish community institutions, however, haven’t yet figured out how to maximize the potential of Facebook, according to Lisa Colton, president of Darim Online, a Virginia-based company that helps Jewish organizations adapt to the digital age.

Partly, Colton says, that’s because Facebook is inherently threatening to institutions.

“Facebook is about people more than it is about institutions. It supports individuals connecting with and learning from each other,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way for individuals to circumvent institutions.”

Facebook enables Jews to construct communities organized around areas of interest rather than geography, religious denomination or institution.

When Hindy Poupko Galena and her husband, Seth, began using Facebook to update friends and family about their year-old daughter’s fight against a rare bone marrow disease, a community of sympathizers quickly emerged that included thousands of people who had never met the toddler, Ayelet.

Strangers reached out to the Galenas—members of the Modern Orthodox community on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—not just with messages but with care packages.

“It allowed people to connect with what was going on on a very deep and real level,” Hindy said. “So many people came out of the woodwork and emailed me and said, ‘I had a sick kid and never told anyone about it, but I now feel that I can tell people about it.’ ”

Even now, months after Ayelet’s death in January at age 2, the Facebook-based community, which they call Ayelet Nation, serves as a source of sympathy for the Galenas.

“For a girl who only lived two years, it’s very comforting to know that people know her name, and I think that was only possible because of Facebook,” Hindy said.

Whereas many Jewish institutions define their community by who’s inside and who’s out—synagogues, JCCs and the Israeli Rabbinate, to name just a few—Facebook offers an opportunity for Jewish community with no bounds.

“It can take Jewish leaders off their pedestals and get them to interact with real people and real life in a multidimensional way,” said William Daroff, the director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America who has more than 3,000 “friends” on the social networking website. “And it’s not just about the Jewish world, but a place for us to talk about our kids and our dogs and the games we like to play and who we really are.”

As Facebook evolves, the Jewish communities it enables will change, too.

“I think it really is analogous to having phone lines, which later enabled faxes and early Internet,” Colton said. “With Facebook, it’s not about what we see and use today, it’s about what its foundations and widespread adoption make possible in the future.”

(Follow the author on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/people/Uriel-Heilman/714706314.)

Israeli start-up XtremIO acquired for $430 million

EMC Corp. acquired the Israeli storage systems start-up company XtremIO for more than $430 million.

The sale completed last week is EMC’s sixth and largest acquisition in Israel. Senior executives from EMC had been in Israel in recent months holding acquisition talks with XtremIO, the Israeli daily Globes reported.

Xtremlo, which has offices in Herzliya and San Jose, Calif., was founded in 2009 by a group of Israeli high-tech veterans. It has raised $25 million in two venture capital financing rounds.

“This is an inspiring event, as it shows once again that Israel has the skill set and drive to create exceptional cutting-edge companies,” Erel Margalit, founder and chairman of Jerusalem Venture Partners, which owns up to 30 percent of XtremIO, told JTA in an e-mail.

EMC also operates an Israel R&D center with 700 to 800 employees, according to Globes.

TV for dogs reaches prime time

Bark if you love DogTV.

The new made-in-Israel U.S. cable channel is scientifically programmed to keep pooches stimulated, happy and comforted when they’re home alone.

When dogs are left alone, they can get depressed, lose their appetite and their desire to play, says DogTV CEO Gilad Neumann. There are 46 million households with dogs in the United States, encompassing a total of 78.2 million pet canines.

“That’s quite a few potential viewers and many lonely dogs,” he said. “It’s all very scientific, although I know it sounds like a joke. When you dig deeper, you see it’s a serious business.”

Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications began a six-month free trial of the 24-hour digital channel on Feb. 13 for their one million viewers in San Diego. If it is successful, DogTV will be distributed more widely as a subscription-based service, Neumann said.

The concept came from Ron Levi, a New York-born dog lover and chief content officer at Jasmine Group, a private media communications company in Ramat Gan.

At the time, Neumann was CEO of Jasmine TV, one of several subsidiaries of the Jasmine media conglomerate whose July-August Productions recently sold the format for the hit game show “Who’s Still Standing?” to NBC Universal.

“We’re always seeking interesting ideas with an emphasis on international expansion. So when Ron approached me with this idea, I thought it was crazy enough to look into,” Neumann said. He suggested that Jasmine invest some seed money to explore the idea.

Their research revealed that the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States all recommend leaving the TV on for dogs home alone, to provide stimulation and keep away stress and depression.

“We combined this with a lot of science on the effects of video on dogs, how they react to TV and what kind of visuals, music and sounds they enjoy,” Neumann said.

He recruited professor Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University’s animal behavior department as DogTV’s program director and chief scientist. Dodman explains on DogTV’s Web site that dogs won’t sit on the couch for hours at a time watching the channel. It’s more like a backdrop with a pleasing soundtrack that they can choose to view as long as they wish.

British trainer Victoria Stilwell, from the Animal Planet series “It’s Me or the Dog,” and Warren Eckstein, an animal rights activist and pet trainer, round out the crew of DogTV experts.

“They added their knowledge to our production experience,” said Neumann, who holds an MBA from Pepperdine University and a law degree from the Israeli College of Management.

As good as the idea was, it couldn’t have been put into action if not for the introduction of LCD television technology. Neumann explains that dogs’ eyes are bothered by the flickering frames on old analog televisions, though humans don’t notice them.

“Now they can see perfectly fine on LCD, but they can only see blue and yellow, so we enhance and recolor the contents for them,” Neumann explained.

As content developer, Levi organized the channel’s programming into three categories: shows meant to relax dogs, shows that stimulate them and shows intended to expose them gently to situations with which they may need to get more comfortable — such as a running vacuum cleaner or street traffic.

“This creates a companionship environment,” Neumann said, “a channel that is fully suitable for dogs. ”

This is hardly the first instance of an Israeli TV show hitting prime time in the United States. “In Treatment,” “Homeland,” “Traffic Light” and “The Ex List” went first. However, it is the first time a programming concept has gone directly from the Israeli drawing board to American TV screens. Neumann hopes DogTV is barking up the right tree.

From start-up nation to ‘scale-up’ nation

Most are accustomed to calling Israel a “start-up nation,” following the 2009 book by Dan Senor and Saul Singer titled as such. Jonathan Medved, however, is focused on the possibility of a “scale-up” nation.

“The next step is to scale up from start-ups to big global companies…to grow Israel’s companies is by focusing on solving big global problems,” says Medved, CEO of mobile software platform provider Vringo, Inc.

Medved—one of Israel’s leading serial entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, who made aliyah in the 1990s and now lives in Jerusalem—spoke to the Israel Business Forum at a gathering high above Times Square in New York City earlier this month.

In Israel, he says, “The culture of risk, of immigrants, of informality, the discipline of the army, even tolerance for failure, creates an unprecedented, unequaled atmosphere. The world is starting to understand that Israel is the place to come to—outside of Silicon Valley—for technical start-ups.” Israel provides a “dense” center for innovation, according to Medved, who called the country “start-up central.”

Medved’s story is iconic in the world of high tech. Starting by working out of a garage in Jerusalem, this entrepreneur has co-founded more than 60 Israeli high-tech firms. He writes about Israeli technological developments and is a member of the board of Israel21c.  He speaks about Israel’s technological and economic contributions to America and the world in venues as diverse as AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), CUFI (Christians United For Israel), and numerous industry conferences.

Noting “this bedrock of warmth and support” and “unshakable” alliance between Israel and America, Medved says the two nations are “incredibly productive and dynamic countries that lead the world in innovation and in technology.”

Medved says that when people are asked about how often they touch Israeli technology, some scratch their heads and say, “I don’t do much with Israeli technology.”

Wrong, says the Vringo CEO.

“Each and every one of us is touching Israeli technology every single day, dozens of times—in computers, instant messages, cell phones, voice mail, flash memory,” Medved says. “Israeli innovation is making the world we live in exciting and dynamic and changing reality… This great alliance between [America and Israel] doesn’t get enough attention. That’s what I am talking about tonight.”

“There is no single major American high tech company—whether it’s Cisco or Broadcom or Microsoft or Google or anybody—who doesn’t do just enormous work in Israel,” he continues. “Samsung, the Korean operation, is now in Israel focused on sourcing Israeli technology.”

Innovation starts early in the lives of Israelis, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) instills values of competition and selectivity. “Our kids start competing before the end of high school—not to get into an Ivy League school but to get into, excuse the phrase, an Ivy League unit,” says Medved. After such special programs, “they’re ready for bear,” he says.

“Our army is very entrepreneurial—very much part of our strategic thinking,” Medved says.

Israel is creating jobs in America, Medved explains, citing companies such as Given Imaging in Georgia, Amdocs in Missouri and Netafim and Bright Source in California. Medved says virtually no American high-tech company is without an Israeli component. Microsoft just opened two new Israeli facilities, in Tel Aviv and Ra’anana.

The next step for Israel, Medved reiterates, is to “go from start-up nation to the scale-up nation.”

“Companies of size are being built In Israel,” he says. “I think it’s a great thing that we are selling these companies. [Sales] serve as a conduit for future purchases on the international market. 

Medved notes that Israeli-developed products are appearing in unexpected places. Zoran chips, for example, are in virtually every consumer electronics product, and more Americans are taking medication produced by Teva Pharmaceuticals than that of any other producer in the country. He also highlights “unrivaled” Israeli water technology, including the reverse osmosis process invented at Ben-Gurion University.

“By 2014,” says Medved, “all drinking water in Israel will come from the sea.”

Medved admits, however, that “there are storm clouds” and problems to solve, such as the education dilemma in Israel—increasing numbers of students but no increase in faculty, underfunded universities, and a continuing brain drain among the most crucial.

JointMedia News Service asked Medved about investors’ reactions to political upheaval in the Middle East, as well as the impact of the possibilities of war or terrorist activity in Israel and nearby. He suggests that investors are discounting these risks.

“In technology, most investors are not thinking about it,” he says. “What’s crazy is that Israelis live with this…it’s weird, though Israel is perceived as unsafe, tourism numbers are through the roof. We have to do what we have to do to build the country. Investment builds psychological resilience.”

“It’s a great time in Israel,” he concludes. “Tourism is booming, the economic crisis appears past.”

Haredi Orthodox website executives arrested for extortion

The owner and three senior employees of a haredi Orthodox website based in Israel were arrested on suspicion of extortion.

They reportedly are accused of demanding money from haredi public figures, rabbis and companies in exchange for removing negative talkbacks from and placing positive stories on the Behadrey haredim website.

The men were arrested Sunday in Tel Aviv. Police, who have placed a gag order on the case, reportedly interviewed dozens of people about extortion on the website, according to Haaretz.

Israeli entrepreneurs are spending on social justice

Capitalism in pursuit of social justice.

The notion is becoming more common in Israel as a new generation of entrepreneurs and innovators in the fields of high-tech, industry and real estate is delving into philanthropy.

“The culture of venture capital and the start-up nation also transfers into innovation in the field of philanthropy,” Andres Spokoiny, president of the Jewish Funders Network, said in a telephone interview ahead of the Jewish Funders Network International Conference that was held here last week. “One of the goals of the conference is to foster networking among highly empowered, highly independent individuals.”

Cecile Blilious, who comes from the high-tech world, is a managing partner at Impact First Investments and one of the new philanthropists. Her company funds enterprises that are economically viable and have a positive social impact.

Blilious also helped found the Al-Bawader private equity fund, which invests exclusively in businesses in Arab-Israeli communities, and is a board member of Neurotech Solutions, which developed a test to screen for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

“This is a social business product that can be harnessed not just to make money but to make the world a better place,” Blilious said in an interview during a lunch break between sessions, “and it is coming out of Israel. That is the best hasbara [public relations] possible.”

Following a session titled “Developing a Social Capital Market in Israel,” Bank Hapoalim Chairman Yair Seroussi said in an interview that his bank spends about $13.4 million annually on philanthropic activities. They include sending a fleet of mobile libraries to poor neighborhoods, facilitating computer access in public schools and a nationwide program in which thousands of Bank Hapoalim employees volunteer every year to teach 11th-graders how to manage their personal finances.

“We are sensitive to what is happening in Israeli society, and we are reacting to it,” Seroussi said.

Particularly striking at the conference was the large contingent of Israeli entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and high-tech innovators focused on tikkun olam, repairing the world, using the same business know-how that got more than 60 Israeli companies listed on the Nasdaq — more than any country outside North America and China.

Chanoch Barkat, a former venture capitalist with Apax Partners Israel, is doing just that. His Dualis Social Venture Fund provides counseling and financing to a chain of five restaurants — two in Tel Aviv and one each in Ra’anana, Yahud and Beersheva — that employs high school dropouts.

In an interview, Barkat acknowledged the restaurants are not as profitable as other food establishments, but said they are self-sustaining. By teaching high-risk teenagers such basic business skills as punctuality and commitment, he said, the restaurants save the state millions of dollars in crime prevention, rehabilitation and welfare costs.

“I believe there is a growing opportunity for developing new models in the world of social change by adopting and implementing tools from the world of finance,” Barkat said.

Forbes magazine’s 2012 list of billionaires listed 13 Israelis, including Shari Arison, who owns a controlling share in Bank Hapoalim and Housing & Construction, one of Israel’s largest building firms; Nochi Dankner, who has holdings in some of Israel’s largest industries and financial institutions; and Idan Ofer, who owns the Zim shipping concern and has stakes in aviation, high-tech, private equity, real estate and media. All are members of a growing cadre of high-powered Israeli philanthropists.

Less prominent Israeli millionaires, who numbered more than 10,000 in 2010, according to a Merrill Lynch report, also are increasing their involvement in philanthropic pursuits.

Yet individuals and corporations in Israel still lag behind their counterparts in America. Israeli philanthropy constitutes about .74 percent of the GDP, compared to 2.1 percent in the United States, according to a recent study by Hillel Schmid, head of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy at the Hebrew University.

Schmid said that Israelis still tend to expect the state to solve social ills, while American philanthropists understand that one of the prices of smaller government is the need for more voluntary activity to fill the void. With Israelis paying higher taxes than Americans, serving in the Israel Defense Forces and doing reserve service, many believe they have “done enough” for their country, according to Schmid.

Corruption stories also have made Israelis suspicious of nonprofits, he added.

Also seen as dampening enthusiasm for Israeli philanthropy: The annual total for charitable donations eligible for a 35 percent tax deduction is a maximum of 4.5 million shekels ($1.2 million) a year. Plus, only some 4,000 of the country’s 30,000 nonprofits are recognized for tax-deduction purposes.

Despite the hurdles, Israeli philanthropy will continue to grow, predicts Ahuva Yanai, CEO of Matan — Investing in the Community.

“People are going to have to learn to cooperate and pool resources,” she said in an interview ahead of the conference. “And that means putting aside your ego, giving up control over every little aspect of the operation and not trying to reinvent the wheel.”

Opinion: Wall Street shock wave in rear-view mirror

On the day after his op-ed piece appeared in The New York Times of March 14, 2012, Greg Smith, a midlevel executive in the London office of Goldman Sachs had generated 19 million entries on Google.  By three days later, that number had risen to 134 million.

Smith’s announcement of his departure from the storied firm whose culture he describes as “toxic and destructive” set off a shock wave heard round the world.  It was brutally criticized as naïve, but far more frequently praised as courageous, an “unprecedented revelation” of the distortions that have come to characterize Wall Street’s behavior.  There’s been much discussion of greed, which appears to be the principle lubricant of the financial industry, and debate between those who think greed is inherent in the market system and those who believe it can and should be expunged — or, at least, somehow contained.  My own view is that what we are talking about here is not greed; it is avarice, in which all sense of proper proportion is lost. 

But relax: I am not about to launch into a disquisition on derivatives and credit swaps and the other arcane arrangements that led to the world financial crisis of 2008 and that have yet to be adequately addressed.  Truth is, my own interest in the Smith saga is quirkily more parochial, particularly piqued by Smith’s inclusion among the proudest moments in his life his having won a bronze medal (in table tennis, aka pingpong) in the Maccabiah Games in Israel.  (Full disclosure: I am an undefeated pingpong champion of Eilat, having defeated the army corporal who’d been the local champion back before Eilat was a city, when it was just a lonely army base.  I retired immediately.) 

The Maccabiah Games, together with the fact that Smith hails from South Africa, set me searching — and, sure enough, Smith graduated from the famous King David Schools in Johannesburg, schools whose mission statement says they aim to deliver “an excellent general education together with the study of Hebrew, Jewish Studies and the living of the Jewish calendar” and to produce “graduates who are menschen, confident and equipped to pursue any opportunity they wish to, who are proud of their Jewish heritage and its traditions, who have a love for learning, and a determination to contribute to their society.” 

One for our team, I thought.  A noteworthy one, since the number of insiders who have volubly called public attention to the endless excesses that characterize the financial industry is tiny.  Award-winning journalist Michael Hirsh, author of the much-praised “Capital Offense: How Washington’s Wise Men Turned America’s Future Over to Wall Street,” writes of the “very small group — an absurdly small group — of truth-tellers” who have come forward to bear personal witness to these excesses. He names just two others: Frank Partnoy, who, says Hirsh, described the Morgan Stanley of the 1990s as a “furious profit machine . . . mainly involved in speculation and scamming, using arcane derivatives and complex new packages of debt obligations and interest-rate payments that Morgan foisted on customers who barely understood them,” and one other,  “a former Moody’s managing director [who] revealed in congressional hearings in late 2009 that even into the year after the financial crisis, the firm continued to deceive investors by inflating ratings on dubious securities.”

The Internet is so handy.  I tracked down Partnoy, now George E. Barrett Professor of Law and Finance and co-director of the Center on Corporate and Securities Law at the University of San Diego and widely recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on the complexities of modern finance and financial market regulation.  He worked in derivatives at Morgan Stanley and CS First Boston during the mid-1990s and wrote “F.I.A.S.C.O.: Blood in the Water on Wall Street,” a best-selling book about his experiences there.  (His more recent books include “Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Risk Corrupted the Financial Markets” and “The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.”)  And yes, he grew up in a Conservative synagogue in Kansas City. 

I’ve not yet managed to communicate with the Moody man Hirsh mentions, but I did watch a Chris Hayes show on MSNBC devoted to the Smith affair and its larger context, in which all the panelists compellingly called for tougher regulation of Wall Street — and when I say “all the panelists,” I include Ezra Klein, Noam Scheiber, William Cohan, Alexis Goldstein, Jared Bernstein and Dan Dicker.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a responsible social ethic is in our DNA.

Hard to avoid, that is, until we are reminded of Wall Street titans such as Richard Fuld (Lehman Brothers),  and Bob Rubin and Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman), whose DNA seem quite differently composed.  Jews are, in other words, a mixed multitude — saints and sinners, Nobel laureates and fraudsters, wise sons and wicked sons.  Some day, perhaps, once sequencing of the individual human genome becomes routine, we may be able to map such differences.  In the meantime, the work of bending the arc toward justice — and truth, its handmaiden — awaits.  So, too, real regulation. 

Thank you, Greg Smith et al.


Leonard Fein has written and advocated for progressive Jewish causes since the 1960s. In 1974 he founded Moment magazine, the journal of Jewish ideas, and in 1985 he founded MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Is an annuity right for you?

Grandpa’s fixed pension, that sweet and steady stream of income that started on the day he retired, is nearing extinction. Most Americans today will retire not on company checks, but on personal savings and Social Security. With interest rates low, the stock market jumpy and Congress pinching pennies, it is no surprise that 87 percent of Americans, according to one recent survey, worry about running out of money. 

That concern explains the popularity of annuities—financial products designed to generate steady cash flow, sort of like Grandpa enjoyed. But today’s annuities are different from yesterday’s pensions, says Christopher Jones, CFP, president of Las Vegas-based Sparrow Wealth Management. “Commercial annuities can certainly help some meet their retirement income needs, but these products can also be very expensive and complicated,” he said. “They certainly are not for everyone, and choosing the right one is crucial.”

Whether an annuity is right for you, and if so, what kind of annuity, can in itself be a complicated matter. Here are few guidelines to help you decide:

You are probably a good candidate for an annuity if you’ve determined that to pay your basic expenses in retirement—food, shelter—you’re going to need more money than you’ll get from Social Security, and more than you can take comfortably from savings. Say you crunched the numbers and calculated that you’ll need to tap $1,000 every month from personal savings, but that’s a bit more than your savings can handle.

“To ensure that your basic needs are covered, the annuity may be a good option,” Jones said. When you fork your money over to an annuity company, you guarantee yourself a steady cash flow. Bonds can do that, too. But you’ll get more cash from the annuity. That’s in part because of something called the ‘mortality premium,’ which is a polite way of saying that annuity providers will pay you more today because when you die, they, not your heirs, will grab your principal. The mortality premium gets larger for every candle on your birthday cake. The very best candidates for an annuity are 65 and older, and have expectations of living a long life. 

You are probably a bad candidate for an annuity if you have a good-size nest egg, are in little danger of running out of money and can stomach a bit of market risk.

“The return you’ll get on a diversified portfolio will very likely be much greater than what you’ll get on an annuity,” Jones said.

In addition, your heirs, not the annuity company, will get your money when you pass. The very worst candidates for an annuity are those who have lots of money, but suffer from health conditions that may lead to an early death. 

What kind of annuity to choose?

The fixed-income annuity is, by annuity standards, a fairly simple contract. You fork over a certain sum to an annuity company, and the company then agrees to give you X dollars a month for the rest of your life. For a guaranteed $1,000 a month, a fixed annuity today would cost a 65-year-old man roughly $165,000 (about $175,000 for a woman, because women usually live longer). You may choose to purchase various perks, such as a “joint-and-survivor” benefit, which allows your spouse to continue collecting if you die. Those perks reduce the cash flow.

The other kind of annuity is called a variable annuity. The variable annuity, unlike the fixed annuity, ties your cash payments to some underlying investments. It promises you both security and performance. But Jones warns that variable annuities, often pushed by aggressive salespeople, can be incredibly complex and expensive, and often don’t deliver as they promise. If you are considering a variable annuity, use “non-qualified,” rather than “qualified” money. In other words, use money you have in your taxable account to take advantage of the tax-deferral benefits of the annuity; don’t use money from an already tax-advantaged account, such as an IRA. 

How to annuity-shop wisely

Kerry Pechter, publisher of the online newsletter Retirement Income Journal, and author of “Annuities for Dummies” (Wiley, 2008), offers the following tips for buying any annuity:

  • Buy only from a strong company
  • You may be around for another several decades; you want a company that will be around, too. Choose only companies with the very highest credit ratings. The online shopping sources in the sidebar list company ratings. You can also find them on Web sites of the providers.

     

  • Comparison shop
  • Immediate annuity issuers change their prices frequently, and during any given month, the best deal might shift from one carrier to another.

    If you are worried about inflation (and you should be), don’t put all of your money into an annuity. Leave enough for a side fund to invest in stocks. Or buy an annuity with inflation protection. Or both.

    Since annuities pay you based on current interest rates, and interest rates are now very low, you might want to buy into your annuities over time. Put some money into an annuity today and consider another in a few more years. 

    You can start shopping annuities by looking on the Web. If you feel a bit lost, get an unbiased expert to help. Consider a fee-only financial planner. You can find one at napfa.org.


    Russell Wild, MBA, is a NAPFA-registered financial advisor who has written nearly two dozen books on finance, including “Index Investing for Dummies.”

    Goldman banker always stuck to principles, former teacher

    Greg Smith was a principled and competitive student, the kind of person whose strong sense of right and wrong probably pushed him to resign from Goldman Sachs in a scathing letter to an international newspaper, his former teacher and coach said.

    A quiet, unassuming child, the South African first attended the private Jewish King David’s High School in suburban Johannesburg before winning a scholarship to Stanford University in the United States.

    Smith then joined Goldman Sachs, a workplace he once loved but described in his resignation letter in the New York Times on Wednesday as having developed an environment “as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it”.

    “He was a remarkable young man, exceptionally intelligent with an integrity that is probably unequalled,” Elliot Wolf, the school’s retired headmaster, told Reuters in an interview.

    “An absolutely remarkable man with high principles. He was an asset to the school in every possible way.”

    Wolf, who is now retired after 34 years at the school including 28 as headmaster, said he remembered Smith well from teaching him Latin and that he was loved by all because he was polite, unassuming and decent.

    The Goldman Sachs banker sat a total of eight exams in his final year of secondary school in 1996, winning a distinction in every subject, Wolf said. According to school records, Smith’s subjects included maths, advanced maths, Hebrew, English, Afrikaans and accounting.

    “He was a wonderful young man with the highest principles. That was already part of his character when he was very, very young,” Wolf said.

    He said he was amazed Smith would take such a stand, suggesting others would probably bend their ethics to suit a company that was rewarding them handsomely.

    Smith, who worked in equity derivatives, said it had made him ill at Goldman to hear his colleagues joke about cheating clients.

    “Over the last 12 months I have seen five different managing directors refer to their own clients as ‘muppets’,” Smith said.

    In Britain, “muppet” is slang for a stupid person.

    “VERY COMPETITIVE”

    Wolf also recalled Smith as a skilled table tennis player. Smith, in his 30s, said in his letter one of the proudest moments of his life was winning the bronze medal at the Maccabiah Games in Israel for table tennis.

    Rainer Sztab, chair of the Gauteng Maccabi Table Tennis Club, where Smith played in South Africa regularly in the 1990s when he was a teenager, remembered him as an “outstanding kid”.

    “He was a stand-up kid, he always did what was right,” Sztab told Reuters, saying Smith twice played for the South African Maccabi team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, as a junior in 1993 and as a senior in 1997.

    But he said Smith was never a member of the South African national table tennis team, contrary to what was stated in his Goldman Sachs biography.

    Sztab said Smith was “very bright and really well liked and behaved”.

    “He was very competitive. He was just starting to get the edge on the top players in Gauteng province,” he added.

    Sztab said he was not surprised by the manner of Smith’s dramatic public resignation from Goldman Sachs. “He did well to come from South Africa to become a Wall Street banker.”

    He said Smith had called him two years ago to say hello while on a visit to South Africa.

    “He said it was going great.”

    Mega-millionaire, Age 95, Says, ‘You Can Do It!’

    Mega-millionaire Stanley A. Dashew, 95, has some words of wisdom for anyone trying to make it in today’s tough economy: You can do it.

    It’s no secret, he says. In fact, it’s the title of the book, “You Can Do It!: Inspiration & Lessons From an Inventor, Entrepreneur, & Sailor,” written with Josef S. Klus.

    Filled with anecdotes and distilled wisdom, the book, by a man who played a key role in the creation of the plastic credit-card system, is the culmination of years of writing in between business projects.

    “I spent the better part of the last decade trying to capture in the pages of my book the key events of my life in the hope that what I’ve learned in love and work may provide inspirations—and some guideposts—for others to realize that, yes, they can do it!” Dashew, a resident of Westwood, said in an e-mail interview.

    One might not expect such optimism from a Harlem, N.Y., native whose father escaped deadly pogroms in Odessa as an infant. His mother settled in New York after her Orthodox father brought the family from Lithuania.

    In some ways, the seeds of Dashew’s success were planted when his family moved from the big city to the country, where his father owned a small legal practice and summer resort. It was there in Pomona, N.Y., that Dashew became an inventor from a young age out of necessity.

    “I came across serious problems that could not be solved by stock items,” he said. “For example, I had to figure out a way of getting fish out of a swimming pool. I had to figure out how to clean septic tanks attached to the bungalows of my family’s property.”

    An aspiring writer, Dashew’s desired career path changed course with the Great Depression. One day, on the way to interview for a sales job that he was sure he’d turn down because he considered it beneath his talents, something changed his mind.

    “I was walking in Manhattan toward Fifth Avenue when I heard a loud noise. I looked across the street to the Empire State Building, where I saw the body of a nicely dressed young man—about my age—on the sidewalk,” Dashew said. “He had just jumped from the world’s tallest building. I proceeded to my meeting somewhat numb, but no longer conflicted about the offer. I accepted the job.”

    This sales job with Addressograph-Multigraph Corp., which produced machines that could address envelopes, magazines and more, turned out to be a perfect match. Soon, by adapting the company’s machines to new uses, he was its top salesman and poised for even greater success.

    “The knowledge and contacts from my experience there became the foundation for my own company and my first fortune,” Dashew said.

    That would come after he and his family—including his 7-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter—pursued the adventure of a lifetime. In 1949, they hopped onto a 76-foot schooner and sailed from Chicago, through the Great Lakes, down the East Coast, through the Panama Canal, and around to Los Angeles.

    This would be his home as he created Dashew Business Machines. Its revolutionary imprinters and embossers could handle more than one character at a time and laid the groundwork for the first bank credit card system.

    “We could emboss 2,000 plates an hour,” Dashew said. “This gave birth to the plastic credit-card industry.”

    The machines, he continued, “enabled Bank of America to mass produce and distribute the BankAmericard, and they enabled merchants to imprint the card when customers made a purchase.”

    Other enterprises followed, including work in the offshore oil industry. Over the years, Dashew has received 14 U.S. patents for his contributions to banking, shipping, mining, transportation, water purification and other areas.

    This isn’t to say that it was easy. Before it could reach its greatest success, Dashew Business Machines nearly succumbed to financial collapse in the 1950s, and it cost Dashew his first marriage and his beloved boat.

    Aside from telling his personal story, “You Can Do It!” includes dozens of tips to help readers overcome life’s modern—yet timeless—challenges. A few examples include:

    • Focus on just one or two ideas at a time. Otherwise, none of your ideas that could be great will get off the ground.
    • Don’t quit just because you don’t have all the skills or resources to implement an idea. Team up with someone who has what you lack.
    • Innovation means not just creating new products or services, but also finding new ways to utilize them.

    A spiritual person and cultural Jew, Dashew said he contributes locally to Jewish Vocational Service and is a strong supporter of Israel. Outside the Jewish community, he and his second wife, Rita, who died in 1994, are well known for their involvement in the UCLA Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars, which aims to foster cross-cultural understanding through intellectual exchange.

    Today, Dashew remains as busy as ever, developing ideas for new products and services despite the challenges of Parkinson’s disease. And while he calls a 4,000-square-foot penthouse home, he continues to be just as comfortable at sea on his eighth boat, a 72-foot cutter named Deerfoot II. To him, sailing is more than just a passion.

    “I tend to see the people, places and events in my life—and the world—through the lens of the boats that I have owned and sailed through the years,” he said.  “My love of boats started when I was 10 years old with a canoe that I would use in the swimming pool of the summer camp that my family owned and managed. … Today, I’m still adventuring.”

    Shul Business

    No one taught Rabbi Ahud Sela how to read a budget when he was in the seminary. Talmud and pastoral counseling took precedence over the basics of planned giving.

    So when the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly teamed up with American Jewish University (AJU) to create the Rabbinic Management Institute—a certificate program in nonprofit management offering business skills, management training and more—he jumped at the opportunity.

    “Every part of the synagogue has to function well, including the business side, and it’s important for the rabbi to understand that,” said Sela, 35, of Temple Ramat Zion in Northridge.

    “I needed help in everything,” he continued. “I needed to learn how to read a budget sheet. I didn’t know what it meant to lay out a strategic plan. I didn’t know the different kinds of fundraising that can be done. I didn’t know the latest trends in board management.”

    For years there has been a growing need for rabbis to be able to run their institutions, or at least understand how they operate, said Rabbi Cheryl Peretz, director of the institute and associate dean of AJU’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, which is a partner in the program with the university’s Graduate School of Nonprofit Management.

    “While rabbinical school might offer a little bit of that training, that’s not really how they spend their time,” Peretz said.

    Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the membership organization for Conservative rabbis, said in a statement that the program equips rabbis with important skills to address the myriad challenges facing religious institutions with creativity and foresight.

    “In today’s economy, it is more important than ever for rabbis to learn effective business models and management skills, ones guided by the deepest values of Judaism,” she said.

    An initial cohort of 14 Conservative rabbis graduated last month following a year of activities and coursework. Participants came from across the country—as far away as Maine and Florida—for two in-person seminars. The rest of the curriculum was completed through videotaped lectures, paired-learning exercises and individual conversations with faculty.

    Topics included leadership, supervision, board development, accounting, marketing, conflict management, budgeting, and development. These skills are needed now more than ever, Peretz said.

    “In today’s world, organizations are having a rough time financially. There was a great need to gain an understanding of how to look at the financial picture and brainstorm ideas,” she said.

    Ditto for issues of nonprofit management and helping clergy create healthy relationships with lay leaders, boards and volunteers.

    Richard Siegel, director of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s School of Jewish Nonprofit Management in Los Angeles, said the importance of all of these issues becomes magnified as rabbis take on more responsibility in their congregations.

    “In recognition of this, increasingly we’re encouraging rabbinical students to either take management courses with us or take the full graduate certificate [in Jewish nonprofit management],” he said. “We have found that those rabbis in the field who have participated in our program have found it incredibly valuable. It’s clear that this is something that will be even more relevant in the years ahead.”

    Siegel said that creating a program similar to the one at AJU for rabbis who already have been ordained is on his agenda.

    A number of changes already are in the works for the certificate, Peretz said. First, it will be opened up to rabbis of all denominations, not just Conservative ones.

    “The truth is the issues are the same when we’re talking organizational management,” she said.

    Web-conferencing technology will supplant the videotapes and allow for interactive lectures, and individual mentoring will be significantly increased. Additionally, the next cohort will begin in the fall instead of February, and the price will drop from $2,200 to $1,800.

    Rabbi Mark Bisman, a veteran clergy member preparing to retire in May, signed up for the program more out of curiosity than necessity. He had been learning about similar topics in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he is rabbi at Har Zion Congregation, and it sounded like an opportunity to explore them in more detail.

    What he ultimately got was insight into his synagogue that paid dividends quickly.

    “I learned how to look at the books in a different way and that makes all the difference,” he said. “It certainly has been helpful to me in terms of understanding how we can put our house in order to [prepare] for the next rabbi. I’m much more secure in some of these matters than I would have been.”

    It has proven particularly helpful in dealing with the challenges of a 220-family congregation that has seen its membership decline, the rabbi added.

    “We’re reorganizing … and finding donors and lenders to help us. We have a plan laid out, and it’s going to work,” he said. “Certainly the education that I got through this program helped me be a better articulator of what the situations are and how to move them along.”

    For Sela, being part of the program has empowered him to make a number of changes to a 315-family congregation with no executive director that has seen its membership and revenue decline in recent years.

    “I wanted to be able to help the synagogue with some of the administrative functions, and I didn’t have the capacity [before],” he said.

    Now he’s helped create a five-year programmatic plan and revamped the temple’s fundraising strategy. Instead of simply distributing envelopes and hoping they come back filled with checks, everyone receives a phone call or personal conversation from a member of the fundraising committee as part of the annual appeal. Already the change is showing results.

    “We’ve raised more money this year than in past years even though we have a smaller membership,” he said.

    Sela brought in the dean of AJU’s Graduate School of Nonprofit Management to work with Temple Ramat Zion’s board, reduce its size and discuss its responsibilities. And from a marketing perspective, the rabbi learned to expand the synagogue’s offerings outside of its physical structure.

    “You have to bring it to the people,” he said.

    That realization has led him to hold classes periodically at local coffee shops. That way, congregants who work in the area can drop by during lunch to study Talmud or other topics.

    Who knows how many more changes may be on the way for Sela and his congregation, but the rabbi said it’s a great beginning thanks to the new certificate program.

    “I recommend it to all of my colleagues, especially ones working in smaller congregations,” he said. “It was all new information that has helped me tremendously.”

    Ice cream entrepreneur taps into the ‘spiritual aspect’ of business

    After Ben Cohen and business partner Jerry Greenfield completed a course on ice cream making, they established their first ice cream shop in 1978 and went on to build Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream ­—a $300 million empire and one of the largest ice cream businesses in America. 

    Choosing ice cream over bagels as their vehicle to prosperity, they initially lacked location. “We figured if it was going to be ice cream, it should be a warm, rural college town,” Cohen noted. But their analysis revealed that competition had already beaten them to the hot spots. “So we decided to throw out the criteria of warm and ended up in Burlington, Vt.,” where cold and snowy winters are legendary. Cohen still calls Burlington home.

    Cohen, preferring social activism to the daily business grind— a throwback to his hippie youth— resigned as CEO in 1995 but continued to serve as board chair and then on the advisory board because he believes strongly that business has a “spiritual aspect” that should be recognized by the business world. “There is a spiritual aspect to business just as there is to the lives of individuals. As you give, you receive. As you help others, you’re helped in return,” Cohen asserted. He didn’t come to this conclusion overnight. Cohen’s business philosophy evolved as the company grew.

    Ben & Jerry’s faced many early challenges. Banks were wary about financing those who lacked business experience, collateral and credit histories. To get a bank loan, they needed a business plan. Without knowing how to prepare one, they used a template for a pizza parlor that sold pizza by the slice, simply plugging in “ice cream cone” wherever “pizza slice” was mentioned, and got their initial seed money.

    They broke even in their first year, but two years later, things started changing. According to Cohen, “We were at the very end of our rope and losing money … and finally, in a last-ditch effort to survive, we decided to pack our ice cream in pint containers,” which revolutionized their business in the 1980s.

    Entering Boston, their first major U.S. market, nearly brought their business to an end. Häagen-Dazs, owned by Pillsbury, was fierce competition, and Ben & Jerry’s’ distributor wanted to drop the Vermont-based company as a client. Ben & Jerry’s quickly printed banners and flew them around major Boston sport stadiums, and rented signs on Boston transit buses that featured two pudgy hands squeezing a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, saying, “Don’t let Pillsbury’s dollars strangle Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What’s the Doughboy afraid of?” 

    This proved a successful act of chutzpah. “Pillsbury was getting such a black eye from their tactics of trying to keep us out of distribution that they relented and allowed us to continue distributing our ice cream,” Cohen said.  

    Annual sales rose into the millions, and the two spent most of their time hiring, firing and meeting financial advisers. “We felt like we were becoming just another part of the economic machine that tends to oppress a lot of people,” Cohen lamented.

    Then a friend told Cohen, “If there’s something you don’t like about business, why don’t you just change the way you do it?” For Cohen, this was genius. Venture capitalists wanted desperately to invest. “We decided to use this need for cash as an opportunity to make the community the owners of our business,” he recalled.

    In an unusual move, they held the first in-state Vermont public stock offering, which made many Vermont residents part owners of the company. A national public stock offering followed, with the formal creation of the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation. The offering prospectus stated that the Foundation would be getting 7.5 percent of pre-tax profits, the highest amount of any publicly held company that gives to charity.

    So many requests for help came in that only 5 percent of the applications could be funded, a common problem for foundations throughout the world.

    How did Cohen react? He and Greenfield developed a new definition of business from “an entity that produces a product or provides a service” to “the combination of organized human energy, plus money, which equals power.” For Cohen, business was the strongest force in society, but unlike religion and government, whose purpose was to improve quality of life, “Business has never had that as part of its brief.”

    Cohen believed that only if spiritual concerns are integrated with business, which possessed the resources to actually make a difference, could positive change happen.

    He felt the very definition of success was an obstacle because it is measured “by profit, how much money is left over at the end of the month or at the end of the year.” Instead, Ben & Jerry’s decided to change the way success is measured by measuring success through a “two-part bottom line”—by how much the company has helped to improve quality of life in the community and how much money it has made. However, their managers had bad news: When company energy was devoted to improving the quality of life in the community, it took away from improving profits.

    Cohen and Greenfield were astonished. They recognized that money is a means, not an end, but values combined with social purpose should be their focus, integrating social concerns with an eye on profits.

    The company bought coffee from a Mexican cooperative, improving Mexican coffee farmers’ quality of life by purchasing their beans. It bought blueberries from a Native American tribe, which helped benefit them. It purchases $3 million worth of brownies annually from Greyston Bakery, which provides employment opportunities for those in need. Ben & Jerry’s recently committed to making all of its ingredients Fair Trade certified by the end of 2013.

    According to Cohen, “Our actions are based on deeply held values, that it’s an integrated and holistic effort to meet another set of our customers’ needs—the need to solve the social problems of our day—and that it provides added value. It’s a unique selling proposition. It motivates our employees. It helps with recruiting, and it builds tremendous consumer loyalty that’s based on shared values.”

    Cohen believes business should take responsibility for the common good rather than focus on self-interest. He believes that business, as a powerful social force, can integrate social concerns throughout its activities, while supporting service organizations in order to help people.

    According to Cohen, “As your business supports the community, the community supports your business. We are all interconnected, and as we help others, we cannot avoid helping ourselves.”


    Arthur Wolak is a Vancouver-based freelance writer.

    Young entrepreneurs earn gelt for the community good

    “We call these tchotchkes,” Keith Wasserman says, examining a snow globe. The 27-year-old founder and president of Gelt Inc. talks into a video camera as he walks around the furnished unit in a Bakersfield apartment complex, which the company purchased in 2009.

    The video is featured on Gelt Inc.‘s YouTube channel, Gelt TV. In addition to videos, the company uses blogging to raise its profile and fulfill its commitment of transparency to its investors and clients.

    “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial,” Wasserman said in an interview.

    Gelt Inc., named for the Chanukah chocolate coins, wears its Judaism proudly and has made charitable giving an important part of its mission. In addition to Jewish charities, such as the Jewish Home, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Gelt Inc. also supports charities that aid the communities it invests in, including Boys and Girls Clubs of Kern County and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Kern County.

    The business plan for Wasserman’s San Fernando Valley-based company consists primarily of investing in 75-  to 500-unit distressed apartment complexes in California and Arizona and renovating them to add value before renting the units out to individuals and families. Founded in 2008 during the height of the recession, Gelt Inc. now owns 15 buildings, representing nearly 1,000 multifamily units.

    Wasserman’s partners include Damian Langere, the company’s 31-year-old co-founder and Wasserman’s cousin, and Evan Rock, 26, its vice president. The three young professionals don’t have the purchasing power or the experience to pay for the buildings and run the business completely on their own; Gelt Inc. has investors. Wasserman and his partners take advantage of current low interest rates by borrowing from banks, and they brought aboard two “gray hairs,” Wasserman said, referring to Steve Wasserman, his father, a successful transactional attorney in Tarzana, and Adrian Goldstein, a 50-something commercial real estate maven.

    “We have a good combination of youth and energy and new ideas, and we have Adrian and my dad, who bring the experience and wisdom,” said Wasserman, who grew up attending L.A. Jewish day schools.

    Goldstein said that the members of the team complement each other, and he values the core members’ tech savvy.

    “A lot of new technology for the business, new ways of communicating with our investors and with our consumers—whether it’s social media or new applications that help us keep track of our contractors, our bids, schedules—we have a seamless platform that is made all that much better by young people who grew up in the technology age,” Goldstein said.

    Wasserman speaks excitedly about the way everyone works together. Rock is “more of our numbers guy—he oversees the new acquisitions, prices the deals, deals with the financing, the refinancing. … Damian, my cousin, he’s more on the ground, deals with the contractors, oversees the rehabs. … I’m more of the marketing, the networking and investor relations. Adrian oversees all of us, and he’s our mentor … and my dad just knows a lot of people.”

    In April 2011, Gelt Inc. bought its largest building yet, a 415-unit, 257,000-square-foot apartment complex in Phoenix for $16 million. With the next acquisition, Gelt Inc. hopes to reach its milestone of owning more than 1,000 apartment units.

    Wasserman said that the 2009 purchase of Vernon Vista, a 78-unit complex in Bakersfield, was the turning point for the company, which, for some time, had mainly acquired and renovated four-plexes, as opposed to larger complexes with dozens of units.

    “It became more professional, more of a real business. We took it to the next level, going from $150,000 deals to $4 million deals,” Wasserman said.

    The company’s rapid growth makes Wasserman hungry for more, and he’s thinking ahead—way ­ahead. Ten years from now, he would like to see the company running 10,000 units, with properties in Los Angeles as well as more in Phoenix.

    Wasserman, who got his start running a successful eBay store out of his college apartment at USC, is serious about his commitment to his faith and using the business to serve the larger Jewish community.

    “Going to a Jewish school since fifth grade”—he attended Stephen S. Wise Temple and Milken Community High School—“has really instilled in me a sense of pride about being Jewish. A lot of the organizations we support are Jewish organizations,” he said.

    This love for the Jewish community also translates into support for pro-Israel organizations, including AIPAC, StandWithUs and the Israel Leadership Council.

    Wasserman says he has heard complaints about the company name. His critics believe it feeds the stereotype of Jews “being money-hungry.”

    He insists, however, that the name reinforces the company’s positive intentions.

    “We want to have a platform of making money for the good,” he said.

    Did you transact your business honestly?

    “When a person is led in for judgment [in the next world], God asks: ‘Did you transact your business honestly? Did you fix times for the study of the Torah? Did you fulfill your duty to establish a family?’ ”
    —Rava (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a)

    The very first question that God asks each one of us after death, according to this passage in the Talmud, is whether we handled our monetary affairs honestly. The Talmud does not say what you might expect—Did you murder anyone? Injure anyone?—presumably because it assumes that most Jews do not do those things. What we are tempted to do, though, is to cheat in monetary affairs. Thus the way one handles one’s money is a sensitive barometer of the moral mettle of a person and hence the very first question we are asked.

    Fundamental Jewish Perspectives on Money

    American Jews are confronted by two very different perspectives about money in the American and Jewish traditions. The Protestant ethic at the core of much of America’s attitude toward money values not only work, but the resources it produces, including money. All too often in modern America, money in this approach is taken to an extreme, such that money becomes the measure of a man – and now, increasingly, of a woman, too. We speak of a person’s “net worth,” referring to how much money or other financial resources he or she has, as if that really defines the worth of a person.

    Another source of American perspectives on money is the Enlightenment. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson says that it is a “self-evident truth” that all people are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” John Locke, from whom Jefferson copied that sentence, ended it, however, with “life, liberty and property.” In Locke’s theory, we give up some of our rights in order to gain the benefits of civil society. Among these are our rights to all the monetary resources we have produced, for every government taxes away some portion of those resources. The burden of proof, however, rests with the government to show that it needs that money and that it is using it wisely and fairly. That I get to keep a significant part of what I earn is at the root of capitalism, for that motivates me to work to earn at least as much as I need and maybe much, much more.

    In sharp contrast, classical Jewish sources assert that by creating the world, God owns it all. As Moses says to the Israelites, “Mark, the heavens to their uttermost reaches belong to the Lord your God, the earth and all that is on it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). Thus when I own something, I own it only vis-a-vis other human beings. Jewish law definitely does presume private ownership; although communities may own property, individuals legally can own property as well. That ownership gives me the right to use my property in any way I please except as restricted by law. Furthermore, my legal right to my property means that I can sue others in court if they damage my property or try to take it from me by force, and there the rule will be, “The one who wants to take something from his fellow bears the burden of proof [that it is rightfully his]” (Mishnah, Bava Kamma 3:11; Bava Batra 9:6; etc.). All of this, though, applies only to my standing vis-a-vis other people, not vis-a-vis God.

    God’s ownership of the world, though, means that I must abide by God’s rules in doing business. Based on quite a number of specific rules governing business in the Torah itself, the rabbis of the Talmud and later times amplified them in spelling out what the rabbis understood to be God’s demands of us.

    Unlike other systems of thought, in Judaism the human being is neither inherently sinful (“Original Sin”) nor inherently virtuous. Rather, we are born with an inclination to preserve ourselves and an inclination to serve others. The first of these is evident from the moment of our birth, and it takes 13 years for the altruistic instinct to be in full force (Avot D’Rabbi Natan 16), but from then on people must balance both instincts. The self-serving instinct is called the yetzer hara, “the evil instinct,” because caring only for ourselves usually leads us to do bad things to others. Even so, the rabbis recognized that without that instinct, “a man would not build a house, marry a wife, beget children, or conduct business affairs” (Genesis Rabbah 9:7). Conversely, the rabbis also recognized that the altruistic instinct could be taken to an extreme such that a person neglects oneself and one’s family (B. Ta’anit 24a; B. Ketubbot 50a). The proper path is, therefore, to balance both instincts. In the famous maxim of Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” (M. Avot 1:14).

    Because God ultimately owns the whole earth, God imposes limits on my ownership. So, for example, according to Deuteronomy 22:8, I must put a parapet on my house’s roof if it is flat and intended for people to use so that they do not fall off. Similarly, the Torah asserts that if I own land that I farm, I must leave the edges of the field and the crops that fall to the ground during harvest to the poor (Leviticus 19:9).

    Furthermore, the community has both the moral right and the legal power in Jewish law to impose taxes, to require that individuals contribute to the communal fund and soup kitchen for the poor, and to regulate individuals’ use of their property through such regulations as zoning rules. Ultimately, the communal court has the right to expropriate an individual’s property because “property that the court declares ownerless is ownerless (hefker bet din hefker)” (Tosefta, Shekalim 1:1; Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 89b; Gittin 36b). 

    Applying Tradition to Modern Problems

    Jewish sources substantiate what most readers of this essay probably assume—namely, that Jewish tradition has much to say about how we use and conceive of money in the first place. As with everything else, however, some contemporary realities require that we apply Jewish concepts and values about money in new ways. For example, our ancestors could never have imagined the global economy with instantaneous transactions by computer, and they certainly did not deal with the new moral issues of honesty and privacy that it raises. Furthermore, they knew nothing about corporations. Indeed, contemporary corporate international issues are vastly more complicated than the ones raised by the agrarian and mercantile contexts, respectively, that the Torah and later the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud assume. Rabbis responding to these issues must therefore identify the relevant values and perspectives of the tradition and then apply them, rather than specific precedents, to the situation at hand. They must practice “depth theology” rather than simply apply a clear and relevant precedent.

    Many of the moral issues modern Jews face with money today, however, are identical or at least very similar to the ones Jews have confronted for generations, and so a relatively direct application of the tradition will suffice. For example, the Torah already knows about the temptation to use dishonest weights and measures and prohibits us from giving in to that temptation (Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:12-16); that precedent could easily be applied to new kinds of fraud. Similarly, the Torah is well aware of the fact that people will need loans, and it demands that we respond to that need in a way that does not make the debtors slaves for life (Exodus 22:24-26; Leviticus 25:25-55; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). Although we no longer press debtors who cannot pay their debts into slavery, we can learn from the values articulated in these passages that the way we handle loans should be realistic and humane so that people do not lose their livelihoods and their self-respect in taking out a loan. The Torah also knows that some people will be too poor to take out a loan, and it demands that we give food and money to the poor (Leviticus 19:9-10; 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:7-11). The Torah also warns of the haughtiness, and indeed, the idolatry, involved in presuming that I deserve full credit for everything I have, that “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Instead, we should have the humility to recognize the role others have played in affording us what we have, especially God: “Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth” (ibid., v. 18). In these general ways, and in some very specific ways that are spelled out by rabbinic rulings (teshuvot) from the Middle Ages to our own times, much of what Jewish tradition has to say about moral issues in business rings true and offers us wise counsel still today.


    Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, rector and distinguished professor of philosophy at American Jewish University, is co-editor, with Louis Newman, of “Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices: Money” and “Jewish Choices, Jewish Voices: Power,” which served as the basis for this year’s Gittleson Seminar on Jewish business ethics at AJU.

    Marty Kaplan: Is luck dead?

    The trouble with kids these days is that they think luck counts more than they should.  That’s the diagnosis of America’s young people offered by a New York Times opinion piece this past weekend.  Generation Y has moved back home and given up on gung-ho because in these recessionary times, they’re putting too little weight on the importance of effort and too much weight on the riskiness of risk.

    This indictment of “” target=”_hplink”>Thinking, Fast and Slow, the one most startling to me is the power he attributes to luck.  This isn’t a philosophical or theoretical point that he’s making; it’s an empirical observation, based on data.

    Stock traders, financial analysts, economic forecasters and CEOs may believe that their results are based on research, experience and skill.  On the contrary, says Kahneman, the overwhelming evidence – and he provides plenty of it – is that monkeys throwing darts would be just as good (that is, as bad) at doing their jobs.  Small businesses fail: that’s the rule.  To believe you’re going to be the exception requires not just confidence, it takes a resolute denial of reality.  (Intuition, by the way, is also wildly overrated.)  Every startup inevitably, and usually fatally, overestimates the brilliance of its own vision and underestimates the genius of its competitors.  Entrepreneurs maintain that success derives from sweat and indefatigability, but in fact it nearly always hinges on random, unpredictable events.

    Look at the case histories of the wizards of the digital age, says Kahneman, and virtually all of them are testimony to luck.  Pundits and political scientists who get it right are shockingly rare, and when they do, the reason is luck.  The track record of clinicians and therapists depends more on fortune than is humanly bearable to acknowledge.  How an athlete performs on a given day always involves a roll of the dice.  All of history is driven by chance.  Choose any historic figure you like; the sperm and egg that produced them were brought together by blind odds, not by destiny, design or divinity.

    This weekend also brought word of the death at age 87 of ” target=”_hplink”>Chance and Necessity, the book by Nobel Prize-winning molecular biologist Jacques Monod published a few years later, that opened my eyes to the disturbing notion that chance, not a Book of Life written in the clouds, was the name of life’s game.

    Back then, when I first entered college, an ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.

    eBay to expand activity in Israel

    eBay is expanding its activity in Israel.

    The Internet consumer company said it will unite its two activity centers in Netanya and Tel Aviv into a development center, and will expand the center by recruiting computer engineers, industrial and management engineers, and information system engineers, Ynet reported Monday.

    eBay employs more than 200 workers in Israel. The new Israeli development center will focus on building catalogues, creating information on products and developing tools for social commerce aimed at allowing collective purchases and sharing the buying process with other users, according to Ynet.

    Last year eBay bought the Israeli startup The Gifts Project, which developed an application for online group gifting.

    In addition to five development centers in the United States, eBay has centers in India and China.

    Delta removes ‘Occupied’ from Palestinian Territories on destination list

    Delta Airlines removed the phrase “Occupied Palestinian Territories” from its list of Middle East destinations.

    The destination “Palestinian Territories” remained Wednesday after the airline reportedly received e-mailed and tweeted complaints.

    Links to the site were quickly spread Tuesday via Jewish bloggers. The list of Middle East destinations also appeared on the partner sites for Delta, including car rental companies. As of Wednesday afternoon, all appeared to have been changed.

    There are no operational airports in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip.

    Last summer Delta was embroiled in another controversy involving the Middle East after a Delta spokesperson suggested that because Saudi Arabian Airlines was joining the SkyTeam Alliance, Delta might have to refuse boarding to passengers with Israel stamps on their passports. The Saudi government requires that travelers disclose their religion, and American Jews and others with Israeli stamps in their passports have been refused visas to the country.

    At the time, the Delta spokesperson said that the airline “must comply with all applicable laws in every country it serves” because it would face fines if a passenger arrives at a destination without proper documents.