Partners in the aliyah and PR business

James Fattal, 33 - From London to Tel Aviv, 2014 Jake Sharfman, 33 - From Michigan to Tel Aviv, 2014

J CUBED: Fattal (left) and Sharfman. (photo credit: Courtesy)
J CUBED: Fattal (left) and Sharfman.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
After college, James Fattal of London and Jake Sharfman of Michigan met on a five-month Masa Israeli Journey internship program in 2009. Fattal worked for the sports charity of the Hapoel Tel Aviv Football Club. Sharfman worked at Haaretz.
Afterward, Sharfman went to New York to begin a career in public relations for Jewish nonprofits. Fattal returned to London to work in corporate PR.
“We had both developed a love for Israel and we kept in touch,” says Sharfman. “We decided to create our own PR firm and do it in Israel. After a few years we were both ready for a change and wanted to experience all Israel had to offer professionally and personally.” In 2014, they each moved to Tel Aviv and founded J Cubed Communications, an international PR firm.
“From being the recipients of programs such as Masa, Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency, we ended up representing the clients responsible for bringing us to Israel, with the simple aim of helping expose others to the same experiences we were lucky enough to have,” says Fattal. “We now have one of the largest PR firms in the Jewish world.” Sharfman adds that while clients “respect the hustle” of this young partnership, growing their enterprise was challenging. Mentors at the Business Development Centers in Israeli Cities (MATI) and Google Campus helped them get started.
“We never owned a business before. We both understand Hebrew but it’s another thing to understand contracts and bank statements and start a business in another language. It wasn’t always easy to adjust to Israeli culture coming from the US and the UK – it’s very tachlis at business meetings and there aren’t a ton of formalities, which now I actually find refreshing,” says Sharfman.
Fattal notes that “Having a start-up where I was from was seen as a drawback, while here it is very respected. But especially at the beginning, not understanding nuances of Israeli culture set us back in client interactions. Now I see it more as a benefit because we’re able to offer the American and British sense of business and our knowledge base in those countries.” They positioned themselves as the right duo to bring a younger, fresher voice to nonprofits whose messaging was dated, and to introduce “Israel beyond the conflict” to the world.
“Our first project was built into the situation in the South during Operation Protective Edge a month after we moved here,” says Fattal. Drawing on his contacts at Hapoel Tel Aviv, he and Sharfman created a football (soccer) marathon to raise money for southern communities. “We got some big companies aboard such as Adidas and IsraCard and it was quite successful. A new playground was built with the money from this initiative.” After a few similar passion projects, business snowballed.
“The Jewish not-for-profit world is our bread and butter, but we also work with clients in higher education and technology,” says Sharfman. The University of Haifa, Jerusalem College of Technology, Ruderman Family Foundation and are among their clients.
Fattal, who never had any intention of moving to Israel until his impactful Masa experience, met his future wife, New York-bred Ashley, at ulpan. They have a year-old daughter. While he has aunts, uncles and cousins in Israel, he misses his immediate family in Britain.
“My dad grew up in Israel. He fought in the Six Day War, and left at age 32,” Fattal relates. “Having his son go back to the world he left was difficult for him. But the longer I’ve been here the more he’s come to see Israel for what it is today, and I think he gets a sense of pride.” Sharfman’s wife, Yael, is Canadian. They wed in November 2019 and his family from Michigan was able to fly in. His paternal grandmother, “Bubbie,” was already here, having made aliyah a year after her grandson at age 83. Although Bubbie eventually returned to Michigan for health reasons, Sharfman credits her with instilling a love of Israel in him when he was young.
He says that his first Israel trip on Birthright at 18 was eye-opening, and he came back for a study-abroad program at Tel Aviv University during college. He then did the Masa internship to experience life in Israel as a working professional.
What does this pair of new Israelis love about the land?
“I love the togetherness, the camaraderie,” says Fattal. “You can spark a conversation with anyone on the street. Coming from a place like London, where people stay to themselves, I’ve always found the warmth of Israelis very special. And the longer I’m here the more I appreciate the straightforwardness of Israelis. They wear their feelings on their sleeve.” Sharfman says Israel gives its citizens the feeling of “being in this together” and having a larger purpose in life. “Coming from a small town in Michigan, it never ceases to amaze me what we as a people have been able to create in a short period of time. I see the miracle of this place every day walking down the street in Tel Aviv.” The pandemic hasn’t negatively impacted J Cubed; in fact, they’re busier than ever.
“It has affected how we work in terms of pitching ideas to the media with a COVID-related angle,” says Sharfman. “Our clients have realized how important it is to get their message out and inform people about the work they’re doing in good times and in turbulent times. This country has so much to offer and we can expose that to the outside world.” Any advice to others thinking of aliyah?
“When you move here you really have to have a sense of humor,” answers Sharfman. “You have to let things brush off your shoulders pretty easily. If you get worked up over trying to run an errand or over bureaucratic things, it’s going to be a bit of a rough go. We always joke that you don’t run errands in Israel. You try to get one done in a day and then celebrate that accomplishment.