Aliya Veterans: Taking care of business

A profile of Josh Rurka, who made aliya as a child from England to Ra'anana in 1981.

Josh Rurka (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Josh Rurka
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
At a very early age Joshua Rurka, who made aliya with his parents in 1981, knew he wanted to be a businessman.
Today, 40 and living in Ra’anana with his wife, Gabriella, and their four children, he is the CEO of a company which manufactures and markets a dental support device called LaborAide, which is said to reduce pain and stress during labor.
“I started my first business in 1998,” says the urbane Rurka, who in spite of being here since the age of seven is a perfect English gentleman. “I studied economics and marketing at Tel Aviv Academic College and jumped in at the deep end, starting a company called Capital International that dealt with creating financial structures for private investors.”
Working with Israeli partner Udi Ginati, the pair serviced leading banks until 2008, when the subprime financial crisis occurred; they realized that although their business was still fine, the rules had changed and it was time to go in a different direction.
“We decided the time had come to invest in fundamental real business as opposed to investing in synthetic structures,” he explains. “In my working life up until then, I had been to 44 countries and had business connections with 10 of them. Naturally, I had a large number of very good relationships in many of these countries, so we decided to make the transition and draw on these contacts.”
They opted to invest in LaborAide, which had already been established in England by a relation of Rurka’s, Anthony Lovat – whose company, the Opro group, was the world’s leading manufacturer of customized dental protectors.
The product was already in general use on the sports field, having been employed to great effect in rugby matches and sprinting, but it was felt it could be beneficial in medical areas as well.
“We decided to do proper clinical trials to see if the device helped women in labor as the manufacturers claimed,” says Rurka. “We went to Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva, and we were thrilled to discover that there was clear evidence that the use of our device reduced clinical intervention at the time of labor, and in natural births reduced the actual time of labor considerably.”
Armed with this positive result, the pair set up their company, Medivie Therapeutic, and began developing and marketing their product – a mouthguard which looks like a small piece of rubber but hopefully has a big future.
Besides his enthusiasm for the business world, Rurka has a special interest in a project that has united the world of Anglo olim like no other – Habayit Shel Benji (Benji’s House).
Benji Hillman, who was killed in the Second Lebanon war in 2006, was his first cousin and a company commander in the Egoz unit of the Golani Brigade.
“We were very close – I was like an older brother to him,” recalls Rurka.
When the family decided to memorialize their lost son by creating a home for lone combat soldiers where they could get a room with a bed and a hot meal, Rurka threw himself into the project, fund-raising and helping in practical ways. “I was there from day one.”
Today Habayit Shel Benji can house 50 lone soldiers at a time, and soon the number will be increased to 75.
Rurka, whose parents, David and Ruth, are well-known members of the Ra’anana Anglo community, did his army service in the paratroopers and married Gabriella in 1998. He describes how they met with some embarrassment.
“I met her at the local supermarket and I recognized her from having already noticed her at my synagogue, Shivtei Yisrael in Ra’anana, on the other side of the mehitza (partition). I actually said. ‘Do you go to my synagogue?’” he recounts with a smile. “Not much of a pick-up line, but it worked.”
Seventeen years and four children later, ranging in age from 15 to four, they are happily settled in Ra’anana, near their parents. Gabriella is a social worker, working with youth in distress.
He feels that living in Israel is a stimulating experience that might have contributed to his success in the business world.
“Here you are forced to compete against the sharpest of minds,” he asserts, “you are mixing with the best of the best. And you tend to grow up at an earlier stage by going into the army.”
While he likes to do what he calls “guy stuff” – sport and poker with friends – he also tries to spend as much time as possible with his children. He also feels it is deeply important to remember the Holocaust and to that end, his company sponsored the making and filming of a documentary movie, Hitler’s Children, which explored the lives of descendants of the Nazis.
“We helped with the marketing and it has been seen in 35 countries,” he explains.
Not everyone is cut out to be a businessman, but Rurka certainly is and has made a great success of his career choice.
“From a very young age, I saw that it is very hard to survive on a salary,” he says. “Even today, it’s a mystery to me how people do it. I had no choice – I had to go into business.”