Women of valor

Is it possible to balance the hardships of simultaneously raising a family and running a business? Judging by the large turnout at The Annual Kishor Conference, it appears that many haredi women are confident they can.

Kishor Networking Group (photo credit: Sharon Altshul)
Kishor Networking Group
(photo credit: Sharon Altshul)
The conference hall at Jerusalem’s Ramada Hotel pulsated with passion, talent and camaraderie as several hundred Orthodox women – Israeli and Anglo, young and old, professional and novice – emerged from their workplaces and gathered last week to delight in the sheer act of creating connections.
The Kishor Women’s Professional Networking Group – a project of Temech, a nonprofit organization focused on developing employment and business opportunities for haredi (ultra-Orthodox) women in Israel – coordinated the one-day conference of education, networking and inspiration for religious women in business.
Designed for women who have established small businesses or are considering starting them, the Kishor Conference featured expert speakers in both English and Hebrew, with simultaneous translation headsets available for all the keynote sessions and some workshops.
“Kishor is mentioned in ‘Eshet Hayil’ [‘A Woman of Valor,’ the prayer traditionally sung on Friday night], and it is a tool used in spinning,” explained Leah Aharoni, one of the founders of the volunteerrun organization. “We started out as a small group of Anglo women entrepreneurs here in Israel, working from home for local and foreign clients. For some of us, it was quite lonely, so we created a networking group to support each other socially and professionally.”
These isolated women used their time together learning new and innovative ways to enhance their expertise. They organized monthly meetings at different homes, cafés or office spaces to hear from experts about skills such as marketing, negotiating and financial management.
“We gained a lot from Kishor, and our original group expanded quickly. When it became big enough, Temech adapted it and funded it,” said Shaindy Babad, one of the founding members of Kishor and director of Temech.
The networking group’s annual conference showcases influential women with talent and vision who share their innovation, quests for knowledge and support in running their businesses.
This year, Kishor teamed up with the leaders of the Hochmat Nashim online network of religious businesswomen to broaden the scope of the conference.
“We realized that these two communities – the Anglos and Israelis – hardly do business together. Uniting together would offer everyone the opportunity to grow their contacts exponentially,” said Babad.
At the conference, titled “Home-Maker, Business-Builder: Inspiration and Practical Advice,” over 300 participants attended workshops about planning and setting up, financing, equipping and marketing one’s business, with a beginner’s track for those just starting out and more advanced workshops for those with existing businesses.
Motivational speakers discussed balancing home and work commitments, time management, and staying focused on goals while remaining healthy and happy.
“In my experience, haredi women make excellent entrepreneurs,” Uri Scharf, director of MATI, the Jerusalem Business Development Center, told the audience. “I know that if a woman can run a household with six or more children, she has all the skills she needs to run a business.”
Rabbi Menachem Stein, a popular lecturer from the Nahalat David Yeshiva in Petah Tikva, spoke about the power of the eshet hayil, highlighting her multidimensional abilities and skills. He encouraged keeping one’s priorities straight, however, pointing out that although work constituted hishtadlut – the requisite effort toward achieving one’s goals – it was not the determining factor, as everyone’s livelihood was decreed in Heaven on Rosh Hashana. He also cited Devora the Prophetess – a judge, warrior, wife and creator of song, who still referred to herself as “a mother in Israel” (Judges 4:7), as that was the foundation of her strength and wisdom.
Hadassah Rosenberg – a CPA who sits on the board of Keren Hagshama and was formerly on the board of Bee Group Retail (known as Blue Square), one of the country’s major conglomerates – talked about the workplace as a catalyst for personal growth. She summarized the secret of her own success with the Hebrew acronym “Tefilla” (prayer), which stands for Todah (being grateful), Practicality, Yesodiut (thoroughness), Limmud (learning) and Hitmodedut (dealing with challenges). Of course, she added, the key to the success of each of these aspects was actual prayer.
“I learned so much about myself and the way I approached money, teamwork, and the way the challenges that came my way built me,” she said.
THE WIDE spectrum of women who attended provided a platform for forging new connections and reaching out to new clients.
“Networking is a powerful marketing tool that we are often reluctant to use,” explained marketing consultant Naomi Elbinger, who blogs at MyParnasa.com and coordinated the “Power Networking” workshop.
Based on the speed-dating model, participants were paired up for 90 seconds to meet each other and explain what they did, before moving on to the next potential contact.
“It’s interesting to see how the Israeli women, who are generally more reticent to speak about what they do, felt more relaxed about networking by observing the openness of the American women,” said Goldy Zieveld, a member of the Israeli organizing team. “No doubt this will give them more initiative and confidence to move forward.”
Other workshop leaders included Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg, who combined hassidic wisdom and contemporary marketing advice, and life-coach Penina Taylor, who discussed setting “smart” goals and reaching them.
Then there was the FreshBiz game-based learning experience, designed to stimulate and develop new creative methods of multidimensional entrepreneurial thinking.
“After playing FreshBiz, I really started thinking about my life and my business in ways that I’d never thought of before,” said FreshBiz facilitator Tal Shamberg, who is also a professional organizer and life coach.
“I started thinking about collaboration and competition and the way I relate to money and teamwork in a totally different way, which has really opened up my business and my personal life.”
After the game, Simcha Gluck, one of the founders of FreshBiz, presented the elements of the game as a metaphor for life and business.
“What did you learn about watching other people play? What did you learn about watching how you played? Were you nervous? Did you find yourself thinking that people are out to get you? Were they out to get you?” he asked the players.
“The dice in life are the actions you take,” he stressed. “Nothing in life happens unless you take action. If things don’t work out, you roll the dice again. Don’t get wrapped up in how you rolled the dice now.”
The day concluded with the Secrets of Success panel, where three successful haredi businesswomen shared their experiences and advice about balancing home and work commitments.
Dvora Zaks, CEO of DIT Advance Technologies, a computer programming company that employs 20 women, explained that this was really her second business – her first was caring for her 13 children. Elisheva Kligsberg explained how she had set up a school to teach the skills of event design to other women after she was injured in a road accident and could no longer run her design business herself. Chana Malka Landau described setting up her One of a Kind chain of four fashion outlets to sell the modest clothing that she was designing and manufacturing, because it was easier than selling them to other retailers. Introducing the panel was Ruchama Paz, editor of the Ketifa magazine for haredi women.
The last keynote speaker, Jerusalem Deputy Mayor and Temech chairman Yitzhak Pindrus, emphasized the importance of women’s economic activity not only to themselves and their families, but also to the communities of the City of Jerusalem and to the Jewish nation. He commended the National Insurance Institute, MATI, the Jerusalem Development Authority and corporate sponsors for supporting the venture.
“The whole day has been very surprising,” said beaming hi-tech professional Galia Kut. “The variety of things that people are doing in areas I’ve never thought of were inspiring.”