Staying honest in the ‘Wild East’

Despite the religious tensions in the news from Beit Shemesh, Rosenblatt says it’s a great community.

Elie Rosenblatt and his three children at the Air Force Museum near Beersheba. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Elie Rosenblatt and his three children at the Air Force Museum near Beersheba.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Elie Rosenblatt missed more than a few buses before he got savvy to Israeli culture, soon after his aliya in 2007.
“I’m used to waiting in line for a bus, but here if you do that you miss the bus and you have to learn to be more aggressive. You have to learn to deal with these things,” says the Montreal native.
He has also gotten a comprehensive lesson in doing business in his adopted homeland, for better or for worse. Though Rosenblatt is a lawyer by profession and even clerked for Supreme Court Judge Dorit Beinisch in the summer of 2004, he headed onto an entrepreneurial path after a trip to Canada last summer.
“When I was there, my parents picked up a Rainbow Loom kit for my daughter and she loved it,” he says.
“It comes with 600 rubber bands for making bracelets, and she bought six more bags the next day. The potential for creativity is amazing. In Canada, the stores could barely keep them on the shelves. So I approached the manufacturer, and after a bit of negotiation they gave our company, V-Zot, exclusive distribution rights at the beginning of October.”
The name of the company is shorthand for V’zot habracha, “And this is the blessing,” the chapter heading of the Torah’s final portion.
A challenge to stay honest
After persuading toy store chains in Israel to take a chance on the product, Rosenblatt suddenly found himself out of stock thanks to Hanukka holiday shopping. He had to fly in more kits via two-day shipping from China.
But then veteran Israeli toy distributors started bringing in cheap knockoffs, some of them passing off the fakes as the authentic Rainbow Loom brand. One big distributor told V-Zot’s retail customers that if they wanted its other products on their shelves, they’d have to sell its loom kit, too.
“There’s a real black market, and it disappoints me that even large toy store chains were selling the knockoffs knowingly,” says Rosenblatt, who appeared on Channel 10 one night to refute one of the impostors.
“What do you do when the market just doesn’t care? The police will take a report but obviously it’s not the most pressing matter for them. It’s like the Wild East here; there is quite a bit of lawlessness. It’s a challenge to stay honest in this business.”
And yet he persisted longer than his competitors.
Now Rosenblatt says the product is still selling nicely, and over the summer he ran promotional Rainbow Loom workshops at a couple of shopping malls.
During Operation Protective Edge, he offered the kits at less than half price to anyone living south of Ashdod, and one organization bought 1,000 of them to donate in Beersheba. “We’re still here and forging ahead,” he says proudly.
Junior lawyer
Growing up in Montreal, Rosenblatt felt that Zionism was an integral part of his Jewish day school education.
By high school, he knew Israel was where he wanted to be. But he was determined to prepare for it thoroughly.
“I heard unfortunate stories about people making aliya and returning, and I wanted to make sure I would stay,” he explains.
In November 2006, during his last year of law school, he made a pilot trip to Israel. Law firms were impressed with his credentials; in addition to volunteering for Beinisch, he had compiled the sixth edition of the Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation used by every law school in the country.
“I got a few job offers, so I decided to do it,” he says.
“I was already married with a child and managed to pull it all together.”
He accepted the best offer, a clerkship at Herzog, Fox & Neeman, then the largest law firm in Israel. After 18 months he left to take the Israeli bar exam and eventually ended up working at another firm for about a year. “Being a junior lawyer is not easy; you work long hours for minimal pay and have no guarantee of making partner,” says Rosenblatt.
Though he still has some legal clients on the side, his company now occupies most of his time. “We are launching a new product called Hype Wipes, a reusable and washable microfiber sticker to clean smartphones and glasses. And we launched a watch that attaches to attach to a Rainbow Loom bracelet; it’s sold at a number of branches of Tzomet Sfarim [bookstore] as well as through our website.”
Loving Beit Shemesh
The Rosenblatts rented a house in Beit Shemesh for two years and then bought a house in the new satellite neighborhood of Nofei Hashemesh.
The children, ages 10, eight and four-and-a-half, all had some initial struggles with the language, but “now they’re teaching me Hebrew. I consider them full-fledged Israeli,” says their dad.
Despite the religious tensions in the news from Beit Shemesh, Rosenblatt says it’s a great community.
“One of the things that attracted me was the amount of hessed [acts of loving-kindness] done here. My first Purim in Israel I was driving around delivering food packages for a charity.”
He says that the best aspect of living in Israel “is the sense that you really do belong. No one can ever say you’re a stranger here. And there is a sense of everyone being, to a certain degree, family – in a way you would not see anywhere else,” he remarks.
His twin brother made aliya in 2009. “The rest of my family is still in Montreal and New Jersey, hopefully with aliya plans in the works. My brother-in-law claims that when Sunday is made a day off in Israel, he’ll come,” Rosenblatt reports with a laugh.
Meanwhile, he is putting his heart and soul into entrepreneurship.
“I’m hoping for the business to grow, and I will try to bring in more brand-name products at reasonable prices because not everybody can have products brought by friends and relatives from the States. It’s going to be a hard battle, but hopefully, slowly but surely, things will change. We need more honest people in the business world.”
He admits to struggles with Hebrew, like many immigrants.
“You don’t understand everything that’s said to you or everything you get in the mail. Sometimes people talk down to you.”
Yet no amount of unpleasant experiences could sour him on the Jewish state.
“My troubles have given me more resolve to be here,” Rosenblatt says. “It’s easy to throw in the towel when things don’t go well, but when it’s your own country you don’t give up.”