Zionist marketer and music maker

Tapping your feet to a sacred life.

Steve Schuster in Jerusalem (photo credit: PR)
Steve Schuster in Jerusalem
(photo credit: PR)
What would make one man travel from the US to Israel over 60 times? For Steve Schuster, who has done exactly that, Zionism, PR for Israeli technology companies and music are “the pillars of my professional life.”
Schuster has been coming to Israel four times a year for more than a decade. His primary mission in Israel is to generate business for Rainier Communications, his hi-tech PR company. But while he’s here, he also steals time from his business obligations to write and perform music, much of which is inspired by Israel.
Raised in an American Reform Zionist home, Schuster has a childhood memory of the Six Day War. In addition, he easily recalls the exact moment his father whispered to the rabbi of their synagogue in Washington State that Israel was at war on Yom Kippur of 1973.
“I remember the fear for Israel’s survival. I remember feeling it in my core. My family is very Zionist. My parents later revealed that they thought of making aliya as a family after the Six Day War.”
For family reasons, Schuster’s parents ultimately decided not to make aliya. That decision, to remain geographically close to extended family, echoes in Schuster’s own life story.
He spent his sophomore year of college at the Hebrew University. He arrived on a Friday and didn’t realize that all the stores would be closed for Shabbat.
“I remember being very hungry for 24 hours,” Schuster laughingly recalled. “It was a fantastic year!” he enthused.
To make money on the side, the budding musician “played solo gigs three nights a week” at what is now the First Station in Jerusalem.
Despite his initial, positive experiences in Israel, he never considered making aliya; the call of his family and his music was too strong. At age 19, “I was so into music. My plan was to return to America to become a rock star.”
Instead, this multitalented musician earned an electrical engineering degree. It all came together when, as a self-described “long haired, bearded engineer,” he gave a demonstration to potential investors of a speech-recognition system on which he was working. “That day, they invested in the company,” and a new, blended career was born.
Schuster went on to earn an MBA, studying nights and weekends. He worked his way up to managing a technology company worth $30 million. But he found that the marketing experts he hired didn’t understand the technology or the people who would ultimately adopt it, so he found himself constantly translating one field for the other.
By 1993, he realized that his professional niche was marketing technology, and he founded Rainier Communications, named for Mount Rainier southeast of Seattle.
Ten years later, he began spending increasingly intensive amounts of time in Israel. “I had fallen hook, line and sinker back in love with Israel. I saw there was great innovation happening here and not much marketing. So I began to get clients in Israel. My company acts as PR agency for Israeli technology companies.”
Since opening an office in Israel in 2007, half his business has been with Israeli technology companies. “My staff was in shock when we started to work with Israeli clients. They hadn’t dealt with ‘tachlis’ before. America is a nonconfrontational society. Israelis are open, so we can fix things and move on to success. It was some culture shock! “But within two years, my staff started to say, ‘My Israeli clients are the ones who know if my kid is sick or I have an issue with an aging parent and seem to know about and care about me as a person.’ They are very focused on business but also that human side.
“The expectations of Israeli clients are very high for what’s going to happen in the American market. It’s easy to get PR in Israel because there are so few media outlets.
The ocean in America is much bigger to make some noise in. It takes longer. However, if you have great technology and tell the story right, it turns into business success. And we’re good at telling stories at Rainier.”
He’s on the phone with Israeli companies every day, conducting business in English. Schuster’s been trying to master Hebrew for five years. “I have functional Hebrew at this stage. I’d have to move to Israel to become fluent. In any case, my clients’ English is better than my Hebrew.
“Hebrew is such a connection to Israel. I switched to a Conservative shul to hear more Hebrew.”
Interestingly, Schuster’s mother is a rabbi in the Jewish Renewal movement; she was ordained in her 50s. His brother is a Reform rabbi. All three are doing Daf Yomi, studying a page of Talmud a day.
Schuster explains that, in his marketing activities, he wants to make people feel something so they act in a certain way. With his music, he just wants people to feel something emotionally.
Speaking about the song “Florentin” from his newly released album Sweet Gems, Schuster said, “I have a feeling when I land in Israel. It seeps into my bones. When I’m in Florentin [a neighborhood in Tel Aviv], I feel something different than I feel when I’m in Jerusalem. I wrote the song, the words and the beat to feel that bohemian, hippie feel that’s only in Florentin, to see the graffiti. There’s a part in the middle that sounds like a street parade. The cafés are full and you’re smelling all the smells and hearing the sounds.”
Schuster wrote nearly all the songs while traveling in Israel for business. Many of them were written while on weekend getaways at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, in Tel Aviv Airbnb apartments or at the King Solomon Hotel in Netanya.
“The songs on Sweet Gems have varied themes, but many are influenced by Israel or my Jewish background,” Schuster related.
For example, he describes the song “The Angels’ Share” as “a thematic mash-up of a by-product of whiskey distillation and the Torah parasha Vayetze. Evaporate from a whiskey distillery has gone to the angels in Ya’acov’s dream. I put these two stories together in an attempt to feel what Ya’acov [Jacob] felt that inspired him to name the place Beit El. I want it to be a pub song – raise a glass and L’haim to the wonder of what Ya’acov felt.”
Schuster’s song “No End to the Infinite” is “heavily influenced by Kabbala’s concept” of the infinity of God.
“It includes a bridge that depicts the violence and wonder of the first verses of Bereshit [Genesis].” His song “Wisdom of Solomon” (with its refrain “With the wisdom of Solomon, patience of Job”) was “inspired by biblical sources.”
Schuster took five years to make this album, a few hours at a time. “All I wanted was to make an album I could be proud of and hope people would enjoy.”
Sweet Gems, which Schuster likens to the Beatles’ Rubber Soul sound, is widely available in online music stores.
“I’m already working on another album, as long as my creative juices are flowing. I need to write these songs. I need this to be part of the way I embrace life.
“I love marketing. I love having a front-row seat to innovation, but for me, I need to have my left brain and my right brain stimulated at all times to be a happy person. It’s part of living a sacred, spiritual life.”