Nothing Succeeds Like Success – Satmar Business Expo
By Aharon Hirsh Cohen
When entering the lobby and joining the lines waiting to register and receive entrance passes, it felt like being in an airport waiting to check in for a charter flight of only Chassidishe Yidden. The only difference was that here, everyone was heading to the same destination.
These were the feelings when attending the second Zeh MiZeh Satmar Business Expo in the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison, New Jersey, on Wednesday, July 12.
A total of 348 businesses with everything from real estate firms, hand-made chocolate manufacturers, and a bleacher-rental company, showed the diversity, creativity, and innovation of the Chassidishe tzibbur at the event, which opened at 8 a.m. and closed at 8 p.m.
“This expo shows that everything you need to build a house is available within the community,” one participant commented. “From buying the property, to constructing it, and everything else needed.”
Reb Yoel Fried, founder and CEO of the FriedCo Media marketing, branding and advertising agency of Williamsburg, one of the main organizers of the event, said, “The whole idea began with an incident that occurred with Reb Yoel Braver. He discovered that his brother-in-law does something in business that he never even knew about, which he could really benefit from. He thought, “If this could be the case with my own brother-in-law, who knows how many people there are who daven in the same beis medrash who could benefit each other, but they simply don’t know what others are doing? This spurred the idea of making this event.”
Rabbi Avraham Ber Jacobowitz, one of the Roshei Hakehillah of the Satmar community, discussed it with Satmar Rebbe Harav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, shlita, who strongly encouraged and supported the idea.
“Last year the kehillah subsidized a small amount to cover the costs of the event,” said Rabbi Jacobowitz. “This year, despite the minimal cost of a booth, which started as low as $1,350; due to the large number of both exhibitors and attendees everything was covered and there was no need for the kehillah to subsidize it.
“It was a tremendous kiddush Hashem and the owners of the Exposition Center couldn’t stop complimenting the Chassidishe tzibbur for their refined behavior and professionalism throughout the whole event.”
Reb Yoel said, “To find a location big enough to accommodate such a huge operation and close enough to all areas, such as Brooklyn, Lakewood, Monsey and Monroe, was a very arduous task, but baruch Hashem, we succeeded. The original plan was to make it only once; however, after seeing the tremendous success last year we decided to make it again.
“Everything you see here, from the booths, the furniture, to the signs — was made by Chassidishe businesses. Even the entrance ticketing system was designed by a Chassidishe company. This is a testimony to what we can produce.”
“I’ll tell you a short story,” Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niderman, Director of the UJO, began. “I was once involved in trying to prevent the transformation of a huge lot near Williamsburg, which belonged to a large utility firm, into a huge power plant. The utility firm agreed to sell it if we could find them a buyer.
“We put out the word, looking for interested investors to purchase it. One day a broker, a Chassidishe yungerman who works for a national company, walks into my office saying that he’s ready to close on the project and asked for our assistance in connecting him with the firm.
“After we discussed it and I introduced him to the firm, he turns around and tells me: ‘Rabbi Niderman, do you know who I am?’ When I answered no, he told me that he had learned in a real estate licensing course provided by the UJO, and now he’s handling huge transactions for this national company. I was amazed!
“This goes to show how far people can succeed without any college degree, just one of our heimishe courses. We can show tens of thousands of alumni from our mosdos who have grown into such successful hardworking businessmen without having any secular degrees.”
He went on to discuss another important aspect of the expo.
“Apart from the main point of this expo, which is to unite our forces and help each other, there is also a certain fringe benefit that comes out of this — it sends a very strong message to those who seek to undermine our chinuch system.
“It is so unfortunate that certain media outlets are not interested in facing the facts and prefer to publicize the lies of a few resentful drop-outs from the community rather than focusing on the overwhelming success rate of their peers and giving credence to the actual graduates of our yeshivah system who run successful companies and contribute so much to New York’s society, which benefits the general public as well — people who are provided with many work opportunities in our businesses.
“We are a people who have experience, generation after generation, of coming from nothing and making something — but not just something — an unbelievable thriving community. This is all done without following the conventional secular methods.
“We fulfill the words of Chazal that ‘a man is obligated to teach his son a trade’ — it doesn’t say a college degree! The heimishe community offers a variety of courses which provide yungeleit with the tools and skills needed to enter into any profession. This event is testimony to the successful products of this system, with thousands of our alumni representing businesses at this expo.
“Compare us to any similar ethnic community where English is not their first language; look at the success of our system. We raise functional families with no homelessness, and contribute so much to society. The criminal activities, which are unfortunately so prevalent in other communities, guns, drugs, and other ills of society are non-existent within our community.
“After all of our exiles and persecutions, our fathers and grandfathers came to America without anything and built up such an unbelievable, strong community.
“They should know that the war against chinuch is a war against our existence, and nobody will break us. We have a history of thousands of years of fighting for our existence and flourishing, a history and a way of life which no-one will succeed in breaking.
Reb Naftali Hoff, CEO of Impactful Coaching and Consulting of Passaic, said, “Even though I have a number of degrees, I don’t feel it’s the formal mandated education that delivers the real skills required to succeed in life. Crucial soft skills like communication, persuasiveness, and time management are the things needed to be successful in business and these are learned largely through life experience in general. The real aim is to know your goal and humble yourself to the professionals and learn from them; these ideas are ingrained in our children from when they are young. There is a lot of drive and people develop street skills, there’s a lot of support within the community and there’s a lot of openness and desire to succeed.”
Early in the morning, the crowd was comprised mostly of Satmar Chassidim, but as the day went on, the crowd became so diverse, no one with any kind of levush attracted any attention, as there were all kinds of Yidden there. One booth was decorated with British flags. The booth belonged to a tech-design business owner from London, unaffiliated with Satmar, who came to the U.S. especially for the event.
“Last year, I saw the approach of yungeleit coming together and the beautiful matzav going on,” said Reb Ezra Max, an executive coach and facilitator from Flatbush. “I decided next year I want to be around these people. I will make time to come join and feel the energy of these amazing Yidden. It’s such a huge kiddush Hashem.
“A secular Jew challenged me last week, ‘I saw the article in The New York Times that you don’t educate. How can this be?’ I responded, ‘Ask me any question about anything, I’m willing to engage with you in healthy dialogue on any topic but forgive me if I don’t know everything, and please don’t bring up any nonsense [topics that go against the Torah].
“After speaking for a few minutes, he told me, ‘Wow, you’re an Orthodox Jew and it’s incredible — I can interact with you and have a normal conversation.’ I told him, ‘It happens to be I got some official certification. Now go and speak to the Chassidishe yungeleit [who don’t] and see what they can do. You’ll discover that they’re highly intelligent, skilled, capable, driven, motivated, productive members of society. The truth is that we have such a close infrastructure, we do everything for each other, and are far beyond anyone in chessed. So what are we missing? We’re only missing the garbage.
“Our level of crime is nothing compared to the world’s. Our level of physical crime is minus nothing compared to the rest of the world. Our level of family engagement is through the roof — the public system should come to us to learn how to educate!”
Reb Moshe Engel, COO of Pixel & Byte, a software development company, attested, “Our chinuch encourages us to be broadminded, brave, and not afraid to jump into things. We use the Torahdige chinuch and apply it to all aspects of life.” He is a graduate of the Satmar mosdos of Williamsburg and lives in Monsey. “My wife began her career in the software development industry at the age of 17, while learning in Satmar mosdos. We’re not missing anything.”
Reb Yossi Waldman, CEO of Port Priority, said, “Our chinuch teaches us to be resilient and always be creative and figure ways around any obstacle.”
Reb Yakov Kaufman of Chocolate Décor commented, “There is nothing missing from our education system. On the contrary, our people have so much courage and are entrepreneurs and jump into any industry you can think of.”
Reb Mordechai Gestetner, Sales Representative for Inventory Ahead of Kiryas Yoel which systemizes E-commerce companies, said, “We learned everything we needed to in cheder — how to speak English and also basic life tools. Learning Gemara definitely sharpens the brain. One of the advantages of our chinuch system is the fact that we’re so closely connected. We don’t need to look far to find customers — we are all friends and we help one another.”
At 2:30 p.m. there was a panel with three successful business owners and strategists: Reb Mordechai Klein, Reb Shalom Berkowitz, and Reb Pinchas Shemaya. All three are people who help others build their businesses, whether in coaching, structuring, or other areas of business. The questions were asked by Reb Hendel Breuer and each one was directed at a different one of the three, who discussed tips and secrets on how to be a successful businessman. They discussed the pros and cons of working for someone else, starting one’s own business, hiring employees, etc., and what the goal of a heimishe businessman should be.
At 7 p.m., there was a special drashah given by Reb Avraham Shalom Deutsch, one of the major askanim of the Satmar kehillah, who discussed the importance of helping one another and being cautious in monetary matters.
Reb Yoel Eckstein, COO of Funding Source, told Hamodia, “Our company, which specializes in residential mortgages, started from scratch in a basement in the CEO’s house in Monsey and then moved to a small office in Williamsburg. We now have locations across the country. Our staff consists of all types of Yidden from various frum communities and also from outside of the community.”
Reb Mendel Klagsbrun, CEO of Funding Source, shared an anecdote: “I once had a major business audit of the whole company which lasted a few weeks. When it was finished, the bank staff asked me where I went to college, I answered that not only did I not attend college but also not high school. Only yeshivah. They were shocked. I told them if I would have gone to college I would have been an auditor for the bank and not a business owner! They smiled and said, ‘You’re right.’
“Then they asked me, ‘So where did you learn business?’ I told them that from 3 years old we are trained to be businessmen; by the age of 6 we can already speak three languages. We advance on to Gemara, which is l’havdil our ‘common core.’
“If someone takes a specific degree in college, he can enter into that specific profession or something similar. We are learned people who are trained to delve into all aspects of business, whether monetary laws in Bava Kamma or general strategic thinking across Shas, and this type of education can open windows into any kind of profession. All we have to do when entering the business world is learn the nuances of that specific business — the foundations have already been laid.”
Reb Lipa Perlmutter of KJ Tiles confirmed those ideas when he said, “In the very first years after the establishment of Kiryas Yoel, my father, who was then a melamed, saw a worker laying tiles and asked himself, why shouldn’t I open my own business and help develop the town? He started from scratch in our basement, and we now have a warehouse which has since moved to Monsey, with 30 workers.”
Reb Tuvia Goldstein, founder of BP Watch Repair, said, “It takes guts but, when push comes to shove, one has to do what one has to do. In a way it can be harder not having a formal secular degree simply because certain [antique] collectors only want someone who has an official license, but Hashem sends the customers I need. This is a perfect business for a heimishe Yid as I barely need to use any technology.”
He continues with a story about investing in customers: “Someone brought in a watch to be fixed, and when he came to pick it up he complained that I had cracked it. I think it was already cracked when he brought it, but I wasn’t going to fight about it — it cost me a few dollars at the time, but he comes back!”
Reb Dovid Landau, CEO of Lalechet of Boro Park, which arranges trips to mekomos hakedoshim and has been going strong for eight years, advised, “It’s definitely worthwhile to borrow, invest, try and do everything necessary, and persevere, until one succeeds. On one of our first major trips, we booked a Shabbos at a Jewish hotel. When we arrived there on Friday we found out that the place was really not great — there were leaks all over and an unpleasant odor. I made a decision to book a new hotel on the spot and arrange food, etc., at my own expense, and it wasn’t cheap at all. This story built a huge trust in Lalechet from our customers and from then on we only went up and up, baruch Hashem.”
Mr. Lincoln Restler, councilman in Williamsburg, commented, “People who do well are able to support the schools, the congregations, and people in need. The thing that most inspires me in Williamsburg, consistently, is just how generous people of means are to provide support for people who are struggling in the neighborhood and community, even though they don’t even know each other — it’s about supporting anyone in need in the community and that’s very moving and very powerful.
“I wish that all people of means took that same responsibility to look out for those who are less fortunate. We would live in a very different society.”
Mr. Restler continued: “It’s about supporting anyone in need in the community and that’s very moving. It’s very, very powerful. It’s not just a small number of the community that ended up owning real estate or a few landlords, it’s just so many people have got into jobs connected to the real estate industry and housing that have really created a lot of opportunity for the community.”
Rabbi Niderman added an important point to which Mr. Restler agreed: “People from outside the community are also employed through these businesses!”
When asked why he needed to trek over personally to see the event when he already knew it all firsthand, Mr. Restler answered, “It’s different to see so many businesses together, it’s inspiring, and to see the potential connections and partnerships across the businesses and the opportunity for collaborative growth is really special. I’m very pleased to see so many dynamic businesses here. It’s wonderful, creating opportunities for the community.”
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