The Highest Standards – Roundtable of Jewish Professionals
By Rafael Hoffman
The Orthodox community’s presence and growth in sectors such as real estate, health care, and a long list of entrepreneurial endeavors, has been ascendant for some time. While these paths continue to dominate as destinations for graduates of the yeshivah world or Chassidic education systems who choose to enter the business world, there is a growing group that has embraced professional careers in law, finance, medicine, and the like.
Despite the road from yeshivah education not leading a straight path to the higher education usually needed for these posts, with a little creativity, many have been successful in attaining the degrees and positions that their interests and aptitude in professional fields drew them toward.
To gain a better understanding of this experience, Hamodia spoke with several individuals who have plodded that path: Yehudah “Leibish” Gruenstein, Chief Quality Officer at LabQ Diagnostics; Aron Pinson, Chief Investment Officer at Equinum Wealth Management; Shulem Rosenbaum, Senior Manager at Roth&Co.; and Shmuel Dovid Taub, an attorney in private practice.
What is your profession and what does it entail?
Leibish Gruenstein: I am chief quality officer for a network of diagnostic labs called LabQ. We currently have branches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, but have plans to open soon in Florida and on the West Coast as well. I oversee all the technical and regulatory aspects of our operation.
Diagnostic labs are where doctors turn to do blood tests and other screening for a long list of things that could give them a better picture of what is going on with a patient. Like many labs, for the last two and a half years, COVID testing has been a big part of what we are doing.
Diagnostic labs have different types of laboratories to run different types of testing, a bio lab, a chemistry lab, a molecular lab, and so on. I’ve been fortunate to have experience with most of them. PCR testing [for COVID-19], which is a molecular process, is something that I did a lot of work with years before it became a household term during the pandemic.
My role is to implement which testing will be done, the details of instrumentation and systems that will be used, and overseeing the actual testing process. I am also responsible that what we do meets with all relevant regulatory standards and that the results we produce are accurate.
Aron Pinson I’m the founder and Chief Investment Officer at Equinum, LLC, which is a Registered Investment Advisory firm. We manage money for corporations, foundations, nonprofits, and high-net-worth individuals.
We allocate and manage portfolios across multiple asset classes through funds that consist of stocks, bonds, and alternative investments. For our more affluent clients we’ll often include alternative investments such as hedge funds and private equity funds that provide additional exposure to venture capital, private credit, and real estate.
Importantly, we take a bottom-up approach in our allocation recommendations, meaning we keep our clients’ goals and risk tolerances in mind and try to tailor each portfolio allocation to match each client’s specific situation.
Shulem Rosenbaum: I’m a senior manager at Roth&Co, a large accounting firm with locations in Boro Park, Lakewood, Chicago, and Israel, where I oversee the advisory services division. Our group focuses on mergers and acquisitions, forensic accounting, and different advisory services that are not related to our firm’s tax or audit divisions.
We work with attorneys and business brokers to help companies acquire new businesses or sell themselves to buyers. We assist with getting financing from banks, we’re involved in large-scale transactions, terms of sale, tax structure, and partnership disputes. We help organize defense material for court actions as well as l’havdil for dinei Torah.
In terms of advisory, we come in to look for strategies to increase the value of companies, help set up policies and processes, analyze business’ financial structure, and to set up partner agreements.
At Touro, I teach accounting courses to help students for an accounting or business career and to take their CPA exam. I’m also involved in setting curriculum and making sure our program is up to date and provides the best accounting program in the frum world.
Shmuel Dovid Taub I’ve worked for the last 30 years as an attorney in private practice. I focus mostly on real estate matters and estate planning, like wills, setting up guardianships, trusts, and so on. For many years, I did a good deal of litigation, but have scaled back that part of my practice.
I am a member of the New York State Bar Association and have also been admitted to practice in federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the beginning of my career, in the early 1990s, I worked as a prosecutor for New York City family court in Kings County, where I handled cases of child neglect and abuse.
What attracted you to your field, how did you get into it, and what higher education was necessary?
Leibish Gruenstein: I was always the curious type. As a child I read a lot and was especially interested in science. You could say that I come from an intellectual family. My father is a Rav, but he’s also an accountant and my mother has a degree in special education. We had a lot of books in our home, and we were encouraged to read.
A few years after I got married, I started to think about whether I could develop a career in a field of interest to me. I went to Touro and got a bachelor’s degree with a major in biology. In general, from there you either go to medical school or get some other advanced degree. While I was deciding what to do, I needed a job and a cousin of mine suggested that I speak to a friend of his who owned a diagnostic lab called Shiel. I got hired there as a technician and really found the work interesting.
In order to move to a more senior position, I needed to be licensed and the prerequisite for that was a master’s degree in Clinical Laboratory Science, which I got through Hunter College, which offered a remote program. The highest level in this field is to be a lab director and for that you need a Ph.D., which I am in the process of getting now through remote courses from the University of Miami.
After Shiel, I worked in a few different labs in managerial positions where I got very involved in genetic and molecular testing. About three years ago, I was hired by a group of investors who were looking to create a new type of niche lab. We started from scratch and are in the process of setting up a very sophisticated model of a molecular laboratory.
Aron Pinson: I was always fascinated in how markets worked and in the ability for money to make more money on its own. As a bachur, I already had my own investment account and would follow the stock market closely.
In the late 1990s, I was following companies like Microsoft and Intel that were changing the world and I started investing in them. I also learned some relatively inexpensive, but very valuable, lessons in those years, like not to take “stock tips” from people. When I was 15, I stayed home for the summer, and took out books from the library on investing, titles like The Intelligent Investor and Security Analysis by Benjamin Graham, and spent time studying the basics of investing. I learned the difference between trading and investing. Incredibly, I’ve seen over the years that this concept is still foreign to even some very successful businesspeople.
When I got older, I slowly built up a client base and eventually partnered with Roth&Co and founded Equinum, LLC.
I began my career at the end of 2003. There really aren’t any education requirements to become a stockbroker and I was already pretty knowledgeable when I started investing money for clients. But in 2007, I decided to go for an advanced degree. There is some debate over which is the best to have, but I began studying to become a Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA). In order to get that certification, you need to take three difficult exams, one exam per year. The material you’re tested on is extremely comprehensive, covering accounting, economics, financial statement analysis, fundamental and technical analysis, and a lot of different aspects of portfolio management.
Shulem Rosenbaum: I was in kollel when my wife and I were expecting our third child; I realized that, as much as I enjoyed learning, it was time for me to give some serious thought to a career. I thought about law school, but it was during the economic crash and the job outlook then for attorneys was not favorable.
I wanted something practical, and thought that accounting was a good flexible degree that every businessman benefits from having and that it was a safe career path. No matter how many Presidents promise to simplify the tax code, somehow the world still always needs accountants.
I graduated and passed my CPA exam. I started at Roth as an intern and worked my way up in the company. Been here ever since.
After a few years in the field, Touro had an opening and I felt that I wanted to give back, so I took the opportunity to join their faculty.
Shmuel Dovid Taub: I always had an interest in both secular law and, l’havdil, dinei Torah. It was a process, but what really spurred me to go to law school and become an attorney was a particular business deal that I was involved in which did not go well and I felt as if I had been taken advantage of with no recourse of how to protect myself. That’s when I really made the decision.
When I decided that I wanted to go to law school, I didn’t have a high school diploma so the first thing that I did was to study and get a GED. With that, I was able to enroll in Touro College. When I went to register, and I came with my flat bibir hat and Chassidishe levush, some people thought I was trying to pull some kind of joke, but once I told them that I had just passed my GED, they saw I was serious. I was accepted and went on to get a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting.
After I graduated Touro, I took the LSATs and got a scholarship for one year at Hofstra Law School. I went on to graduate from there in two years and then studied for the bar exam, which I was able to pass the first time I sat for it.
Tell us about your background and the chinuch you received before deciding to go into your field.
Leibish Gruenstein You might say that I have a pretty boring background. I grew up in Boro Park and went to Bobov from cheder through yeshivah ketanah. In terms of limudei chol, in elementary school we got a pretty good background in reading, writing, and mathematics, but we did not have secular studies in high school.
When I was 17, I went to Eretz Yisrael and learned in Tchebin for two years, then came back and spent a year and half in BMG [Beth Medrash Govoha] in Lakewood. I got married at 21 and then spent a few years studying in a kollel in Flatbush which was then under Rav Yekusiel Bittersfeld, zt”l.
Aron Pinson: I grew up in Crown Heights and went to local Chabad yeshivos until I was 16. I only studied secular subjects in elementary school. From eighth grade on, it was all limudei kodesh. For yeshivah gedolah, I learned in Israel for a year, as well as a year in Morristown, New Jersey. Then, as part of the typical Chabad chinuch journey, I went on shlichus to help a mosad and community; in my case to a yeshivah in New Haven. After that, I was in a semichah program in Los Angeles. After that, I came back to New York and almost immediately began to focus on my business career.
Shulem Rosenbaum: I grew up in Boro Park and attended Yeshivas Chasan Sofer from preschool through 12th grade. I went to Eretz Yisrael and learned in Slabodka for three and a half years. After I got married, I came back to Boro Park and spent five years learning in Stolin’s kollel.
Shmuel Dovid Taub My parents were Holocaust survivors, and I was born in Vienna. We came to the United States when I was four years old and lived in a six-story walk-up on the Lower East Side. It’s hard to imagine today, but the building had five families living on each floor, and we all shared one central bathroom.
I learned in Satmar cheder until I was nine, and then went to Chasan Sofer. When I was ten years old, I told my father that I didn’t want to go to English classes in school. He told me, “If you’re not going to waste a second of your time and use it for learning Torah, then go ahead, but if you don’t think you can live up to that, then better to work hard and do your best in your English classes too.” That was the environment we were brought up in. Torah was always first, but there was no shame in learning something you could use to make an honest living.
When I was 17, I went to learn in Slabodka in Bnei Brak. I stayed there for several years as a bachur and later, after I got married, in kollel.
Soon after I came back to America, I went into the jewelry business and, after a few years, decided to pursue a career in law.
What challenges did you meet in your education or career that those with more traditional secular educations seemingly had an easier time with, and how did you overcome or compensate for those disadvantages?
Leibish Gruenstein: There were some challenges along the way. I had to take some advanced math courses and there was some background I was missing, which my classmates mostly had. But, when I realized that, I got the books and materials I needed to teach myself what I was missing.
I don’t think it set me back too much. At Hunter, I was in class with people who went through a regular secular system and I was usually at the top of my class. I just got recognized for carrying the highest average in my Ph.D. program.
Aron Pinson: Investing and following markets was something that I had a great deal of interest in and that came fairly naturally to me. But, to become a CFA Charterholder, it would have been so much easier for me to have some more education as it relates to advanced mathematics. There are a lot of equations and formulas that go into calculating different ratios and returns that help analyze stocks and other financial derivatives. Although programs like Excel and Bloomberg make the knowledge of how to make the calculations practically pointless, to get this certification they want you to understand the background and the ingredients that bring you to each conclusion.
Most other people taking the exams had a background that made it easier for them to memorize equations and they likely knew some of the key ones already from high school calculus. I have a good head for math, but I was not used to working with those types of formulas. It didn’t come naturally to me, and it was a challenge.
I bought Algebra for Dummies and Calculus for Dummies, which gave me some of the basics I needed. But I decided that if I was going to do this, I had to understand things my way and that rather than focusing on memorizing formulas I was going to try to understand the mechanics of how these processes actually worked. It was time consuming, but in the end, it was a big benefit because at the end of the day, I understood them much better, and it prevented me from making some of the mistakes you can make if you just rely on knowing the formulas by memory.
I guess it worked, because, baruch Hashem, I passed each of the exams on the first try and got my CFA designation within three years.
Shulem Rosenbaum: I write pretty well, but when I went to Touro, I was quite a few years out of high school and was a little rusty. I hadn’t done math equations or written an essay in years. It took me a while to brush up on some technical skills. Before you start Touro, they give everyone a diagnostic test. I put in a little bit of preparation and did well enough to be placed at the regular level.
In the work world, I really don’t feel that I am at a disadvantage. I am not as knowledgeable about secular culture because, thankfully, my school and parents sheltered me from it, something I try to do for my children as well. If I worked at a different type of firm, that might be more of a challenge, but where I am, it isn’t at all. I’ve received offers from large firms outside of our community, but have chosen to remain here because this is the environment that I want to work in.
Shmuel Dovid Taub: There were concepts that I had to educate myself on. Every Tuesday, The New York Times used to write about Supreme Court cases, so I would buy it and read the articles carefully. It gave me a good sense of a lot of basic legal concepts and which issues were in the forefront of the legal world at the time.
There were also some practical challenges. When I was in law school, I went to participate in Hofstra’s law clinic and the first case that came my way was from a woman who wanted me to advocate for a position that was forbidden al pi Torah. I am sure that people looked at me very funny in law school and in the courts, but I dealt with everybody honestly and fairly and gained their respect.
What advantages do you feel your yeshivah education gave you in your advanced secular education and career?
Leibish Gruenstein: There’s no question that learning Gemara really teaches us to think. It teaches us logic and inference. The questioning and answering helps develop your mind. And with that, if you later decide to pursue a degree or a professional career, as long as you have the basics of language and arithmetic, you’ll have the tools to do it.
Aron Pinson: Learning Torah, without a doubt, trained me to be more analytical and to question things, to look deeper.
A lot of people who go into this field think they can follow trends and make money, without thinking about the other side of the trade.
They don’t stop to think that if, for every buyer, there’s a seller, someone is selling you the shares that you’re buying. What do they know that I don’t?
In addition, yeshivah, especially Chassidus, has taught me my core values, the “why” of my own drive to be successful and not to shun wealth or success, rather to embrace it.
I think the ability to maintain a balanced life of learning, davening, family, friends, community, clients, business, etc., is so crucial for success in all of those areas, and I don’t think there’s a better way to get that type of education than through Torah.
Shulem Rosenbaum: I believe that my years in yeshivah and kollel were not only supportive, but integral in my future education and success at Roth and Touro. It gave me a background in critical thinking and analytics. Accounting demands analytical thinking, and it is critical for your clients that you know how to think out of the box. That’s not a skill your average accountant will automatically pick up through a standard college education. The frum community by nature is argumentative. We’re used to sitting with chavrusos and having to defend our positions.
Outside the beis medrash, it might come across as rude sometimes, but it’s the result of sharpened minds. I also think that anyone who takes yeshivah and kollel seriously and really dedicates himself to his learning develops a strong work ethic and a tolerance for early mornings and late nights. That’s certainly something that has been very helpful in my career.
Shmuel Dovid Taub: If you know Gemara, a lot of the things you learn in law school are a breeze. A boy who learns about chazakos in Bava Basra already knows the law of adverse possession. If you learned about hilchos nezikin, you’ll have a much easier time understanding torts, and the list goes on.
We learn lishmah, but learning Torah probably prepares you for the law, better than it does for any other profession.
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