It’s that time again, time for another dose of good news with my latest Good News Friday installment.
Our first item concerns Israel’s hi-tech sector, but this story has a twist. An Israeli haredi man has set up an e-commerce site and its success has made him a haredi “poster boy” for the new integration of haredim into the hi-tech sector:
Yossi Rabinovitz, CEO of Israeli e-commerce start-up SelfPoint, is selling to customers around the world, and his pop-up grocery platform development company is a member of the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator, showing that the Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) high-tech revolution is growing rapidly and making him its “poster boy.” SelfPoint lets customers easily set up and use an online store for their merchandise.
Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Rabinovitz is also a committed member of the Chabad hasidic movement. “People who come to visit the accelerator are often surprised, because the first people they see — with long beards and big black kippot — look as if they don’t belong in that environment,” he told the Times of Israel in an interview Tuesday on the sidelines of the second Haredi High Tech Forum event for new entrepreneurs.
Rabinovitz, along with hundreds of other entrepreneurs from the haredi community, both male and female, do belong at high-tech accelerators, multinational R&D centers and tech start-ups of all sizes and types, said MK Erel Margalit (Labor). As a founder at VC fund Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), Margalit has been intimately involved in the Israeli high-tech world for years. As head of the Knesset’s haredi high-tech lobby, he has been a principal advocate of encouraging haredi Israelis to try their hand at entrepreneurship.
Those efforts have proven more successful than most people realize, said Margalit. “Haredi Israelis are flocking to government programs designed to help them build businesses,” he said at the event, held at JVP’s Jerusalem headquarters, where haredi businesspeople, industry leaders and business experts discussed ideas and saw presentations on how to take a high-tech idea and “run with it,” get backing and achieve business success. “Haredi entrepreneurs who take an idea and build a company are like the cloud of fire before the camp,” Margalit said.
The deal’s terms are disputed by the Iraqi US embassy but I sincerely hope this is genuine. The idea of returning Jewish items, looted by Saddam Hussein, to his successors is outrageous. In fact these items ought to be returned to their rightful owners, or housed in a Jewish museum either in the US or Israel. But it seems that at least they are safe for now.
I never thought I’d say it, but kol hakavod to the State Department for negotiating this deal.
My next item is also connected to ancient Jewish texts. A New York Rabbi uncovered and deciphered an ancient lost commentary on Mishlei by Rabbi Elazar of Worms, a Jewish scholar from the Middle Ages:
Rabbi Schwartz has been the congregational rabbi of Manhattan’s Ohab Zedek (OZ) synagogue since 1988, and is working on his doctoral thesis at Yeshiva University‘s Bernard Revel Graduate School.
The rabbi explained his most recent work, which unearths the once-lost commentary on Mishlei (the Book of Proverbs) by Rabbi Elazar of Worms, who was born at about 1170 CE in Germany and is widely known by his alias of “Harokeach,” or “the perfumer,” after one of his commentaries.
Harokeach wrote over 50 religious texts, but Rabbi Schwartz notes that the Crusaders killed his family and destroyed his works, leaving many of his exemplary texts, including the commentary on Mishlei, virtually unknown until now.
“I found this ktav yad (handwritten manuscript) at Yeshiva University many years ago, and through many many years of a labor of love finally have been able to figure out what this very difficult handwriting actually meant to say,” reported Rabbi Schwartz.
The newly published book includes annotated notes, Rabbi Schwartz’s introduction as well as Harokeach’s own introduction, which features a remarkable analysis of Mishlei, indexing word and letter repetitions and other minuatiae to reveal incredible secrets.
Rabbi Schwartz began his endeavor over 30 years ago, when he started the work as a paper in graduate school. At the time, Harokeach’s handwritten commentary on Mishlei was obscure, the rabbi notes: “Mishlei, no one knew about.”
A facet that is emphasized in the text is the suffering Harokeach endured from the Crusades. The commentary addresses “what to do when they come to you to force you to give up on your religion, how you can have strength to believe in the future and fight on in the face of oppression,” explained the rabbi.
There is a great video at the link about Rabbi Schwartz’s work, about Rabbi Elazar, and with fascinating details for those who are interested in the minhagim (customs) of the Hassidei Ashkenaz group to whom Rabbi Elazar belonged.
Kol hakavod seems too mild a term to congratulate Rabbi Schwartz who invested so much time and research in order to transcribe and translate Rabbi Elazar’s work. He has made a huge contribution to Jewish history and to our understanding of our holy texts.
And finally, jumping back into the 21st century, I leave with you this amazing, inspiring video on how the IDF integrates people with special needs into their ranks. Note especially how the IDF regards the special needs volunteers as a necessary part of the army framework, and not just as people for whom they are doing a favour. This is truly heart-warming and I challenge you not to shed a tear while watching:
And on this heart-warming note, I wish you all Shabbat Shalom!