Good News Friday

It’s that time again, time for another dose of good news with my latest Good News Friday installment.

Yossi Rabinovitz, Haredi start-up star

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.

Rabinovitz’s personal message is the most inspiring part of this story:

Rabinovitz realizes he is somewhat of an exception, but there is no reason others can not succeed as he has, he tells others in the community. “One message I try to transmit is that there is nothing to be afraid of in engaging with the secular world,” he said. “It’s not closed off and prejudiced — quite the opposite. The only reactions I’ve gotten to who I am have been positive. And if the secular public has prejudices against the ultra-Orthodox community, we have our own prejudices against them. If we are true to ourselves, we have nothing to fear from being open to working with secular people, and by working with them as we are, and contributing to the bottom line, we can show them that they have nothing to fear from us.”

Kol hakavod to Yossi Rabinovitz, to the JVC and to all those involved in promoting haredi integration into the work force and into Israeli society as a whole. If this trends widens and deepens this all bodes extremely well for Israel going into the future.

Before Treatment: Passover Haggadah, 1902. One of very few Hebrew manuscripts recovered from the Mukhabarat, this Haggadah was hand-lettered and decorated by an Iraqi youth

Some good news now emerges from the international arena: after howls of outrage at the intention of the US to return the Iraqi Jewish archives (rescued from Saddam Hussein’s forces) to Iraq, it is now reported that a deal has been reached whereby the the archives will remain in the US – at least for now:

A deal between the US State department and the Iraqi government appears to have been struck to keep the Iraqi-Jewish archive in the US, the World Organisation of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) has announced.

The archive, as the collection of 2,700 restored Jewish books and thousands of documents is known, is due to return to Iraq after the ‘Discovery and Recovery’ exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York closes this week.

Although the exact terms of the agreement are yet to be confirmed, the vast majority of the material that constitutes the Iraqi Jewish Archive will remain in the US for an unspecified period. It is thought that the extension will be for two years.

The agreement comes after a firestorm of media controversy in the US and Canada, monitored closely by the Point of No Return blog, which documents developments related to the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries. A resolution calling for the original agreement to return the archive to be re-negotiated was approved by the US Senate and a second resolution is awaiting a vote in the House.

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!

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3 Responses to Good News Friday

  1. Reality says:

    well done Rabbi Schwartz.How amazing to be able read and translate for all Jews such a valueable hand written manuscript. As for the ultra Orthodox entering the work market , I think kol hakavod to them.The clip about the IDF brought tears to my eyes.We really live in a wonderful country.Thank you for this great post.
    Shabbat Shalom

  2. Fay says:

    Oh annie, that video had me in floods of tears. How wonderful for all involved. Brilliant, I am going to share 🙂

  3. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Anne, I think your item on Yossi Rabinovitz makes a vital point: just like any other segment of the Jewish community (whether in Israel or the Diaspora) no one of them can be lumped together as one, undifferentiated mass. And the same has to be said about the Haredi. Here we have a man who is (or appears to be) a conventionally ultra-orthodox Israeli Jew. Except that he isn’t. He belongs to the Chabad movement, which is all about outreach (and which is why that Rabbi, his wife and their children were slaughtered in Mumbai those few years ago). Further, he is “into” hi-tech, and we all know that there are serious limits to the filters and bars and walls one can place on internet searches once one is into that world. And once he is into this world, he (I’m not talking about Yossi R. as a person here, but as a symbol) can hardly avoid meeting (virtually or otherwise) women equally at home in this world.

    But, he is saying, so what? It’s the end result (providing we don’t break any really important rules) that counts.

    So, thanks for that from me.

    BTW, while in Florence (see my comment below on the Italian article by Anne), we visited the wonderful synagogue and noticed the Chabad house nearby which offers Friday evening meals and gatherings for passing Jews!

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