Levin attended the first JWE conference and “felt very validated” joining the community of observant businesswomen. She has been to other business and networking events and said that at JWE she doesn’t “have to explain everything. These women get it. We’re leading parallel lives. We share the same values and have the same goals. We’re really there to help each other.”
Levin said after working for years in her business, she now understands the importance of working on her business, thanks to the language and framework JWE has provided her to move forward.
“[Chaya Appel Fishman] has created a forum and a conversation to help each other and share — we pick the best of other successful Jewish women’s brains,” said Levin. “What I learn I can take home for my business, my family, my community.”
Community and support are pervasive themes for JWE. Where some business support groups might advise to be cautious about sharing information in a competitive market, JWE encourages its members to do the opposite, though prudently. Deborah Gallant, owner of Bold Business Works, a coaching and consulting company, advised to do the same during her presentation at this year’s conference, one of 27 offered to attendees.
Gallant has offered sessions at both JWE conferences. This year, at a packed program geared to the beginners track, “How to Bring Your Business Idea to Reality,” she encouraged attendees to talk about their business ideas, get used to pitching their concepts and take small but deliberate steps toward starting their businesses. Shifra Levy, 23, of Philadelphia, and whose grandparents are Miriam and William Benjamin of Pikesville, attended Gallant’s session with the hope of starting a therapeutic horseback-riding center.
“The session gave me real practical ideas. I can see the forest, and I want to see the trees,” Levy said.
Gallant’s second session, directed toward established business owners, focused on expanding a sales base beyond the observant community, where many tend to focus. Henia Storch is one of those business owners and also a client of Gallant’s.
Storch, the proprietor of Storch Agency, is from Woodmere, Long Island, and a single mother of two adult children. She met Gallant at last year’s conference, when she was feeling ready to make a career move and admitted that “Deborah said what I needed to hear.” Storch had a long career as a registered nurse but had been informally connecting and promoting people and organizations for years. She was ready to take her ‘side business’ to the next level.
“JWE attracts women who have been sitting on things for a long time and gives them the tools and the network to move it forward,” said Gallant.
Storch loves the adventure and creativity in her work promoting artists, authors and organizations in the U.S. and Israel. “I never really know what’s going to come along … but it all comes down to God.”
What is remarkable about the JWE conference is how Torah ethics and shared devotion to faith and family are so intricately woven into the content. Even in sessions with names such as ‘Insights from Behavioral Economics for Entrepreneurs,’ ‘Determining Viability, Improving Processes and Maximizing Profitability’ and ‘Make them Remember You: The Elevator Pitch,’ comments and questions regarding halachic law, higher power and God’s will were seamlessly intertwined into the nuts and bolts of business.
Not-your-typical-business-conference moments were pervasive throughout the day. Several women prayed in between sessions, kosher food was provided, and lobby conversations jockeyed between English, Yiddish and Hebrew. There was discussion of binah, which translates roughly as intuition and specifically refers to a woman’s special ability, according to the Torah, to create unique solutions in a meaningful way. Brigitte Levy, treasurer and national director of City Leaders at JWE, acknowledged and praised the unique atmosphere.
“We have a culture, it’s palpable, and we want to remain true to that,” she said. “That’s our raison d’etre. We bring the Torah into everything we do, we bring Hashem into everything we do.” She continued, “There’s God behind all of this …. the conversation is at a much higher level, it’s [business] operating at a higher level.”
Originally from France, Levy lived and worked in Israel before coming to the United States, where she was a pioneer in the tech startup industry. Levy is now a consultant to the industry and a mentor. She noted another unique sensibility of the group: the way in which this community of women are passionately dedicated to helping each other.
She explained it is very common in large orthodox families that everyone is typically helping someone in need and that, in addition, women often volunteer within their communities. She said they develop into natural networkers out of necessity, living within huge extended families and communities, all working together to get things done.
Levy continued, “And they bring that drive to their business, Do you know what that does for the business?”
JWE welcomes all denominations of Jewish women but caters to the Orthodox community specifically.
“We still need to be true to the Torah-based values because we want all of the women to feel comfortable. We need to help them because they don’t have anywhere else to go.”
JWE conference presenters this year ranged from small cottage industry innovators to huge success stories such as Tamar Rosenthal and Dana Rubinstein, the co-founders of Dapple Babies who delivered the keynote address at the conference. Many of the attendees were inspired by the story of their ingenuity and struggle and the ultimate success of their baby-safe cleaning products that can now be found nationwide at Toys R Us and Target. Another crowd-pleasing presenter was Talia Mashiach, the CEO and founder of Eved, an event commerce company that automates the buying and selling for meetings and events. Chicago Techweek named her to its 100 Most Innovative Names in Chicago Technology, and she was inducted into the Chicago Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 2009.
Even in its young state, JWE is experiencing growing pains. For instance, one attendee was frustrated because she felt there were not enough people at the conference “ready to hire.” An independent graphic designer, she had hoped the conference was a place to connect with others who would need her services.
Another conference-goer thought that, due to the wide range of businesses represented by presenters and attendees in addition to the beginner track and CEO track offered, there should be separate service-provider and product-provider tracks because the basis of the industries is so different.
Fishman and her board are aiming high, but she admits JWE cannot be all things to all women, though their dedication and passion seems to be driving them in a positive direction. Instead, they focus on the greater good.
“When you give someone the tools to become financially independent and stable, the ripple effect is endless,” said Fishman, “in the community, for the individual and for their families.”