Rabbi Yitzi Weiner is a great source both for those who wish to engage with other Jews in the area and for Jewish business owners looking to step up their marketing strategies. As a partner at Achim, he works on growing a vibrant Russian community in Baltimore and on reaching out to people of all backgrounds. He has extensive training in graphic design, Web design and video editing.
Wiener, 35, moved to Baltimore from Los Angeles when he was in high school. He went on to attend Ner Israel and then planned to go to medical school. But he realized that his inclination to become a doctor was motivated by a desire to help people — something he could do by working within the Jewish community.
In 2006, Wiener got an opportunity at Congregation Kol Sharon in the Boston area. There, he and a friend from Ner Israel were tasked with creating a transdenominational learning resource meant to transcend the divide between denominations. The program reached 13 local synagogues and institutions. Weiner stayed with the program for nine years. In 2015, he returned to Baltimore with his wife and six children.
What is Achim?
Achim’s main focus historically has been to meet the needs of the Russian community here. But we had this realization that often there is a sense that the people who have less of a Jewish background are the ones looking to learn more. We realized that people looking to find real meaning in Jewish learning are everywhere. As such, we came up with the tagline “Connecting Jews, Together.” Our job is to connect Jews to each other and to help them feel connected to the Almighty, but it is “comma together” because it is not the role of the individual to bring people together. By creating a community, a person is a part of this growing and vibrant kehilla. We want to bring Jews of different backgrounds — religious or nonreligious — together to realize that we have so much more in common than not in common. We need each other so much.
What is your day-to-day role?
My job is to be a friend; I am here to help people with their physical and practical needs. I [also] teach a number of classes alongside Rabbi Pesach Diskind, director and founder of Achim. We have transitioned to “deploy” people. There are so many talented teachers in Baltimore that there is no need for Achim to be just Rabbi Diskind and me. We have 11 people teaching in different capacities and a network of about 25 different classes happening weekly and biweekly across the community. I also coordinate a lot of programming and do a lot of marketing.
We also started “Table Talk.” We distribute it to a number of synagogues. Often, there is no answer to the dilemma posed; it is about asking the question. It is all about using the opportunity to be together as family to speak about something meaningful.
Talk about your startup, FirstPage Optimum.
Initially, serving as a marketer and PR rep was just for the Jewish community. But people started asking me to do it for their businesses as well. Marketing is tricky, and if someone does not know how to do it, it can be very expensive. We decided to start a company whose vision is to help the Jewish people but will help more parochial parts as well — a hybrid of a traditional publicist/PR firm and a digital marketing agency.
The idea is to create marketing opportunities that are more credible than regular advertising. People are cynical toward advertising, knowing that it’s paid media. But having content is much more credible. People might block ads with an ad blocker, but they aren’t going to block articles, so getting your business featured in a prominent magazine such as Forbes or The New Yorker, to find something newsworthy about the company itself or to show how they are providing a solution to a problem, they get that exposure. To say that you were featured in a reputable publication, that shows you have been vetted and are different compared with competitors.