Trade mission exceeds expectations

Guest blogger George Weisz, president of Weisz Ventures and one of the members of the first Arizona trade mission to Israel, submitted the following after the trip concluded. (Weisz’s first person account of the earlier part of the trip, “Gov. Ducey visits Israel,” Jewish News, Oct. 16, is available here.) 

The second half of Gov. Doug Ducey’s Arizona trade mission to Israel was as amazing as the first portion. He engaged in extensive meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; former President Shimon Peres; four Cabinet ministers; numerous Israeli start-ups; Wendy Singer, whose foundation Start-Up Nation Central continues the synergetic vibe of the book “Start-Up Nation”; water resource experts; and the developers of Iron Dome. Most importantly, the governor signed a letter of intent with the Israeli government to foster collaborative partnerships between Arizona and Israel which will lead to tremendous opportunities for Arizonans and our state’s economic growth. This first-ever Arizona trade mission to Israel, the vision of this governor, exceeded expectations.

The delegation witnessed “the miracle that is Israel.” The whirlwind itinerary was exhilarating as, around every corner, we saw more and more applications that could benefit Arizona. We were able to capture the true spirit of Israelis who manage to excel in so many areas, yielding more patents and more start-ups per capita than any other nation except the U.S. The contributions that Israelis make to the world in medicine, water management, agriculture, education, energy, homeland security and technologies of so many disciplines is unmatched.

It was not lost upon the delegation that Israel accomplishes all this while living in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world with rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah pointed at its homes and schools along with the repeated threat of real annihilation from Iran. We had a detailed, sobering briefing with Dore Gold, director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who noted the increasing build-up of terrorist activities along most of Israel’s borders and the challenges to survival that Israel faces every day.

We were in Israel at a time when innocent Israelis lost their lives to sporadic terrorist attacks, and many others were injured, with Palestinians clearly being incited by their leaders to specifically spill Israeli blood. We had just left the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has very special meaning to the governor and is a place one can feel such awesome spirituality no matter what one’s religion or culture. As our delegation was walking up the steps from the cavern of Muslim shops to the Jaffa Gate, four plainclothes Israeli police officers ran down the stairs past us to a site across the Old City, where a terrorist had just stabbed an Israeli police officer. Soon thereafter, Israeli authorities closed the Old City for an hour, a rare occurrence. While we were in Israel, 23 attacks occurred resulting in eight Israelis being murdered and 70 wounded. It reminded us of the Israeli adage: “If terrorists put down their weapons, there will be peace. If Israel puts down its weapons, there will be no Israel.”

The hearts of our delegation were deeply hurt as we heard of the escalating violence. We recognized that in addition to the precious lives that were lost, the terrorist leaders were also trying to damage Israel’s vibrant tourism industry from which many Israelis and Palestinians derive their living. Yet, we felt safe wherever we traveled within Israel, and safer than in some American cities. We found a nation whose people stayed vigilant every day while at the same time producing medical discoveries that were saving lives around the world. This was a society that was also intent on preserving the historic sites of all religions.

These terrorist attacks only strengthened the governor’s desire to show support for Israel, now more than ever. He has urged other national and state leaders to join him in that support. During our trip, he continuously received gratitude from both Israeli officials and average citizens, including servers at restaurants and start-up company workers, who stopped to thank him and his delegation for being in Israel and demonstrating our unwavering support.

One of those appreciative leaders was Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed to the governor his desire to strengthen ties with Arizona and build on a close, respected relationship that the prime minister has appreciated for years with Sen. John McCain, a true friend of Israel and one of the world’s top leaders in foreign policy.

Seeing thru the tears of a grieving nation, we witnessed a boundless optimism that was mesmerizing. No one exuded that optimism more than Shimon Peres, with whom the governor spent considerable time at the Peres Center for Peace overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. When we arrived, there were young adults with a certain vibrancy working on projects that bring Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians together. The center also initiates cooperative projects around the world, including a water project with Mexico to which the governor offered his assistance. When he asked the dapper and inspirational Peres for his secret to staying so young, Peres provided us with his clearly effective philosophy: “Count your achievements. Then count your dreams. If your dreams are more than your achievements, then you are young.” And, he added: “Don’t dream small; dream great!”

Peres expressed those sentiments again, a few days later, when he shared the podium with the governor at the opening session of Israel’s International Water Technology and Environmental Control Conference (WATEC). He had been invited by the Israeli government to speak at the conference because Arizona, like Israel, has a history of success in formulating good water policy. While Arizona stays concerned over its water resources and has eyes wide open on its challenges, it is clear that Arizona is far ahead of managing its resources than California which warranted its own session at WATEC that showed the tremendous struggles it is experiencing. Ducey, accompanied by the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, attended several of the sessions and met with water technology innovators, who are breaking new ground on preserving the quantity and quality of water supplies.

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel's economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines. Photo by George Weisz

Gov. Doug Ducey and Arie Dery, Israel’s economic minister (right), sign a letter of intent initiating cooperative partnerships between Arizona and Israel in a variety of disciplines.
Photo by George Weisz

While at WATEC, the governor met with Arie Dery, Israel’s minister of the economy, and the two leaders signed a Letter of Intent between Arizona and Israel initiating plans for a joint partnership to cooperate together in mutual ways for the benefit of both Arizonans and Israelis. This historic agreement will lead to active joint efforts in a host of disciplines and the sharing of information and best practices.

Seeking out collaborative opportunities was the theme of a very productive meeting with Nancy Singer, a former AIPAC staff member, who now heads Start-Up Nation Central. Nancy’s brother, Dan Senor, co-authored the acclaimed book “Start-Up Nation,” which tells the story of the innovative spirit of the Israeli people. At a Republican Governors Association conference this past year, Senor gave the governor a copy of his book. This inspired the governor to explore how the principles outlined in the book could be applicable to enhancing the prosperity of Arizonans. As he frequently says: “With Israel as the Start-Up Nation, Arizona should be the Start-Up State.”

Singer showed our delegation the various pathways to partnering with start-ups, entrepreneurs and investors in Israel who are looking to branch out to the United States and invest time and resources at American locations where visions are result-oriented and business-friendly. Throughout our meetings with various Israeli companies, the governor was adamant in his message that “Arizona is open for business” and his particular desire to lure Israeli technology, resources and know-how to Arizona. He brought Arizona experts – including Arizona Commerce Authority CEO Sandra Watson, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Glenn Hamer and Phoenix Greater Economic Council President Chris Camacho – to Israel to accompany him in these meetings. Having them with him, the governor wanted to immediately start an action plan.

He also met with Silicon Valley Bank, which took a contingent of investors to Israel to validate the economic successes outlined in “Start-Up Nation.” Silicon Valley Bank has a large presence in Arizona with its expansion greatly assisted by the Arizona Commerce Authority. Yes, they validated Israel’s innovative, prosperous atmosphere.

The Arziona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement. Photo by George Weisz

The Arizona trade delegation visits an Iron Dome placement.
Photo by George Weisz

One highlight of the trip was a visit to an Iron Dome Missile Defense placement north of Gaza. A young but extremely able IDF officer showed us the system that is saving both Israeli and Palestinian lives. IDF officers manning these systems have 4 seconds to determine if an Iron Dome interceptor needs to be launched against a terrorist rocket. Raytheon in Tucson is a partner with Rafael, the Israeli company that developed this amazing technology. We toured Rafael’s manufacturing headquarters in northern Israel, which is currently building David’s Sling, the newest missile defense system, along with more Iron Dome units and other defense systems. David Orr of Raytheon in Tucson, a former fighter pilot, was a member of our delegation.

Defense contractors are a major component of Arizona’s economy, and the governor was on the lookout for projects and applications for these companies. One must remember that of the security and military aid that the U.S. provides each year to Israel, over 75 percent of those funds come back to the U.S. in purchases from American companies. No other nation returns that much to the U.S. Essentially, security aid for Israel means more jobs for Arizonans. Right now, Israel will be asking for funds to produce more Iron Dome units, a project that has proven its success in saving lives time and time again. It will be up to all of us to lobby Congress to approve that vital request.

Border security is a priority of the governor and many Arizonans. We visited an Israeli company that has developed new virtual-border-fence technology that is now being installed in Arizona on the U.S.-Mexico border. Eventually, over 200 miles along our border will have coverage from this state-of-the-art detection technology. Delegation member Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, reviewed this company’s newest technology along with homeland security advancements offered by other Israeli firms. The delegation also promoted the idea that such firms should bring manufacturing or research offices to Arizona.

We also tried to recognize operations in Israel that have Arizona investors. Arizona Diamondbacks President Derrick Hall led us for lunch to the new Hotel Yehuda atop the Massuah Hills, a designer hotel with banquet facilities owned by Diamondbacks team partner Jeff Royer. Jeff will be glad to know that the governor, Derrick, Danny Seiden and West Coast Capital Partners co-founder Bill Metzler ran off part of that lunch, as well as a Shabbat dinner, when they led most of the delegation on a jog around the 2.5-plus-mile circumference of the walls of the Old City.

The governor also took note of the excellent relationships that Arizona cities have established with Israeli cities in the Sister Cities Program, such as Phoenix’s great relationship with Ramat-Gan, just north of Tel Aviv.

This article only touches the tip of the iceberg of a very aggressive agenda set forth by the governor and his staff, including Kirk Adams, Danny Seiden and Sara Mueller. Some of our encounters were set up by Israel Consul General David Siegel, who took valuable time to travel with us. The many meetings and contacts were designed to produce results and deliverables that will produce short-term and long-term benefits for Arizonans.

The meetings were peppered with experiences to enhance one’s understanding of the heritage of the people of this holy land, a place that was, in many ways, the center of the world thousands of years ago and the center still today. The delegation learned about the spirit and ingenuity of those who have had no choice but to invent, devise and develop amazing things in order to survive. It learned that, as Shimon Peres mentored us, one does not need a lot of land to be great, one just needs a great mind.

I was privileged to be a member of this historic delegation that was expertly led by Gov. Doug Ducey, who had a tremendous grasp of the issues and who wore his love for Israel and his pride of Arizona on his sleeve and in his heart. He represented all of us very well. You can be very proud of his initiative to bring Arizona and Israel closer together, a natural fit in so many ways, to enhance the economic prosperity for all Arizonans.


B&P groups aim to make community connections

Corner Office panel

The panelists in the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s “Corner Office: Lessons from Jewish Business Leaders” event on April 16 were (in front row, from left) Anthony Wanger, president of IO; Tammy Weinbaum, senior vice president and general manager at American Express; and Craig Weiss, chairman of Njoy. In back, from left, are Adam Goodman, president and CEO at Goodmans Interior Structures, who was the moderator; Eliot Kaplan, chair of the federation’s Business & Professionals Division; and Steven Schwarz, federation board chair. Photo courtesy of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix

Back in the day, I was involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s Young Leadership Division, as a program participant and then as a board member and Mazelpalooza co-chair. Then, I had kids and shifted my focus elsewhere. Now that my children are a little older and I occasionally have some opportunities to get out a little more, I no longer fit in the “young adult” mode of YLD, which is now Young Jewish Phoenix (YJP). But fortunately, for those in my age range, the federation has relaunched its Business and Professional (or “B&P”) Division.

At the “Corner Office: Lessons from Jewish Business Leaders” event on April 16, it felt like a program for those who “aged out” of YLD (or YJP). And I mean that in a good way. I saw a couple of people who I used to see often at YLD events and even someone who I went to camp with up at Camp Charles Pearlstein (now Camp Stein) back in high school.

As Eliot Kaplan, chair of the Business and Professionals Division, said in his introduction that night, B&P groups are “a way to connect on a smaller level.”

“It’s a way to interact with other individuals that are doing what you’re doing, but also a way to connect to the Jewish community in Phoenix,” Kaplan told Jewish News. “What I’m hoping this is, is a way for us to reach out to many Jews in the community who just haven’t connected with the Jewish community yet. We have an untapped amount of people that I’m not sure that any of us know who they are or how many of them there are.

“My sense is that they exist and there’s a lot of them and if we can provide easy opportunities for them to enjoy themselves and hang out, that may be a way of getting them involved and ultimately that’s our goal: to have the Jewish community connect with each other so ultimately we’re helping all the charities [the federation is] supporting.”

Before the recession, the federation had several flourishing professional groups – one for doctors, one for lawyers and one for those in the real estate and finance industries. But after the recession hit, they just kind of fizzled out. “Nothing was happening, so they just sort of died from neglect more than anything else,” Kaplan says.

But last year, the federation relaunched the groups. The Cardozo Society – for lawyers – had a successful event in January 2014, which featured retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Then in June, the group held a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) event about “Legal Ethics on the Tube” and a November cocktail and networking reception. Earlier this year, the group held a CLE general counsel forum featuring general counsel panelists from companies such as American Airlines and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The federation also relaunched programs for real estate professionals in January 2014, beginning with the fitting topic of “Surviving a Real Estate Depression & Looking to the Future,” with Mark Sklar, managing director and partner of DMB Associates, a private real estate investment and development company. Another program highlighted new development in downtown Tempe and another in downtown Scottsdale. The group’s next event is next week: 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at Butterfly Wonderland, 9500 E. Via de Ventura, Scottsdale. The program is called “Cutting-edge development in Indian Country.”

Each group has its own infrastructure, Kaplan says. “Our goal is to keep these groups up and sustainable on their own so we want them to have strong leadership in each group.”

This week, the B&P Division is launching a third group: Chai Tech, for professionals in the technology and engineering fields. The launch party is 6:30-8:30 p.m. this Thursday, April 30, at Toasted Cork, 4301 N. Civic Center Plaza, Scottsdale. To register, visit jewishphoenix.org or contact Amanda Garcia at 480-634-4900, ext. 1202 or professionals@jewishphoenix.org.


Turmoil in Israeli south paralyzes businesses

JobKatif

JobKatif has helped thousands of unemployed and underemployed families who were evacuated from Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Photo courtesy of IMP Group

It has been nine years since Israel’s disengagement from the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip. About 500 of those evacuess still remain without jobs and stability, a dire predicament exacerbated by the current turmoil in Southern Israel, where many of the evacuees went to rebuild their lives. Here, Daniela Berkowitz of IMP Group writes about Jobkatif, an organization that helps bring relief to thousands of unemployed and underemployed families through vocational training, employment placement, counseling and coaching.

Itzik, a restaurant owner in southern Israel, finds himself paralyzed this summer. Normally, his café and catering company are bustling with customers. Yet this summer, because of the constant barrage of rockets targeting the region from Gaza, people are barely leaving their homes, let alone going out for a meal.

For Itzik, surprisingly, this is not grossly traumatic. While his business is suffering and he is concerned about sustaining his family and paying the bills, he remembers all the struggles he faced before he could even open his business. Itzik and his family are just one example of the thousands who relocated to southern Israel after the Disengagement of 2005.

Nine years ago, the Israeli government decided to withdraw the Jewish settlements of Gush Katif in Gaza. These families lost everything: their homes, communities, businesses, synagogues and more.

A majority of these people relocated to towns and cities in the south of Israel, which for years has been targeted by rocket fire from Gaza. Today, Israel is in a state of emergency; at least 70 percent of Israeli residents are at risk of rocket fire from Gaza and have had to experience the horror of the Code Red siren, which gives seconds’ notice before a rocket strikes.

Aside from the obvious distress that this situation brings, income is down by nearly 90 percent for businesses in the south. Many people are unable to go to work; children are staying home from school and camps. Much is left unknown.

Making ends meet

Before 2005, Itzik lived with his wife and five children in Moshav Katif.  He worked in a marketing department in Beersheba and enjoyed the rural community life in Gush Katif.  After the Disengagement, his life began falling apart.

“I was at home for nearly a year,” Itzik recalls, “I wasn’t able to hold down a job for more than three-four weeks, tops. Our whole financial situation deteriorated, until there was not enough money for food.  You are dying to work, but you simply can’t.” Like many evacuees, there was trauma and gaining stable ground seemed worlds away.

He and his wife dreamed of opening a catering business. Slowly, they saved money and recruited customers. “I remember the first Shabbat meals that we did,” he said. “To save money, I recruited our kids to help us.  The business began to turn a profit, but it was slow going,” Itzik says with a smile. In 2009, Itzik was contacted by the staff of JobKatif, an organization established for the sole purpose of assisting Gush Katif families left bereft of their livelihood to become financially independent. With some funding and advice from professionals, Itzik and his wife purchased a restaurant.

“JobKatif was a true and faithful ‘shaliach,’” he says. “They helped us and thanks to all their support, we are where we are today. They believed in us.”

More work to do

Eight-three percent of former Gush Katif residents are now employed. However, there is still more work to do, especially as the situation in southern Israel has become more severe. Because of the security situation in the south, even JobKatif needed to temporarily shut its training centers and counseling programs because people were just unable to attend. This year, the Israeli government renewed its commitment to these important endeavors and has promised to match up to 75 percent of the programming costs to help Gush Katif families find meaningful employment. But these funds are returned retroactively and dependent on JobKatif raising money from donors.

Over the past nine years, 2,500 people have found employment because of JobKatif. Among these people, 570 participated in vocational retraining courses. At least 200 small businesses are operating because of JobKatif’s startup funding and guidance.  Another 202 students now are studying in colleges and universities across the country, thanks to scholarships provided by Amutat Yedidut Toronto.

To assist those remaining without work, JobKatif developed customized programs tailored for specific populations. These groups include: Bnei Menashe (Jews from India), small business owners on the threshold of success, people over 55 years old, individuals with challenges, students and employed individuals who are dissatisfied with their jobs. The organization has over one year left to accomplish its goals.

“We have nearly accomplished our mission of assisting all Gush Katif evacuees to earn a living so that they can support their families with pride and dignity, as they once did in Gush Katif,” says Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, founder and chairman of JobKatif. “We have made so much progress and with continued support, we can make sure that the burdens are eased and our brothers and sisters can live with peace of mind and stability.”

As it moves toward completing what it set out to do, JobKatif is seeking partners from across Jewish communities worldwide to join in relieving the struggles of unemployment in this difficult time.

To contribute to JobKatif’s Shabbat Chazon campaign, tax-deductible donations can be sent to JobKatif, 71-47 171st St. Flushing, New York 11365 or online at www.jobkatif.org. For more information, contact info@jobkatif.org or 011-972-2-547-4548. All donations will be matched 3:1 by the Israeli Government.


A history of American society through the lens of Maybelline

great-lash-clear_model-shot_144055Who knew that there was such a great story behind the pink and green container of Maybelline Great Lash mascara?

I was fortunate to hear this story firsthand from Maybelline heiress Sharrie Williams at the Brandeis National Committee Phoenix Chapter’s annual luncheon on April 25 at the Orange Tree Golf Resort in Scottsdale. And because she was gracious enough to give every attendee a copy of her book, “The Maybelline Story and the Spirited Family Dynasty Behind It,” I’ve been learning even more while reading it over the weekend.

Williams, the grand-niece of Maybelline founder Tom Lyle Williams, said during her talk, “To you, Maybelline is a corporate name. To me, it means family.” It was a reminder that although there are many businesses that are now household names, many originated in the mind of one person in one household.

Maybelline – which was originally a family business, named after Williams’ sister, Mabel – had its share of family “scandals” (children born out of wedlock, marital affairs, an intimate relationship between two men – things that have become mainstream in American society since Maybelline’s founding in 1915). In fact, Maybelline’s main mission was considered scandalous in its early days – it was founded at a time when women who wore eye makeup were primarily “performers and prostitutes,” according to the book.

“Those attitudes are changing,” Tom Lyle told his brother, Noel, at age 20. “Women are done being plain and submissive. … The age of cosmetics has begun.”

Maybelline started as a mail order business and went through its share of ups and downs – through the DepressioThe+Maybelline+Story+front+covern and World War II, the family approached bankruptcy more than once but then prospered again each time. In the 1930s, the company moved away from mail order and moved to working with owners of retail chains.

According to Williams, Maybelline was at the forefront of advertising elements that are still popular today, such as celebrity endorsements and “before and after” photographs. The focus of the ads and the business changed to reflect the decades: glamorous actresses featured through the 20s, less expensive “purse-size” versions during the Depression, pin-up type ads for soldiers overseas during wartime, bride-focused ads after soldiers returned home and glamour focused on young mothers during the baby boom of the 1950s.

So far, I’m only halfway through the book, but I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in learning more about America’s history and society in the past century through the story of one business.

 

SAM_5464

Sharrie Williams, author of “The Maybelline Story,” second from left, was the featured speaker at the Brandeis National Committee Phoenix Chapter luncheon on April 25. Also pictured from left, are Lori Roth, past co-president; Carol Abrams, new Brandeis president; and Marcy Strauss, past co-president. Photo by Leisah Woldoff