Business Unusual: A Chabad Rabbi Helps Businesses Grow


by R. C. Lundy - Moscow, Russia

May 20, 2009

(lubavitch.com) If necessity is the mother of invention, a rotten economy begets innovation.

In today’s tough times, a resourceful program in Moscow is disproving the theory that every man is for himself. Quite the contrary, in fact.

“I share my clients, my money, and referrals with friends. I take care of my own before anyone else. And Israelis, Jews, are my family.”

So says Alona Goldenberg, co-founder of the Israel Moscow Business Center (IMBC), a networking nexus for Israeli and Russian professionals. Goldenberg, who was born in Ukraine but spent most of her life in Israel, moved to Moscow last year.

“At first, when I arrived here, I was very lonely. I didn’t know anyone,” she says. After a chance encounter with a friend, she was introduced to Rabbi Yaakov Fridman and the Chabad Center for Israelis at the beautiful seven-story Marina Roscha community center in north-central Moscow.

Between courses at the Fridman’s lively Shabbat table, Goldenberg realized that she could join, and help form, a distinct community.

“Business was going down at that point and many people had difficulties with money and their own businesses,” she explains. “On Friday nights people were spilling their hearts, complaining, crying.”

Goldenberg, who together with her husband runs a taxi company in Moscow, approached Fridman with a proposition to formalize his frequent cross-business matchmaking between business people, both Russian and Israeli.

As director of the Jewish Community Center’s activities for Moscow’s large Israeli community, Fridman had entertained the idea for some time before Alona suggested it. He hosts up to 200 Israeli visitors and businesspeople at Shabbat dinners at the Marina Roscha, and has a vast contact list that grows with just about every flight that arrives in Moscow from Tel Aviv.

"It was clear to me that there was a tremendous opportunity here," says Fridman, the dynamic rabbi and go-to man for Israelis and Jews who come to Russia, needing business, recreation, or religious assistance. Through his frequent contact with diverse businesspeople he had already made trans-national business matches, helping people help one another. 

“The Rabbi has a phenomenal memory; he remembers everyone’s names, children, jobs,” says Goldenberg, who describes working with him as “a constant party.”

That ‘party’ includes pulsating meetings with strict agendas. Rabbi Fridman opens each meeting, which takes place over a light dinner at the JCC’s kosher restaurant. A relevant subject is then explored by one of the members (presenting last time was an economic analyst). Following that, each participant describes his business, outlining what he wants to gain from the group and what he plans to contribute.

“The IMBC creates an environment where people discover that sharing, even and perhaps especially, in business, is positive and helpful to their own business interests,” says Rabbi Fridman, who has since been contacted by Israel’s chamber of commerce.

At each meeting, one business is highlighted and Goldenberg presents all the business opportunities she has amassed. Mingling participants have made many business connections: at one event, Goldenberg met a hotel owner who hired her transportation services.

Stanislav Zingel sells and oversees properties for his Russian clients in 12 countries around the world. He relishes each meeting for the opportunity it provides him to, “meet new investors and clients, and get new ideas for advertising,” an important consideration in today’s economy.

“A lot of businesses are facing a tough situation,” says Zingel. “This club helps us overcome these hopefully temporary obstacles and makes us reconsider our business goals. We learn from each other how to overcome.”

Banker Oleg is another of the 40 or so people who congregate at the dairy café regularly. He believes that “the potential for Russia is very high, especially in the economic industry.” This association is a chance, explains Oleg, to “get many people from different businesses working together on different projects.”

The professionalism is spilling over into participants’ personal lives as well. Oleg has found a Jewish community, for himself and his family, among the Israeli Russians he meets. Together with his children, he joins the Fridmans for Shabbat dinners and his kids go to Sunday activities at the Jewish Community Center.

“It is not only for business,” adds Zingel. “It is a meeting point for us, it is positive for spiritual, religious, and personal reasons.”

Though she has lived in Moscow for a year, Goldenberg proudly calls Israel home. “Most of us are Israeli. Our language is Hebrew. And really, language is home. We can joke in our language and feel relaxed. It feels like family.”

 

For the Chabad rabbi, the IMBC is yielding bonuses that, he says, make this a remarkable development.

“Some people who joined the IMBC had never ventured into a synagogue before,” he tells lubavitch.com. “They just weren’t interested.”

Soon enough, they become a lively part of this Jewish hub. They look forward to long, inspiring Shabbat dinners with the Fridmans. “They’re asking about bar mitzvahs—for themselves, their sons, and in general, begin to take an unexpected interest in Judaism.”

They come because it’s a great opportunity to grow their businesses. Along the way, the energetic rabbi makes sure they discover opportunities to become enriched in other ways as well.  

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