By Eli Wishnivetski
In a private room of a quaint, Philadelphia restaurant, a group of roughly twenty young Jewish CEOs and executives met for an informal social gathering organized by their local AlmaLinks chapter. During the course of the evening, the friendly atmosphere of the event naturally turned the group into a collective well of introductions, suggestions, and support for one another. Personal connections were made and ideas were shared, making the event another success story for the international nonprofit organization.
The seeds for this type of collaboration were planted in 2008, when Tomer Sapir, a native Israeli, received an assignment to accompany a group of American peers on their whirlwind Birthright Israel tour of the Holy Land. Throughout the trip, Sapir was struck with two distinct realizations. The first was how disconnected these first-time visitors were to Israel and the Jewish community. The second was that many of these Jewish young professionals were facing tremendous professional opportunities back home. Sapir wondered how this demographic of up-and-coming Diaspora professionals could stay engaged after the trip and be cultivated into supporters of Israel and their local Jewish communities?
Out of this realization, Sapir founded AlmaLinks in 2009. AlmaLinks seeks to promote a systematic way to maintain relationships with highly successful, business-oriented Jewish young professionals who wish to connect to their Jewish identity in a professional setting. By linking Jews who otherwise may not specifically seek out professional connections through their affiliation with other Jews or Israel – either for lack of time or opportunity – members reap the benefits of developing both their professional and Jewish identities.
In its early days in Tel Aviv, AlmaLinks began arranging formal get-togethers that offered an exclusive professional opportunity such as a presentation or speech from a local business leader. The relaxed environment of the meetings forged initial connections between the young professionals into full-fledged business relationships. From there, AlmaLinks grew in scope to offer its members professional mentorship, and business development assistance, and eventually expanded into chapters in cities around the world including Beijing, Johannesburg, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Over the years, the AlmaLinks network has resulted in big returns and opportunities for its members. For instance, Brian Neman, 29, a member of AlmaLinks Los Angeles and the founder and CEO of Sanguine-Bio Science, partnered with Ben Weiss, 35, a member of AlmaLinks TLV & founder and a managing partner of an early-stage investment fund. As a result of AlmaLinks, Weiss invested in Neman’s company, which has since had massive growth and now has over 30 employees. Another example is Harael Salkow, 34, a successful business man and member of AlmaLinks Johannesburg. Salkow, who runs one of the largest entertainment businesses in South Africa, recently visited Israel in February 2015. He had been introduced to the TLV network by the head of his local chapter, Martin Smookler, and had a personalized business tour set up for him in Israel where he met many leaders of the Israeli tech community. One of the meetings eventually led to a cooperation between his business and an Israeli company in the digital advertising space. Salkow was so impressed by the impact and value he gained from AlmaLinks that he wanted to give back to the organization and soon he became a lay leader in his local chapter.
AlmaLinks also maintains relationships with Israeli executives and politicians, providing opportunities to its chapter members around the globe to connect with Israeli business influencers whenever they travel abroad. For example, the Johannesburg chapter recently hosted Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat while the NYC chapter recently hosted former Teva Pharmaceuticals CEO Mr. Shlomo Yanai.
Members from around the globe can also benefit from the AlmaLinks network in Israel if they are visiting the country. This was the case recently when Greg Gurevich, a NYC member and successful hedge fund manager, was on a trip to Israel with his sister. “AlmaLinks actively made multiple introductions for me to many leading figures in the Israel tech community. I was able to network with leading peers in Israel who I would have never been exposed to otherwise and was able forge meaningful professional and personal ties as a result.” Gurevich commented. A global Jewish professional network with deep ties to the Israel business community has just the right kind of appeal to engage Jews who are otherwise unaffiliated.
According to a 2013 Pew study, 56% of American Jews ages 18-29 have not been to Israel and 68% believe that caring about Israel is not an essential or important part of being Jewish. Despite the massive resources poured into Birthright and similar programs through philanthropists, The Jewish Agency, and the Israeli government, even Birthright participants have difficulties connecting to their Jewish community in a meaningful way due to packed worked schedules and the busyness of a professional life.
Although the research from the Pew study paints a worrisome picture, the Birthright programs have made significant inroads in changing this data. AlmaLinks allows for logical continuation of the journey in the professional sphere.
As vast numbers of young Jews are visiting and forming connections with Israel through Birthright and other programs, AlmaLinks seeks to provide opportunities for the rising leaders among them to solidify their connections to Israel and the Jewish community, fiscally strengthening the Jewish communities in the Diaspora as well as Israel in the process.
Eli Wishnivetski is a member of AlmaLinks NYC and CEO of Lodestar Securities.