The Chazaq outreach organization is famous for its variety of programs, often headlined by its energetic director Yaniv Meirov. At last Sunday’s event, featuring two highly experienced business leaders, he also delivered introductory remarks but first introduced this writer to Moshe Rafailov, who came up with the event and was then entrusted to organize and promote it in the Queens community. “I had the privilege of meeting the speakers at an Olami Shabbaton. They are funders of kiruv all over the world,” said Rafailov, a third-year student at Long Island University majoring in the pharmacy program. The event, titled Building Connections in the Workplace, was hosted by the Yeshiva of Central Queens, with a dozen co-sponsoring organizations, including the Queens Jewish Link.
The speakers were David Z. Solomon, a longtime Queens resident now living in Woodmere, who serves as managing partner at Goldman Sachs, and Neil Auerbach, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who heads Hudson Sustainable Investments, which manages assets in clean energy. “I was inspired by the restoration of the Hudson River, hence the name. And I am a New Yorker,” said Auerbach. The third speaker for the evening, Howard Jonas, runs the telecommunications company IDT and Genie Energy, which supported oil exploration in the Golan Heights. Although he was not able to attend, he was mentioned as an example of commitment towards observance while excelling as an entrepreneur. “I spoke to them about the Bukharian community and something clicked,” said Rafailov. “They’re serious and they’re in business.”
Rafailov said that, while growing up, he saw members of his community “taking the easy way out and cutting corners,” in their observance and business practices. He wanted to show that one can be honest and successful. “They spoke of situations such as whether to wear a kippah at business meetings. The miracles that they’ve seen show that it works.”
Auerbach grew up in New York, the son of a Holocaust survivor and a war veteran with chasidic ancestry. His first meaningful religious interaction was with Rabbi Aaron Twerski, a distant relative who was visibly Orthodox teaching at the Boston University law school. “He is a shining example of emunah and kevod shamayim in the workplace,” said Auerbach.
As he sees it, with work taking up the majority of an adult’s time, a Jew strives to find meaning in work. “The key to connectivity is to bring our Jewish identity to the workplace and give it meaning. Focus on emunah and kevod shamayim, the dignity of being a Jew in the workplace,” said Auerbach.
After graduating, Auerbach worked for 12 years as a lawyer, and then as a banker and investor. In 1996, the Tosher Rebbe in Montreal wanted to meet Auerbach and he flew to meet him for a brachah. A relationship was established and every subsequent deal was preceded by his brachah. But emunah is also about the difficult moments, like spending Shabbos in a motel far from home, or breaking up an international business trip to spend Shabbos with the family.
Honesty in observance is to explain why we “disconnect completely” for Shabbos but also work very hard during the week, and why it is sometimes easier to explain a Yom Tov to a gentile colleague than to a fellow Jew. “I had a boss who I suspected of being an anti-Semite. It was very tricky and I did not know how to deal with it,” said Solomon. He found inspiration for personal growth in Rabbi Israel Meir Lau’s book Out of the Depths, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin’s Conversations with G-d, and Rabbi Aaron Lopiansky’s Ben Torah for Life. Auerbach recommended two secular books for guidance in balancing business with spirituality: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point. “It is important to know who you are and what makes you tick,” said Auerbach, “your strengths and weaknesses.”
By Sergey Kadinsky