On Sunday, May 5, a tangible electricity and energy filled the air as over 500 Orthodox Jewish women from across North America gathered at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick, New Jersey for the very first “JWE” (Jewish Women’s Entrepreneurs Conference. This historic national business conference for observant women entrepreneurs and professionals was the brainchild of a dynamic young woman named Chaya Fishman, 24 , ( founder and executive director of JWE) along with her husband Rabbi Ariel Fishman. Having received resounding endorsements from the Orthodox Union as well as the Young Israel movement, the two forged ahead, creating a day long event aimed at empowering Jewish business women as well as affording them the opportunity to meet, network and support each other.
“I could never imagine such a conference taking place 20 years ago,” said Malka Stein, 59, of Monsey, New York who is starting a home jewelry business.”I couldn’t be happier that Orthodox Jewish women now have the ability to create viable businesses and have the support of their families and communities as well. This is indeed an idea whose time has come. Baruch Hashem,” she declared.
Because business owners often lack economic and social support, JWE has created that much needed assistance through their mentoring system in which successful entrepreneurs and experts serve as volunteer mentors to women just starting out in the business world.
Rabbi Fishman, who is the director of the Judaic Heritage Foundation said, “We organized this JWE conference so that Orthodox women can become financially independent, while raising their children and creating a beautiful Torah home. Today’s economy is such that women really need to pay the skyrocketing bills of tuition and other expenses involved in their homes, and we’re so thrilled that all Orthodox woen, from modern to Chassidic can participate in this.”
Explaining that the JWE is a national educational nonprofit organization, Rabbi Fishman says that the programs that the JWE sponsors are tailored to meet the religious and social needs of its members, with a focus on Jewish values and community leadership, while deepening the members’ commitment to positive change.
After welcoming the conference attendees, Chaya Fishman introduced the featured speaker. Saki Dodelson, originally from Israel, and now residing in Lakewood, New Jersey is the founder, is the president and CEO of Achieve3000, an educational company that uses technology to dramatically accelerate students reading levels. Using proprietary technology, Acheive3000’s award winning programs - KidBiz3000, TeenBiz3000, and Empower3000 deliver nonfiction content which is differentiated to each student’s Lexile reading level. and have proven to be highly successful in raising reading test scores in districts across the country, including New York City, Chicago, Washington, DC, Houston and Miami. The New Jersey Business Journal has named Mrs. Dodelson as one of New Jersey’s Best 50 Women in Business.
“Today my company is worth $100 million,” says Mrs. Dodelson, adding that it was not an easy journey getting to where she is today. “It took a lot of sweat and very hard work. My husband learns in Kollel. I was sick during my pregnancy. I even had to mortgage my house,’ she says. “I tell women who want to start a business that they should start small but think big and scale fast. The main thing is to find what works for you, what you’re interested in and what drives you,” she declares with confidence. As many Orthodox women find themselves in challenging roles as mothers and homemakers, Mrs. Dodelson says, “It’s always nice to prepare magnificent meals for your family, but you can also eat simple. I, for one, don’t cook very often, but if you have supportive family they can be of great help.”
While many husbands can be threatened and jealous by wives who are financially successful, Mrs. Dodelson says, “Help make your husband successful as well and there are many ways of doing it. I have the most respect for my husband for without him all I would have is money.” As to crediting her inspiration for success, Mrs. Dodelson says that it was her father who told her that, “the sky’s the limit. Do whatever you want to do, because you can do it.”
“Women are multi-dimensional individuals with needs, drives, talents and great ambitions,” said Devorah Goldblatt who runs her home from Cleveland, Ohio and home schools her children. Speaking with a palpable passion to her audience, Mrs. Goldblatt explained that in 2007, she founded Advantage Point Test Prep, a national provider of ACT and SAT preparation. She is the co-creator of “Boost Your Score: Undercover Calculator Programs for the ACT as well as the popular SAT/ACT Math Booster smartphone app featured in the New York Times. Speaking about balancing home and business she says that the main priority for Orthodox women is to build a strong, loving Torah home and that this can be achieved while devoting time to create a business if we use our time wisely. “There is no place for shame and guilt when it comes to scheduling,” she adds.
Talia Mashiach, of Chicago can only be described as a one woman powerhouse. While raising five children, she is now the founder and CEO of Eved, a company that provides an internet platform for suppliers to manage their own businesses. “The company has tripled its revenue for three years in a row,” she told her audience. “When Eved goes public, I look forward to ringing the bell at the NASDAQ,” she adds with great delight.
In a sanguine tone she tells women who would like to enter the entrepreneurial arena that, “You can do anything that you set your mind to. Be inspired that you will set your goal.” These words are coming from a most amazingly accomplished woman who developed leadership skills playing competitive sports at a young age. While in high school she began crocheting yarmulkas as her first business, After high school she married, finished a business degree and had two babies. “It’s all about setting a goal and persevering. Challenges do arise and they can be dealt with, if we put our minds to it. Today Mrs. Mashiach’s business is worth $9 million and she was featured in Crain’s business magazine.
After the lunch break, a variety of concurrent sessions were held including, “Do You have What it Takes?’ delivered by Deborah Glaant of Business Works, “Speaking Effectively and Your Elevator Pitch” conducted by Sasha Salama, a TV Anchor and reporter for CNN, CNBC and Reuters TV. Also on the schedule of workshops was an enlightening forum called “Social Media Marketing Made Simple” presented by Bonnie Kantor, “The Irresistible Pumpkin: 4 Crucial Steps to Building an Effective Brand” delivered by Elisheva Appel, the CEO of Pinpoint Design, among others.
Other speakers included Rebbetzin Faigie Horowitz, a workforce development professional, non-profit management consultant and freelance writer who delivered a interactive seminar on the type of businesses that are available for aspiring entrepreneurs. Also on the roster were an impressive array of women with tremendous business acumen such as Rebecca Bar-Shain, (Anne) Chani Neuberger, Rebecca Silberstein, Yocheved Bechhofer and Tzivia Reiter
Capping off the JWE conference a most fascinating address on “Halacha in the Workplace” delivered by Raabi Aharon Tendler. “When in the business world one has to be on their best behavior. Chazal (our sages of blessed memory) compares relationships and business. The same neis (miracle) for zivug is the same for business.” He also added that the “Torah believes in a free market” yet one should be advised to remain vigilant about not speaking loshon hara, to be scrupulous about issues of over-pricing and how to deal with non-Jews as well.
As the day drew to a close Chaya Fishman told her audience that, “This conference is not just about today. It is about tomorrow, and the many days after that. At the JWE, we are here to support you through every step of your business journey. So consider this the beginning of a long friendship and an exciting adventure.” She took the opportunity to express her heartfelt thanks to the JWE board and event committee which included such notable personalities as Winnie Borden, Miriam Liebermann, Yitty Gutner, Shelli Weisz, Devorah Goldblatt, Laura Shaposhnikova, Shifra Novograd, Rabbi Ariel Fishman and Elsiheva Appel.
The JWE conference was made possible by the generous support of such corporate and organizational sponsors as the Orthodox Union, Penn Mutual, Merrill Lynch, The Jewish Press, Binah Magazine, Sister to Sister and Imamother.