Whether you are an active participant in your religion or not, there is no doubt it creates an underlying ethos that guides how we each conduct our personal and professional lives. Coming just off the Jewish High Holy Days I’ve been thinking about how my upbringing in the Jewish faith has directed my business sense and I think a lot about the many stereotypes of Jews and where they come from. The rapid rise of anti-semitism and targeted misunderstandings of Jews drove me to write this post to explain a bit more about us.
On Yom Kippur, I listened to a sermon from Rabbi Ari Lorge of Central Synagogue in NYC that really helped shape some thoughts on how profoundly this has affected my thinking. He spoke of western endings, to books, plays, and movies and how “tensions are resolved, characters journeys wrap up” all in a neat little box with a bow on it. It’s what we expect in western civilization.
But in the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible, this simply isn’t the case. For example, when Moses leads the Jews from Egypt in Exodus, we’d expect that he would lead them to the Promised Land. Instead, he dies after just a glimpse of it across the river. There are countless examples which you can read in Rabbi Lorge’s sermon referenced above. It’s a book full of stories with complex characters and tensions that aren’t resolved. Juxtapose this with the Christian Bible that adds the Book of Revelations to the story — a clear ending to the Biblical journey.
Now think about the finale to The Sopranos and how it was vilified in the press and on social media. Why? Because western endings would’ve had the story end with a gunman putting a bullet in Tony Soprano’s head at the diner or showing him on a beach in the Caribbean. People wanted that wrapped up ending and they didn’t get it. It never bothered me, to me it was a perfect non-ending to a great series.
Judaism lives in the untidy and unfinished. We don’t live in the happily-ever-after.
· We keep our dead with us forever as a part of us and remember them through yahrzeit and community services annually in perpetuity.
· Our people have lived all over the world and fought for the same homeland for 1000s of years that we continue to fight for daily.
· We have been persecuted time and again in history, even losing more than half our population in the Holocaust.
· We love traditions and every year say to one another, next year in Jerusalem. We are always looking to the future.
So, what does all this have to do with business?
We may not think the same as non-Jews because of our religious teachings and history. I took a look inwards and see a lot of this in myself as a businessperson and a lawyer. I am constantly strategizing, always looking for another path forward. I’d rather hedge my bets and play multiple games then just one. I exhibit extreme determination and an unwillingness to let go and no ability to give up, sometimes to my own detriment. I am an avid life-long learner and believe you can change gears at any stage and change should be welcomed.
These traits are directly attributable to the untidy endings in the Bible and a Jewish penchant towards looking to the future. I enjoy the challenge of multi-tasking and building, perhaps understandable from a people who have had to rebuild time and again. I don’t need to see a bow around every box, I keep going and look to find new paths forward. I have what I call as stick-to-itiveness and a daily drive to hustle. In the end, I think I’m fairly representative of other Jewish businesspeople in these traits and much of this, consciously or unconsciously, comes from our tradition.
We are far from the stereotypes made of us, overly frugal, greedy, and dishonest, to name a few. It is true that proportionately Jews have been successful in business throughout history, but it’s not because we cheated our way, its because we’re guided by an ethos that promotes strategic thinking and understanding of the necessity of constant change.
Grant us peace. Your most precious gift, O Eternal Source of Peace,
and give us the will to proclaim its message to all the peoples of the earth.
Bless our country, that it may always be a stronghold of peace,
and its advocate among the nations.
May contentment reign within its borders, health and happiness within its homes.
Strengthen the bonds of friendship among the inhabitants of all lands.
And may the love of Your name hallow every home and every heart.