My other job…

I realized the other day that I have not created any blog entries about my "other job."  All my blogs have been about my rabbinic work, which these days is all done for free (even when I get an honorarium I donate it to charity), about making aliyah, comments on Israel, the weekly Torah portion, etc.  I have not written anything about "my day job" which pays the bills.  But my day job is actually very much a part of my aliyah, and it’s something of a fascinating story in its own right, so I’m going to talk about it a little in this post.  If all you’re interested in is my Torah related comments, feel free to skip this one.

I’m responsible for the Israeli subsidiary of a US-based outsourcing company, Innodata Isogen. In 17 months the operation here in Israel has gone from one person (my wife Lauri, who is responsible for the legal team here) to nearly 100. That’s a lot of jobs that we provide for immigrants from the West.  The bulk of our employees are doctors and lawyers; we also have general writers and copyeditors.  All the work our team in Israel is involved in is connected, in one way or another, to the publishing industry.

Even though we’ve created a lot of jobs for the Anglo community in Israel, one reason for our success is the fact that creating jobs for immigrants is not actually part of our agenda.  I’m as Zionist as the next guy — what the heck, I’m a rabbi and I made aliyah — but when it comes to business, my background as an entrepreneur (see the nascent wiki entry on Peninsula Engineering Group) and my PhD in business take over and I’m pretty hard-nosed about it.  If something can be done cheaper in one of our other facilities — in the Philippines, India, or Sri Lanka — we do it in the other facility. The only work that’s done in Israel is work that really needs to be done in Israel because it requires mother-tongue English language expertise and/or Western-trained subject matter experts.  As a result, I’ve got a fair amount of confidence in the long term need for the kind of services we provide.

You might be wondering, "why Israel?"  Why not America, or some other country, for that matter?  The reason is with a GDP per capita half of America’s, you can hire Americans in Israel for a lot less money than Americans in America.  Israel is fairly unique in being a lower (but not LOW) wage country that has attracted a substantial number of American professionals, who have moved here for ideological reasons.

One of the things I enjoyed about working in high-tech in Silicon Valley was that it always felt very "cutting edge."  Working with the latest technology, coming up with new ways of doing things — it was very exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised that when I got into the outsourcing industry, at least in Knowledge Process Outsourcing (KPO) there is a similar feeling of being involved in something very cutting edge.  For anyone interested in the outsourcing industry, Thomas Friedman’s book "The World is Flat" should be considered required reading.  We are doing exactly what Friedman talks about — we take complex knowledge work, break it up into pieces, and send it wherever in the world is the lowest cost place to do the work.  It’s a very innovative business, with new business processes and new technology being continually applied to bring cost-savings to clients while maintaining the highest quality standards.

While there is a lot I miss about being a congregational rabbi — especially the fact that I got to spend a lot more time studying Torah and touching people’s lives on a personal level — I take some consolation in the fact that what I’m doing now is in fact the "traditional" model. Our greatest rabbis of times gone by — e.g., Maimonides and Rashi — all had "day jobs."  Maimonides was a physician, Rashi was a wine merchant.  The Talmud cautions us not to "turn the Torah into a spade" (e.g., a tool for making a living), so I’m glad that all my rabbinic work now is either volunteer or donated to charity.  That statement is not meant as a criticism of my colleagues in pulpit positions — Lord knows, they work for their money, and give a lot of Torah lishmah as well.  But there is definitely something to be said to being freed from the vagaries of "shul politics."

It’s kind of funny — if I had stayed in the States, I never would have considered going back into the business world.  I was content being a rabbi.  But in Israel, working in the business world also feels like an expression of my Judaism — I’m helping build Israel and helping to create jobs for immigrants.  And finding it quite satisfying…even though I would like to find more time for studying (and teaching) Torah!

Rav Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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