“Are you going?”
“Wouldn’t miss it. Are you?”
We’ve been looking forward to this year’s Temech conference for Women in Business for quite a while – practically since last year’s conference was over. But first, a recap for the ladies who were there, the ladies who didn’t make it, and the men who, nebach, aren’t allowed in.
The Temech Conference (according to the little booklet we get on signing in) has three main goals:
1. To give us the tools, knowledge and inspiration to grow our businesses.
2. To help us form valuable business connections with other women like us
3. To help us gather strength and inspiration for the months to come.
I must admit that I’m coming with no great goals in mind for this conference. I want to learn from the speakers I’ve known before (Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits), speakers I’ve heard of but never met (Jamie Geller and Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi) and more. I want to spend a fun day off from work (taking notes during lectures and doing interviews during lunch doesn’t count as work, right?). Did someone mention lunch? A classy lunch at the Ramada sounds good, too. In fact, as a work-at-home mom, any lunch I don’t have to prepare myself sounds good to me.
So – are we set? Four of us band together and order a taxi to get us there on time. All of us busy ladies climb in, tell the driver our destination, pull out our siddurim and begin to daven. After a few minutes, one woman asks the taxi driver to stop talking about Itzik. Who is Itzik? We have no idea, but it’s clear from our driver’s cell-phone conversation that whoever Itzik is, he’s in the doghouse. “Tomorrow, maybe they’ll talk about you!” our brave friend cautions the bald, burly man who’s steering, talking and fiddling with the buttons of his radio. Luckily, our driver laughs and changes the subject. He stops fiddling with the radio, too, and gets us where we’re headed, safe and sound.
We arrive a few minutes after the scheduled starting time, but still have a few minutes to sign in and snag a coffee (the one with extra caffeine, please!) and a croissant (is this the one with no calories?) and schmooze – er, network! – for a few minutes before being shooed into the large hall. Naomi Elbinger, the conference organizer (and author of myparnasa.com – the Jewish business blog), greets us and gives a brief intro to featured speaker Jamie Geller – yes, she of “Quick and Kosher – the Bride Who Knew Nothing” fame.
Expecting nothing is a fantastic way to go into a day because you’ll never be disappointed. I expected something better than last year, and not only am I not disappointed, I come away wowed. Jamie Geller is entertaining and down-to-earth, teaching us all about how to build a successful brand. Step by step, she takes us from markets and messages through naming the business, logos, WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”), websites and more.
“If you remember nothing else from today, remember this,” she concludes, and explains that what makes a brand extraordinary is its “why” – the emotional reason that makes a person want to purchase that item. Simple, right? Basic, too. What’s more, it works.
On to the next speaker: Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, renowned posek and founder and Rosh Kollel of the Jerusalem Kollel. (He also taught me in seminary, more years ago than I’d like to admit.) “The Gemara says that someone who wants to join the Jewish people has to be told the difficult things, and also the easy ones,” Rabbi Berkovits begins. “This is because there is no situation that the Torah does not deal with. Everything fits with the goal of coming closer to the Creator.”
“Business law is complicated,” Rabbi Berkovits explains, “and halachah is even more so.” He proceeds to mention a few subjects for us to be aware of, to be careful about. Among other topics, he touches on honesty and integrity, dealing with the government, selling your product, responsible investing, work relationships, technology and more. “Make sure you conduct your business in a way that’s allowed and encouraged by halachah,” he concludes, promising that if we do so, we can be sure that our endeavors will find favor in Hashem’s eyes.
Time for a break – and more networking! Then we file back to our seats to hear from the Temech delegation that’s flown in from the United States. They speak of their dream, to help religious women in Israel grow their businesses. We meet Mrs. Chavi Hertz, who supported this venture in memory of her grandmother, Henya Malka Lachner, a”h – and we all rise in a spontaneous standing ovation. If not for the cost being so generously subsidized, many of us wouldn’t be attending the conference today.
Next on the agenda is Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi. She encourages and inspires, with stories, humor and pathos. Am I the only one surreptitiously wiping my eyes when she tells us about when she sat by the side of her son in the ICU? This week is his yahrtzeit … A few minutes later, I’m certainly not the only one holding my sides in laughter as she shares her views on life. “As working women, there are so many people we have to please,” she says. “Clients, the boss, employees, children and husband … not to mention the mother-in-law!” We laugh ruefully – it’s true!
Our efforts are worthwhile, though. “In thirty years, the little girl playing at your feet will follow your example, doing the things you showed her,” she reminds us. We end with a heartfelt, private prayer, and a brachah from this wonderful, brilliant woman who was an attorney by profession before she chose this holy work.
Lunch! Along with a few hundred others, I head out to the lobby and down the winding staircase. My cell phone rings and I step out of the crowd. It’s my out-of-town friend, who’s here for the day. “I’m downstairs already, at the first table on the right,” she says.
“I’m on my way,” I promise. “Save me a seat!” I’m not about to miss this rare treat of actually sharing a lunch date with a good friend I see perhaps twice a year. I plop my pocketbook and papers on a chair at her table and head for the buffet.
I’m pretty hungry but can’t taste everything, though it all looks so good! I cover my plate with fish, lasagna, and luscious looking salads. Too bad I can’t take home leftovers for supper!
While we eat, we network, asking our table-mates what they do and where they live. I’m intrigued by these ladies – they look like anyone you’d meet on the streets of Geulah, Rechov Yaffo or even Meah Shearim, and inside they’re accomplished professionals. My friend is a translator, another woman is a talented writer, across from her sits a licensed therapist, and the last one at our table is a city planner and architect. I not-so-subtly conduct a mini-interview, and learn a tiny bit of what goes into city zoning and planning. Unsurprisingly, we all agree that the hardest part of working for oneself is dealing with clients who don’t pay. We swap horror stories over coffee and salads, making new friends and enjoying our time together.
Soon my plate is almost empty, and I decide regretfully that I really can’t eat another bite. But wait – there’s cheesecake for dessert, lighter and fluffier than I’ve ever made. My friend shakes her head to the piece I offer her, contenting herself with chocolate mousse. I’m forced to eat her cheesecake as well as mine. Poor her, and poor me.
We head back upstairs, and I “fall into” Dov Gordon’s workshop, without really meaning to. It’s called, “How to elegantly control your next sales conversation so that your ideal clients say, ‘yes.’” I’m not exactly in sales at this point, but I find myself fascinated by his approach – and yes, it really is elegant. “People don’t buy the products and services that are best for them,” he contends. “They buy what’s best sold to them. It’s our job to serve them with integrity.” With this statement as our starting point, he asks us how we’d define “sales.” He listens and nods, then gives his own definition. “Sales can be defined as leadership,” he explains. “People follow you because they want to, not because they’re forced, coerced or worse.”
He explains that a client purchases a product or service in order to overcome an obstacle in his way – something keeping him from getting to the future he’d like. “Listen to your clients,” Mr. Gordon advises. “They’ll tell you what they need, if you ask them. By listening to your client, you make yourself stand out.”
The woman sitting next to me is puzzled. “That’s not what I learned in the last sales seminar I attended,” she says.
Dov nods. “And how did that make you feel?” he asks.
“Slimy,” she admits. “Manipulative.” She thinks a moment. “Your way is much better.”
He smiles. “Telling a person the truth is the most respectful thing you can say to them.”
He’s practical, too. “Don’t leave a meeting without agreeing on a clear next step,” he advises. “If you’re getting mixed messages, call them on it. Describe the behavior, and ask them to help you understand what it is that they want.”
Our time is up, though people are still asking questions. Dov gives us his web address (www.dovgordon.net) and moves to the side, off the stage. He’s immediately surrounded by women who want to ask just one question, and just one more. I edge toward the crowd, reluctant to leave, but I’m aware that I’ve been gone all day and my family is waiting.
My neighbor comes in. “I’m leaving now and wanted to offer you a ride,” she says. I glance toward the front of the room, then thank her and we head out together. On the way, she gathers the others who came in the taxi this morning.
In her car on the way home, we compare notes. “I went to Shoshanna Jaskoll,” one friend says. “On using your ‘so what’ factor to stand above the competition. She was great.”
Another friend nods. “I took copious notes. I have to think about what she said and how to apply it to my business.”
A third friend went to Leah Kaplan’s workshop on strategic marketing. “It was interesting,” she says. “It’s the next step that I needed for my company to grow – I just didn’t know it till today.”
As we pull up in front of my house, I see my younger kids waiting for me outside. I pull out the pens we got as freebies and prepare to hand out these prizes.
It was a good day. Tired as I am, I feel refreshed and accomplished – and grateful to the Temech organizers and volunteers who pulled it all together. Already, I’m looking forward to next year.
About the Author: Dvora Freimark is a writer and editor who is lucky enough to live and work in Jerusalem.
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