Leo Noé delivered the following remarks at the Accelerate one-day conference on Haredi employment and economic integration. Click here for more from that conference.
Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
After many years of “meshulochim” (in the Yiddish fundraising vernacular) ringing my doorbell immediately upon my return home from work (irrespective of the time and before I had even had a chance to eat); coming to my office; sending me e-mails and constant phone calls, I asked myself why there was this constant stream of “meshulochim” coming from Israel all asking the same thing “support me and my family because I have no other option but to ask”!
No option? Not true! Of course there were options – they could work like everyone else - but we gave! Giving was easier than debating and like many of you here today, we gave generously, even if resentfully, to what must by now be thousands of families from Israel. We still give today, but I knew then as I do now, that giving in this way was not the solution.
Here I was, the child of Holocaust survivors. Both my parents came to England in 1946. However, the first thing my Father did when he was liberated from Auschwitz by the Americans and given a paper suit, was to sell the suit and try and earn some money for himself. After traversing across Europe, he arrived in England with £104 in his pocket (and to put this in context at that time a house cost £800). My Father instinctively knew that he had to work in order to put clothes on his back and food on his table. From him, and the many years of establishing my businesses throughout the world, I have learned the value of hard work, taking nothing for granted, working every-day (and I intend to until 120). I had to because when I married Sue, she made it clear to me that we were married for better or for worse, but certainly not for lunch!
I learned the value of hard work from my parents and we have tried to impart that to our children. I learned that there are no shortcuts, no handouts, no lottery tickets to win. The Gemara in Megilla (מגילה ו ב) tells us: "If someone tells you he has achieved without effort, don't believe it; if he says he has achieved with effort, believe [it]!” Put differently, it is said that the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.
But I was deeply troubled by what I saw in Israel. I saw the Jewish element of leadership, initiative and hard work sorely lacking amongst the Haredi community in Israel. I saw a culture of expectation and complacency replace the physical and spiritual toil of our nation’s founding fathers. I saw an economy suffer and the government taking no action or funding to encourage workforce development within this community. This was by no means the fault of the Haredim alone, as the Government, because of the Israeli voting system, wanted the Haredi vote and paid for it by allowing them stipends for learning and exemption from the workforce! People wanted an easy life. I saw the social fabric of the country unravel and tensions with Hareidim escalate, I saw a lack of tolerance - the Haredim being intolerant to the society around them and with the nation harbouring resentment toward a rapidly growing and influential periphery of the demographic. I watched this and knew that this outlook was antithetical to the principles on which the State of Israel was founded. Nor was this attitude of the Torah, of the Rambam, of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch nor the gedolim of the Gemara. The Torah teaches us the path of work and responsibility. The Gemara refers to many of the Rishonim and Achronim by their diverse professions: Hillel was a woodchopper before he became the Nasi (President of the Sanhedrin) and Shammai the Elder was a builder. Abba Chilkiyah was a field laborer; Rabbi Yochanan b. Zakkai was a businessman for forty years. The kesubah we read under the chupah begins by binding a newlywed couple with the responsibility to support the family!ואנא אפלה ואוקיר ואיזון ואפרנס - " "...and I will work for you, honour, provide for, and support you”…and the list goes on.
So about eight years ago I had this brainwave and established The Kemach Foundation with private funding, only much later to be supplemented by the Government. Kemach is based on my belief that for Hareidim to become a part of Israeli economic society and for Israeli society to accept the Hareidim, they had to integrate into the workforce. Kemach would do that through university grants, vocational training, personal mentoring and job placement. The Chinese proverb of “give a man a fish and feed him for a day, but give him a fishing rod and feed him for life” challenges us all. With work we become responsible fathers, mothers, communities and citizens. Kemach is of course named from the Mishnah, “Im Ein Kemach Ein Torah” – if there is no bread or rather, hard work, there can be no real appreciation of Torah, Kemach is creating opportunities for Haredim to unlock the potential to create something valuable and meaningful in life. To be able to support your family is a fundamental element of creating sustainable communities, thereby contributing to the economic development of Israel, and ultimately reducing dependency on the State and philanthropy. They are able to contribute to the rich, diverse culture of Israel and raise its value by virtue of its great contribution to society – the Jewish values, the family bond, the treasured mitzvoth and customs – its vision for a better time in history - this, above all, creates a whole and formidable society with an unshakable faith. The Kemach Foundation is run by committed and enthusiastic Haredim - by the people - for the people - and has become the premier agency for higher education and employment for Haredim in every institution and city throughout Israel. My work with Kemach is symbiotic in creating a great driver for tolerance within Israeli society and a vehicle for economic growth within the poorest sector, creating strong and self-sufficient contributing members within Israeli Economic Society. They are Social Workers and Engineers, Accountants, Medical students, Occupational Therapists and Chefs. They are taking positions in government and civil society.
As a result of their dedication to Torah learning, their aptitude, their commitment to their faith, Haredim are able to demonstrate that their self-discipline and drive are marketable skills of value both to employers and society, making them trusted, loyal and hard-working employees. Kemach’s job is to harness the contribution that the Haredim make and achieve more with qualifications and employment.
What we are doing in Jerusalem, by partnering with the Municipality who now fully fund KIVUN, the only Haredi Job Centre in the city, placing over 1400 Haredi men and women in jobs – is just the beginning. As the JDC has helped to seed fund initiatives like this through Government support, the KIVUN Jerusalem job centre now stands as a model of successful cooperation of Government and philanthropy and gives me the confidence to know this can happen everywhere in Israel today. Proven success in education and employment models – there are simply no excuses not to make this work!
I won’t give up until hundreds and thousands of Haredim are in higher education, in dignified employment and being financially responsible to their families, communities and their country.
I won’t give up until the Israeli government shoulders the responsibility for all its citizens and relies less on your generosity and mine.
I won’t give up until I see an Israeli society that is stronger within, so we can be a fortress of strength throughout the world.
But after seven years of investing over $60m of private funding with my partners, Aaron Wolfson and Eli Horn, I have considered one Mishna which summarises my speech today: “Lo alecha hamelacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben chorin libatel mimenah.” "It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."
If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, I will answer you: Succession, the future. It is the mark of every strategic business and responsible parent. I do not think one day at a time; I think what will come next…who will be next…how can what I’ve planted live forever. Some call it legacy, I call it building a sustainable future and business. A society might not be a business but the goal of any society should be to perpetuate itself. And, my friends – I cannot be expected to do this alone!
Following Jay Ruderman’s approach, my Foundation has begun thinking strategically and into the future of what Israel will look like in say 25 years’ time. The Rudermans operate on the principle of creating partnerships, working systematically and strategically and creating those replicable models for the broader Jewish community. And this is what any and all charitable institutions and foundations must do now in Israel. Think collaboratively, work together and strategically.
Ladies and gentlemen: Haredi employment does not belong to me. It is not an exclusive issue, nor a personal mission. It is simply because I want Israel to live forever, that I want a sustainable, cohesive and tolerant society; I want robust investment in Israel’s economy; I want responsible citizenship; I want sustainable livelihood; I want happy Jewish parents and hopeful Jewish children looking forward to a bright future. Name me one foundation or funder giving to Israel who does not want the same.
And this dream, which we all share, demands a collaborative approach. To quote Israel's own imperious 'iron lady', the iconic Golda Meir, "I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively." She, as one of the first pioneers of the country, paved the way for pioneers like us. She pursued those two ingredients of victory: succession and collaboration.
This is why we have hosted this conference – the goal of which is to bring together all funders interested in the long term sustainability of Israel’s society by working from the bottom up, literally – from the periphery of Israeli society so that we may reach the heart and the mind of Israel’s future. Whatever focus and priorities your foundation or your family might have, remember this: your charitable endeavor cannot be isolated. Haredi Employment is not about Haredim: it is about poverty, welfare, education, employment, social mobility, tolerance, economic growth, investment, Israel, unity and more. Any solution you are funding must have a collaborative approach, a holistic one – one that encompasses all elements of a long term sustainable model. Failure on our part to recognise the potential successes of collaboration or negative consequences without it, is simply myopic thinking.
In real-estate parlance, I am simply an investor. Together with my partners, we might have seed-funded the most comprehensive solution to Haredi Employment, but this is no long term acquisition. One day, perhaps in the next decade, I want the Foundation to close because we will have created a self-sustainable model for the nearly 1 million Haredim in Israel, an exemplar for all periphery communities in the country and beyond.
That is the goal of succession and collaboration – and this is merely the start of sharing it with all those who desire and pursue what is good for Israel and good for the Jews. We can weave a wonderful tapestry of a community that includes all strands of real citizenship – secular, religious, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Bedouin and Arab….and make it work together. We can create a model for all people in Israel to emulate. And above all – we have no excuse not to have bold initiatives that will push Israel upward and onward, on an unstoppable and indefatigable trajectory. I cannot change every Haredi in Israel – and perhaps none of us should. But together we can provide opportunities for them to acquire skills and provide opportunities for them to succeed on their own.
Yes, this is a long road of hard work but a road down which we have to travel, in the certain knowledge that as it says in Pirkei Avot, “According to the effort is the reward.” That reward is a trained workforce, contributing to their own families and communities - indeed contributing to the State of Israel.
For our brothers and sisters in Israel, may we pray there will be unity and peace now and forever.