Ultra-Orthodox Women Act on Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In' Gospel

Starting a Business Can Be Kosher for Jewish Mothers

Marketing Meyvintes: Rosie Kraus (right) and Chavy, who would allow use of only her first name, launched their careers as entrepreneurs after watching episodes of the reality TV show ‘Shark Tank’ on YouTube.
shulamit seidler-feller
Marketing Meyvintes: Rosie Kraus (right) and Chavy, who would allow use of only her first name, launched their careers as entrepreneurs after watching episodes of the reality TV show ‘Shark Tank’ on YouTube.

By Anna Goldenberg

Published January 08, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
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Sheryl Sandberg has come to ultra-Orthodox Monsey, N.Y. — or at least her gospel has.

The walls of the Orthodox school assembly hall in which her message is delivered are bare white, but for three posters with Hebrew writing, and six larger-than-life paper teddy bears. But the roughly 100 women who fill the hall on a chilly Monday night in late December 2013 counterbalance the spartan venue with their impeccable dress, and with each hair on their wigs perfectly smoothed.

“An Evening of Excellence” is the event’s name, and once the audience has been hushed, Davii Mandel steps up to the stage and asks her audience, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

The question is a direct quote from the book “Lean In,” written by Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. Mandel, who owns a catering company, is one of four newly appointed leaders for the Monsey/Spring Valley city chapter of the Jewish Woman Entrepreneur.

Founded in 2011, the JWE is a growing not-for-profit group that connects Jewish women starting or running their own businesses. The vast majority of women who reach out to the JWE are traditionally observant: both Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox. After Baltimore, Monsey is the group’s second local chapter, and its formal roll-out is this very meeting. Eleven more city chapters in places such as Brooklyn; Lakewood, N.J.; Minneapolis; Cleveland, and Miami, are scheduled to kick off in the first few months of 2014.

The guest speaker this night is Judy Greenfield — a businesswoman, Satmar Hasid and mother of seven. The 41-year-old entrepreneur started selling tiles from her Monroe, N.Y., basement in 1996. Today she runs a multi-million dollar business that specializes in tiles and granite counter plates. Though her husband is her business partner, Greenfield says that she is the one making the big financial decisions.

Greenfield’s children range in age from three to 22. But when she goes on business trips, there is always someone in the family to step in, Greenfield explains — she has 13 siblings, and her husband has 11.

“My kids call me four times a day,” she tells the audience. “It’s not either/or; you can run a business and still be a good mother.”


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