While most Hasidic rabbis give Jewish advice as opposed to business advice and lecture in yeshivas and as opposed to Silicon Valley, Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg is not your average Hasidic rabbi. Born-and-bred in Brooklyn, Ginzberg went to Bobov schools, but does not identify exclusively with one sect, “I’m connected with many different rebbes” he explains.
Ginzberg was never typical. “When I was a kid, I sort of always had this entrepreneurial streak.” It all began with his purchase of a computer at the age of 13. When he realized the stark difference in price for the same product in and outside of the New York area, Ginzberg realized, “You can source something and sell it someplace else and make a nice spread between what you bought it for and what you can sell it for.” This was his first, real encounter with business. This small success whet his appetite for future ventures. “There’s plenty of opportunity out there,” explains Ginzberg, whose hustle has landed him press in major outlets like CNN and National Geographic as well as being named one of INC magazine’s top 10 entrepreneurs of the year in 2005.
While the Hasidic community is generally very cautious about internet usage, Rabbi Ginzberg believes there is a balance that can be struck, “The internet means I can be a Hasidic boy in yeshiva full time who on the side can do something that’s very profitable…which led me ultimately to understanding that the internet can be used to sell services as well as products.” Still, he says, we must guard ourselves. “It’s about being aware of the very dark other side of the internet and staying as far away from that as possible. As Hasidic Jews we want to essentially protect ourselves, which a filter helps us do.” While being cautious, Rabbi Ginzberg taught himself everything about credit scoring online, which morphed into a greater understanding of business credit as well.
“One of my claims to fame is that I spoke for Google and the Jewish National Fund,” he relays. Another instance of great success was after Ginzberg created a group of computer icons and shared them on a website where others could share new ideas and software with each other. Soon after that, many notable investors and companies around the world flocked to his doorstep with offers and checks. He says, “People wait for somebody to come and sort of crown them, that they now have permission to do something, and that’s just a restriction people have in their head that doesn’t really exist.”
This notion of not needing anyone’s permission to try something new has helped him push the boundaries career-wise and later publish a collection of his written works and advice revolving around credit called Business Credit Secrets. He eventually became an advisor, not only for credit, but for the business industry as a whole as well as a columnist in the Jerusalem Post. Ginzberg strongly believes that “once you know you have the expertise, it’s about having the guts, having the knowledge in how to get out there and make that much bigger and make that something that people are helped by and know about.”
One of his goals is to break down the stereotype of an Orthodox, Hasidic Jew since “we’re like the Amish in a certain way, except that we live next door.” He sometimes is stopped by security, suspicious of him, on the way into an event or conference. The title “rabbi” he attaches to his name is solely because “it helps people know in advance, you know, what I probably look like.” It’s important for him to connect with his clients ahead of time, whether it be with a picture or phone call; this facilitates smooth and effective meetings. Although Rabbi Ginzberg looks different, he’s confident that “While I have a harder time getting in the door, once you’ve met with fifty people, which one are you going to remember?” The one who helped you succeed, no matter what he looks like.