How One Orthodox Jewish Entrepreneur’s Pivot Grew His Business During Covid

When Covid brought his video business to a standstill last spring, Orthodox Jewish cinematographer Elie Gabor (Jew in the City’s director of photography) tapped into his inner-Yosef (Joseph). As in, “The Yosef,” the one we’re currently reading about in the weekly parsha.

“All of a sudden, all my shoots started dropping like flies,” Elie recalls. For the first time, in a long time, I found myself without work in front of me.”

Just like Yosef, Elie and businesses everywhere, for that matter, faced a challenge beyond their control. But even more interesting and encouraging, just like Yosef, many businesses have found a way to succeed, not in spite of those challenges, but because of those challenges.

Consider an article in this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal, which was headlined: For Big Business, a Terrible, Horrible, Challenging, Upending and Surprisingly Good Year. The article listed companies like Neiman Marcus, United Airlines, Toll Brothers and more, all of whom started doing things they never thought possible before the pandemic, things that will make their businesses stronger than they were before.

Let’s add Elie to that list.

“What am I going to do to get more business,” he asked himself at the onset of the pandemic. “I was thinking about my clients, putting myself in their shoes, how to pivot, what to offer and what would be valuable to them.”

Here’s what he came up with:

  • First, he turned his home garage into a Covid-safe, fully-sanitized studio with a filtrated air system and a virtual client monitor. That virtual monitor meant that clients could watch the video shoot from their very own home.
  • Then, he built a live-streaming business for virtual dinners and commencements.
  • More recently, he invested in 360-degree virtual reality equipment, which he says is perfect for ‘open house season.’ Schools can offer virtual tours without the need for prospective students to be there in person.

Such innovative thinking not only helped Elie make it though Covid, it took his business to a new level that will continue to pay off well after the pandemic.

“The takeaway is to never get too comfortable,” Elie says. You always need to innovate, have a creative mindset and never stop learning.”

Which brings us back to Yosef, the Jewish poster child of turning setbacks into steps forward.

Why didn’t Yosef’s brothers recognize him when they met in Egypt so many years later? That’s a question Rabbi Moshe Gewirtz posed in his parsha class this week. “Perhaps he wasn’t the same Yosef they left in a pit all those years prior,” Rabbi Gewirtz suggests. “But with all those challenges Yosef faced, that is how he grew into the man who could now lead Egypt.”

The Rabbi also points to Yosef’s ability to offer unsolicited advice to the King. “It’s fair to say most people who are released from prison wouldn’t offer advice. Their sense of self-esteem and conviction is shattered,” the Rabbi said. “It’s similar to people who found their livelihood threatened during the pandemic. It’s a very human thing to question your self-worth and what you have to offer. Yet from Yosef’s perspective, he had clarity and a strong enough sense of confidence to suggest a game plan to the King. He knew his skill set.”

The end result was that Yosef saved Egypt and much of the world.

Elie’s success story is less dramatic, but the lessons are the same.

“There are certain things you can’t control,” Elie says. “Don’t sell yourself short. Do everything in your God-given ability [to succeed].”

Both Elie and the Rabbi are quick to point out that many people are still struggling and the road to recovery will be different for everyone.

“Not everyone can pivot like this,” Elie says. “I was fortunate.”

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