On the eve of launching her newest business venture—the fashion brand Avec Les Filles—designer Joyce Azria addressed more than 200 Jewish women business owners and offered them words of chizuk (strength), while sharing tidbits of her life as an Orthodox Jewish mother.
“Ninety-nine percent of my day I live in an alternate universe,” aka the fashion industry, she said, “but my focus is to make a Kiddush Hashem. Fashion is my vehicle to connect to people.”
Azria was one of the keynote speakers at the fourth annual business conference sponsored by the JWE, Jewish Women Entrepreneurs, held Feb. 12 in an office building near the Metropark Train Station in Iselin, New Jersey. Other speakers included Toby Moskovits, founder/CEO of Heritage Equity Partners; sisters Shelby Zitelman and Amy Zitelman, co-owners with their sister Jackie Zitelman, of Soom Foods; and Stacy Robin, founder of the Degania Group.
Since the first JWE conference in 2013, “the demand has only grown; we are flooded,” said JWE founder Chaya Appel-Fishman. “We are seeing a lot of women break into male-dominated fields, even in the Jewish community. Women are making headway in real estate, technology. It’s really cool.”
Participants represented a large cross-section of religious, geographic and age demographics. Some came from nearby New Brunswick, West Orange, Lakewood and Marlboro, while others trekked in from Baltimore, Cleveland and Fort Lauderdale. The New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens were also well represented at the event. Some of the business owners have attended since the first conference; for others the gathering was the first stepping stone to launching their own businesses.
Friends Roberta Klafter and Debra Korman, both of Englewood, were impressed by the breadth of knowledge the speakers had and their willingness to share what they’ve learned with others.
“It’s really an entrepreneurial spirit,” said Korman. “They are trying to foster the idea that you can do it. Everyone is interested in what you are doing and spends time talking with you and it doesn’t always work that way.”
Gayle Gruenberg of Westwood attended the event in the hope of meeting new contacts and establishing business relationships that complement her own. “I am learning a whole lot more than I anticipated,” she said, adding “I am thoroughly enjoying this experience.”
Throughout the day, speakers offered tidbits on how to network, how to use digital marketing through a social media presence and how to persevere through challenges.
Zahava Perlstein of Lakewood came for the speakers and the camaraderie.
“I feel like I’m my own little island,” said Perlstein, who works as a debt broker at Skylien Capital Group. “I work in a male-dominated field and it’s nice to be surrounded by women in business whether they are in my field or not.”
While many got to meet new faces throughout the day, the real work was just beginning. Attendees were encouraged to follow up with the people they met that day, join (or start) a local chapter group in their community and reach out to others who may benefit from the JWE’s work.
“Whatever we create here today is the first step. Whatever connections we make today, whatever learning we make today will start a momentum that will keep us going and guide us to move through the year,” suggested speaker Roizy Green, founder of The Peak Experience coaching service in Lakewood.
“Whatever we create here today is the first step. Whatever connections we make today, whatever learning we do today will start a momentum that will keep us going and guide us through the year,” suggested speaker Roizy Green, founder of The Peak Experience coaching service in Lakewood.
As North Jersey Chapter leader Sara Younger said, “I’ve seen a lot of people take the connections they made at the JWE to help enable them to take their business to the next level.”
Younger, who owns Playland Parties, went on to explain that “there is a connection that’s made when women share” their thoughts, dreams and experiences. “That’s what unites us. No matter what our background or our business, there is a [common] language that women speak.”
Closing out the program was Ariela Balk, of Ariela & Associates, a resident of Englewood and a lead sponsor of the conference. Her topic was “Turn Inspiration Into Action.”
Noting that women are amazing multi-taskers, Balk suggested that may be the wrong approach in business. “You need to be in the moment, to be present,” she said, adding “Know your numbers and own your numbers; they are the key to your business.”
Balk continued, “Keep leaning on each other. Ask questions, and continue to self-examine as you grow your business.”
And when a great opportunity presents itself, if you can’t do it “with excellence,” turn it down. As Balk advised, “There will always be another opportunity. Do as much as you can, and do it with excellence.”
By Faygie Holt