Los Angeles, CA
In a landmark article in the Harvard Business Review in 2006, the authors, Herbert Greenberg and David Mayer, outline and analyze the essential elements that make a successful salesman: Empathy and Ego Drive. They conclude that those lacking either should look for employment in another field. Those who are weak in one and strong in the other might have some success, but, ultimately, won’t be very successful. However, those who are strong in both elements can become great successes. They compare the salesman with weak empathy for his client, or weak drive to close a deal, to the antiaircraft guns in World War II, the ack-ack. The idea was to fire a great deal of projectiles in the vicinity of an airplane with the hope that you’ll hit something. So too, this salesman will make some sales. But the salesman who has strong empathy for his customers and also a strong ego drive to close deals is like a heat-seeking missile. It rarely misses. Yona is a heat-seeking missile.
His background is a bit unusual. His father is a freelance musician from Brazil who moved to the States as an adult. He has played in bands for the Latin Grammy awards, has written music for movies and plays live gigs. His mother is a graphic designer from LA. He has two sisters, the older one in university and a younger one in elementary school.
The family was very secular. While his maternal grandfather was alive they celebrated a very secularized Passover Seder and lit Chanukah candles. After he died five years ago they stopped celebrating any Jewish events.
While still in public high school in the Valley, Yona got a job in a mall kiosk selling Tens units, which are small devices that send tiny electrical impulses into muscles, advertised to relieve pain. He was very good at it, excelling in both empathy with potential customers and eager to close each sale. But, because of the inflated prices that were charged and the “quackish” nature of the product, he didn’t feel comfortable about continuing.
After high school he became involved in computer supplies and phone sales. Again, he was very successful. He then moved into the more “respectable” field of insurance sales. He became a licensed insurance agent and investment planner. Again, success followed Yona in that career as well.
His next job was as a loan officer for a financial institution, placing high interest loans with risky small businesses. He was extremely successful in that job as well. By the ripe old age of 23 he had found the success he had been looking for. He had a home, a car and all the electronic devices he desired. But with all that success he felt empty; his achievements meaningless. He especially felt very disconnected from spirituality. He had always believed that there was
These feelings caused him to lose some of his drive to succeed, and he stopped working as hard as he had been. Among his friends were a number of young men who had grown up in religious homes, but went off the derech. They suggested that Yona contact Rabbi Yonason Quinn of an organization in LA called “Jewish Routes”. Rabbi Quinn was the first religious Jew whom Yona had ever met, and Yona was impressed with the rabbi’s intelligence and sincerity. He invited Yona to come to a shiur that he was teaching in “Derech Hashem”.
“I was blown away,” Yona told me. “How could people know so much about spirituality? I also wanted to know.” Jewish Routes maintains a “Yeshiva House” in the Pico-Robertson area of LA, the heart of LA’s Jewish community. Yona continued: After staying in the Yeshiva House for a few months I asked Rabbi Quinn, “You invite me to a shiur, you give me great food and set me up with a place to live. Why are you doing all of this for me?” “Because you’re Jewish” was his answer. “I felt a spark set off inside me.”
After committing himself to keeping Shabbat and mitzvahs, Yona decided it was time to move back into the workforce. He got a job in Orange County in the equipment leasing business. He felt good about this job as it was an honest business, with reputable and stable customers. Again he was very successful. But, as he says, “Almost immediately I felt a hole.” He was now out of the Jewish neighborhood. Although he spent his Shabbat with Chabad, he felt he was slacking off religiously.
He asked himself: “What’s the point of being on this earth if my only goal is money? And once I have it, why live? I realized that the real goal in life is closeness to Hashem.”
Early this past summer, Rabbi Quinn called Yona about a program called “Swissreal”. Young Jews from the US go touring in Switzerland and England, and finally to Israel where they learn in the Ohr Somayach JLE program.
“I heard my first Gemara class at Ohr Somayach, and I knew that this is what I was looking for.” After six months in Ohr Somayach, Yona says about his experience, “This is the best decision I ever made. The journey is just beginning.”