The economic downturn of 2008 affected almost everyone. The stress, the uncertainty, and for many, the loss of their livelihood, all remain as vivid memories. But for some, there was also a chance to follow a new direction, to move to a new field, even to build something new from the ground up.
Take Rabbi Mordechai Kruger, 59, of Far Rockaway; a lifelong Jewish educator, a father and grandfather, a committed member of the Orthodox community and someone who believes in the phrase Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh. That year led him towards a new career: He saw unmet needs in the community and started an organization that continues to grow today.
Ordained at Ner Israel Rabbinical College and with a Master’s degree from the University of Memphis in Educational Psychology, Kruger had spent decades as an educator in Jewish schools and even did a stint as a math teacher in a New York City middle school. He was looking for a new opportunity when the downturn hit. Calling on his years of volunteer work in the Jewish community, he became a caseworker in the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty’s Connect to Care program, an effort to reach out to people struck by the downturn.
It was there that Kruger found that the most pressing problem facing middle class workers was how to find a new job in a changing economy. He also found that the resources available to help these people often didn’t work, and many high-quality, experienced workers were left frustrated and hopeless. When Connect to Care wound down and it was time for him to find his next job, the problems those workers faced remained in his mind. But what could he do about it?
“I have always been someone connected to and committed to my community,” said Kruger. “Whatever path was next, I knew I wanted to benefit the Jewish world.” So he set out to learn all he could about career change and job search, and reached the conclusion that if he wanted to really make a difference, he would have to start something new.
But as someone who had never run his own business, Kruger wasn’t sure where to start. Through the OU Job Board, he learned about a course for career-changing entrepreneurs offered by the Hebrew Free Loan Society (HFLS). No business experience needed and almost no cost. Bashert? Perhaps. He immediately enrolled.
HFLS’s course, “Encore Entrepreneurs,” uses the Kauffman FastTrac® NewVenturetm Entrepreneurship Program, which positions people for success by teaching the skills needed to create, manage, and grow successful businesses.
The comprehensive and highly interactive course provides guidance and support in a group-oriented environment for career changers over age 50. This year’s course, sponsored by UJA-Federation, begins December 2 and runs for 12 weeks, ending March 2 (with a two week break at the end of December).
“People over age 50 are the strongest demographic for entrepreneurship, and for them, this course is invaluable,” said Kruger. “It is an excellent resource for anyone who feels they have reached a point of expertise in their career and want to stretch themselves to start their own business.”
Program participants work with expert instructors and with each other to align their business concept with real market opportunities; learn how to set realistic financial goals for their business; find their target market and clarify their competitive advantage; identify potential sources of funding for their business; and learn the ins and outs of social media and e-commerce marketing.
“Even if you don’t know what you might do, having the opportunity to explore the mechanics of a new business is of value,” said Kruger. “The course really stimulates your thinking.”
Since taking the course in 2012, Rabbi Kruger has started his own non-profit organization, “Pathways to Parnassa,” offering career choice and job search coaching, resume writing, interview preparation, and career development guidance to people at all stages of their career arc, from high school students through senior executives. He also coaches aspiring entrepreneurs, using the skills he learned in the course.
Encore Entrepreneurs is taught by two skilled facilitators who are each experienced entrepreneurs and sought-after consultants. Each session includes presentations and break-out groups with exercises, assignments and business plans. Guest speakers come in throughout the course, offering insights on many aspects of starting and managing a business.
“The course leaders are fabulous,” said Kruger. “Most are professional consultants who work for some of the biggest name companies in the world and they are open to acting as your personal resource for as long as you need them.”
With three years under his belt, Kruger’s clients have been hired by prestigious firms, small businesses, and organizations, while others have started their own successful businesses.
According to Rabbi Kruger, “When starting a business, you need to focus obsessively on the needs of your customer. Through what I learned in the course, I developed tools to meet the needs of Jewish job searchers. My original intent was to focus on older job seekers, but the same tools can be used by anyone looking for a job at any point in their career.”
To learn more about or sign up for Encore Entrepreneurs, visit www.hfls.org/encoreentrepreneurs or call Tiffany Goldberg at 212-687-0188 ext. 212.
To read one of Rabbi Kruger’s articles click here.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.