Need marketing tips? Ask the rabbi

Jerusalem’s Issamar Ginzberg is a successful business strategist, marketing consultant and speaker who proves you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Rabbi Issamar Ginzberg doesn’t claim to be a miracle-worker. He does not dispense blessings or amulets.

The 34-year-old business strategist, marketing consultant, financial columnist and motivational speaker – and very visible Hasidic Jew — does, however, see a divine hand guiding his success. His Jerusalem- and New York-based consultancy is named It’s All From Above.

“I can trace anything I’ve accomplished to other things I’ve done that weren’t moneymakers, and it all leads back to shamayim [heaven],” he says.

His lecture at Google Tel Aviv on leveraging social media? His marketing workshop at Tel Aviv University? Both came out of connections from a lecture to members of the Israel Translators Association. His gig with the Jewish National Fund? That resulted from his work for communications consultant Gil Peretz, author of Obama’s Secrets.

Ginzberg has clients in Egypt, Dubai, Italy, Japan, Australia and the Caribbean. He was voted one of Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2005. He’s advised politicians, corporate executives, nonprofits, startups and even a Hollywood movie studio.

“What people pay me for is my understanding of how to apply principles of psychology in business, marketing and social media,” Ginzberg tells ISRAEL21c.

“Why can I teach someone how to make money on social media, which usually doesn’t lead to sales? I understand how to use it in a profitable way. I don’t mean to say I have superhuman powers or I’m psychic. It’s just that I understand what works, why it works and how to make it work.”

Baked beans

He not only has no psychic powers; he also has no secular schooling.

Growing up in Brooklyn, he was educated in a Hasidic yeshiva and married at age 20. Shortly afterward, he went online to learn about business credit and became a guru on the topic. Under a pen name, he published an e-book, Business Credit Secrets. It sold well and led to some paying clients.

“I backed into what I do — giving people advice on building credit, and then on marketing — and morphed into what I’m doing now,” he says.

Now a Jerusalem Post columnist, Ginzberg is co-writing a book for a mainstream publisher under his real name.

The rabbi’s entrepreneurial streak was evident as early as third grade, when he bought Boston baked beans at two for a nickel and sold them for 15 cents apiece. Over the years, he sold his yeshiva pals doughnuts, bagels, boxes of cereal, cans of soda.

As a preteen, he came across a source of $199 used 386 computers. He bought some and resold each for $300. “My father said, ‘If you’re buying a bunch, ask for a discount,’ so I got them for $175 apiece and kept selling them locally for $300. That made me realize the power of classified ads,” says Ginzberg.

He was among the first to capitalize on the concept of custom icons, creating a collection of 50 for free download through shareware. His product was featured on MIT’s hyper-archive disk, and he understood that offering a choice of icons for a small fee would look more professional and make him a few bucks.

This experience taught him a critical lesson: “When you dangle a carrot, it makes a huge difference in conversions.”

The summer he was 15, Ginzberg had his older brother schlepping to camp to bring him bagsful of checks accumulating in the mailbox at home.

Novelty draws customers

“As long as you know what you’re doing, you don’t need credentials,” he says. “People only want to make sure you’re not a scam artist, and you can prove that with testimonials and facts on the ground. If you have the goods, people will buy from you.”

At a cousin’s bar mitzvah, young Ginzberg met someone who helped companies raise money. That person introduced him to a firm that hired him for a consulting job, which led to other consulting deals with small companies.

By the time he was 20, Ginzberg was already an established businessman.

In 2007, he and his wife and four-year-old son came to Israel for the High Holiday season “to recalibrate” after Ginzberg’s sister passed away. Essentially, they never returned. They now live in Jerusalem’s Hasidic Kiryat Sanz neighborhood with their four children. Ginzberg devotes his mornings to Talmud study and works American hours, traveling abroad frequently to clients and speaking engagements.

Four years ago, he finished a special program at Jerusalem’s Ohr Somayach Education Center granting him rabbinic ordination, a teaching certificate and a bachelor’s degree. He is also a certified mohel (circumciser) and speaks English, Hebrew and Yiddish as well as a smattering of Hungarian and Russian.

“Living here gives me the blessing of living my life the way I want to, and working on my own schedule,” he says. “Being here has blessed me in many ways.”

Perhaps unexpectedly, his out-of-towner status has been good for business.

“People always assume the person who lives next door isn’t an expert at what he does. To people in New York I’m Israeli, and to people in Tel Aviv I’m a New Yorker. The disconnect is the novelty that makes them interested in contacting me.”

You could also say the novelty is getting business advice from a man in Hasidic garb.

For more information, see www.issamar.com.

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About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.