On­go­ing love af­fair – with Zion


The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - VETERANS - • ABIGAIL KLEIN LEICHMAN

Shari Wright ar­rived in Is­rael as an ide­al­is­tic 18-year-old in 1982. Mar­ried to Baruch Pilo since 1997 and the mother of a 15-year-old daugh­ter, she has re­tained her Zion­ist fer­vor and keeps it well-stoked by help­ing hun­dreds of peo­ple es­tab­lish star­tups through her con­sul­tancy, Shar-i (“shar-ing i-nfor­ma­tion is my pas­sion”), and through her work at MATI Jerusalem Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter.

The bud­ding fit­ness train­ers, chefs, psy­chol­o­gists, pho­tog­ra­phers, makeup artists, tour guides, cloth­ing de­sign­ers, artists, ther­a­pists, in­te­rior de­sign­ers and many oth­ers she’s trained in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing strate­gies are na­tives and new­com­ers from sec­u­lar and reli­gious back­grounds. But she has a spe­cial affin­ity for im­mi­grants be­cause she un­der­stands their unique chal­lenges.

“Building a busi­ness from scratch, with­out the backup of fam­ily and friends, and suc­ceed­ing in reach­ing prof­itabil­ity in the Is­raeli econ­omy is not a sim­ple busi­ness at all,” she says. “At the same time, they are also try­ing to suc­cess­fully in­te­grate into Is­raeli so­ci­ety.”

Her own in­te­gra­tion was about as smooth as it gets, thanks to a strong Zion­ist up­bring­ing and a good work­ing knowl­edge of He­brew when she ar­rived. “I was brought up to know that I should be here,” Wright-Pilo says. It wasn’t just her years at Hamil­ton He­brew Academy and at Cana­dian Young Ju­daea sum­mer camps that in­stilled this feel­ing. She was in­spired by her grand­par­ents, her mother and es­pe­cially her father.

Fresh out of serv­ing in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force dur­ing World War II, David Isadore Wright had sailed to Pales­tine as a vol­un­teer in 1948 to lend his ex­per­tise in the con­trol tower of Sde Dov air­field for the nascent Is­raeli Air Force. Al­though he went back to Canada shortly af­ter the War of In­de­pen­dence, Is­rael re­mained front and cen­ter in his com­mu­nal and char­i­ta­ble en­deav­ors.

“My par­ents would hire babysit­ters so they could vol­un­teer for Hadas­sah and B’nai B’rith and the shul,” Wright-Pilo re­calls.

She got her first taste of Is­rael on a gap-year pro­gram in 1981. “I went to Ma­chon L’Madrichei Chutz La’aretz [In­sti­tute for Over­seas Lead­ers] in Jerusalem with 120 kids from all over the world. We stud­ied for six months in Jerusalem and then spent six months on a kib­butz or moshav. I was on Kib­butz Nitzanim and I fell in love with be­ing in Is­rael. It was a naïve love but a true love. I knew I had to come back.”

Nine months later, she was back at the kib­butz as an Is­raeli citizen. Af­ter study­ing at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­sity and work­ing at sev­eral jobs, she landed a po­si­tion as man­ager of Cas­tro’s flag­ship store in Ayalon Mall. She worked there hap­pily for seven years and dab­bled in sell­ing di­a­monds abroad.

In those days, most pur­chases at the cloth­ing store were cash trans­ac­tions. There­fore, Cas­tro hired a se­cu­rity guard, and the guard’s em­ployer – Baruch Pilo – came around oc­ca­sion­ally to check on him. One day in 1996 he in­vited Wright to have cof­fee with him.

They wed in Au­gust 1997, when both were 33. They were among the first res­i­dents of the brand-new city of Modi’in, where their mar­riage cer­tifi­cate is num­bered 001.

The Pi­los dreamed of hav­ing sev­eral chil­dren, but for six years they strug­gled with in­fer­til­ity and fi­nally wel­comed their mir­a­cle baby, MJ.

Among her other tal­ents, she is a de­voted gym­nast and ju­nior coach. “I come from an ath­letic and fan-based house­hold,” says Wright-Pilo, who ice-skated from the age of three.

Be­fore the 2012 Sum­mer Olympics, she chan­neled her pas­sions for sports and Is­rael into a Face­book page called Fol­low Team Is­rael. She and co­founder David Wise­man of Jerusalem post news about any and all Is­raeli sport­ing en­deav­ors, whether it’s surf­ing or weightlift­ing, judo or net­ball, Spe­cial Olympics or cham­pi­onship tour­na­ments.

“We’re the only ones who re­port in English on Is­raeli ath­let­ics. We have 16,000 fol­low­ers and close to 2 mil­lion video views. We had a reach of 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple dur­ing the 2018 [Win­ter] Olympics,” she says proudly.

In 2010, Wright-Pilo de­cided to par­lay her sales and mar­ket­ing ex­per­tise into help­ing small busi­nesses and star­tups cre­ate dig­i­tal-mar­ket­ing and so­cial-me­dia strate­gies. Two years later, she be­came a con­sul­tant and lec­turer at MATI Jerusalem, which she calls “a well-oiled ma­chine do­ing fan­tas­tic work.”

For the past six years, she’s taught work­shops and men­tored more than 300 new im­mi­grants one on one. And for the past 11 years she has recorded on­line mas­ter classes in dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing with an Amer­i­can part­ner she met on­line through Women Who Launch.

To stay on top of the con­stantly evolv­ing tech­nol­ogy in her field, Wright-Pilo rises each week­day at 5:30 to read the trade pub­li­ca­tions and up­date her lec­tures ac­cord­ingly.

One of her tips to clients is to share their ex­per­tise vol­un­tar­ily. “If you’re a pri­vate chef, share your recipes on so­cial me­dia. If you give away your knowl­edge and help oth­ers, it comes back to you. I be­lieve in that. When small busi­nesses help their com­mu­ni­ties and build re­la­tion­ships, their busi­nesses will grow.”

Last June, she in­vited 100 new im­mi­grant clients she’d been work­ing with to a year-end cel­e­bra­tion at her home. More than 50 came – men and women of all ages, from across the po­lit­i­cal and reli­gious spec­trum, from a wide range of coun­tries of origin (Aus­tralia, The Nether­lands, the United States, France, Eng­land and Canada) and from across Is­rael. Each brought a raf­fle prize of a ser­vice or prod­uct re­lated to his or her busi­ness.

“I al­ways say that when two busi­ness own­ers meet, magic hap­pens,” she says.

Wright-Pilo is com­fort­able teach­ing her pro­tégés in English or He­brew. Af­ter mak­ing aliyah, she honed her He­brew by speak­ing with her boyfriend on the kib­butz. “I made mis­takes and I still make mis­takes; my daugh­ter cor­rects me. Now, 80% of the work I do is in English.”

Her love af­fair with Is­rael con­tin­ues, de­spite be­ing way past the 1981 naïve stage. She ap­pre­ci­ates the phys­i­cal beauty and the ge­o­graphic and cli­matic di­ver­sity (“You can go snow ski­ing in the morn­ing and water ski­ing at night”) and she ap­pre­ci­ates the peo­ple who pop­u­late this beau­ti­ful land.

Wright-Pilo muses, “I think the com­par­i­son to the tz­abar – prickly on the out­side, warm and sweet on the in­side – is still true to­day.” ■


Shari Wright-Pilo at home.

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