Ongoing love affair – with Zion
SHARI WRIGHT-PILO, 55 FROM HAMILTON, ONTARIO TO MODI’IN, 1982
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.