A proactive approach
Though Ben Greenberg, his wife Sharon Weiss-Greenberg, and their two children moved to Israel only a short time ago, the couple was fortunate enough to find employment quickly. After working for a decade as a rabbi in the USA, Greenberg had the foresight to hone his computer skills and switch careers shortly before aliyah. The programming course he completed enabled him to merge his social skills with technology.
“My previous work as a rabbi – community building, teaching and public speaking – is an integral part of my work at Vonage as a developer advocate,” he explains. “My work in developer relations brings together the teaching and community building with a technical skill set.”
Shortly after arrival here, Greenberg was hired by Nexmo, a British subsidiary of Vonage, to work on the latter’s API (Application Programming Interface) platform. In simpler language, Greenberg is tasked with “enabling software across the Web to communicate, whether it’s texting your Uber driver or talking to the pizza delivery chatbot on Facebook.” He trains engineering teams on various communication tools.
“I create tutorials, documentation and software libraries to help their productivity. I also speak at programming conferences throughout the world. I was in Bangkok recently, where we sponsored the first conference for the Ruby programming language in Thailand, and I will be in San Francisco in November speaking at the annual GitHub (a subsidiary of Microsoft) conference, GitHub Universe.”
BORN IN San Diego, Greenberg first attended a local Jewish day school in California, followed by public high school. A self-confessed “computer nerd,” he graduated very early at the end of ninth grade, then worked in computer security until college age. After a first degree in psychology in New York, four years of further study qualified him as a community rabbi.
Meanwhile, Greenberg met and married Sharon Weiss, a major in education and Jewish studies who completed her doctorate at New York University (NYU). Weiss first lived in Cleveland, Ohio, then Atlanta, Georgia and attended high school in Minneapolis. By the time she made aliyah, she had lived in nine different US cities. A gifted student, she attended the University of Minnesota at 15 and Stern College, New York from age 16.
Their oldest son, now eight, was born in Boston while Ben and Sharon were busy encouraging and educating the Jewish student body at Harvard University Hillel. They describe those three years as “one of the most profound blessings in our lives and a true privilege. People in their college years are open to new ideas and challenging existing paradigms.”
Following that, Greenberg became rabbi of an Orthodox congregation in Denver, Colorado, an intensive full-time position. Their youngest son, now five, was born there. Whenever possible, the family got outdoors to enjoy their surroundings. “The non-ski season is a great time to explore the Rockies,” they comment. “We used those times to hike around Vail and Aspen, and see the spectacular and breathtaking sights of Colorado.”
The Greenbergs also had a brief stint in Chicago, where Ben worked for an NGO that promoted encounters between Jews, Muslims and other minorities. Finally, they returned to New York, where Ben worked for the UJA and directed adult education for the Central Synagogue, a large Reform congregation.
Sharon assumed varied community functions and feminist roles over the years, finding her mission in halachic leadership for women “in the intersection of Orthodoxy and women’s empowerment.” In New York, she was named by The Jewish Week as a person to watch – a 36 under 36 honoree – and honored by The Forward as a Forward 50 Jew of Influence. Weiss describes her work as “highlighting problem areas in Orthodox communities as well as viable solutions, with the intention of bringing change.” Pressing issues include “the treatment and prevention of abuse, the aguna crisis, the erasure of women
from publications, the lack of leadership roles for women in Jewish communities and the need to allow for healthy disagreement when we think or interpret law differently.” Since arriving in Israel, she works for Kolech, an Orthodox feminist organization, and as director of donor relations for RAISE Nonprofit Advisors.
AFTER A decade of community work, Ben decided to retrain so they could move to Israel and support their family in a viable way.
“I always loved computers and technology,” he says, “so I decided to enroll in a course to upgrade my knowledge of computer programming. Following that, I worked in hi-tech for a year in New York to gain experience.”
So far they have adjusted well, finding Modiin to be “a supportive and welcoming community with excellent resources for new olim, both in the synagogues and in the schools,” though “definitely language was a barrier.”
“We had moved several times in the States, so we’re used to moving and adjusting to bureaucracy,” Ben says, praising Modiin’s Interior Ministry office as friendly and helpful.
Sharon says, “Moving to Israel has improved our quality of life. The work-life balance is easier to maintain here.” Their children are also upbeat.
“They love their lives here. They now enjoy correcting our spoken Hebrew when we are out and about!”
The Greenbergs advise prospective olim, “There is only so much planning one can accomplish from abroad. At some point, you just need to take the plunge and move.”
Secondly, they suggest “doing job market research, and be prepared to realign your skill set with the market here.”
In conclusion, “If you are open to adjusting your profession, then doing so in a way that makes you more successful in Israel will enable you to have a more successful immigration.”
FROM NEW YORK TO MODI’IN, 2018 RABBI BEN GREENBERG AND DR. SHARON WEISS-GREENBERG, BOTH 36