Jewish History Month

RealWork Labs Celebrates
Jewish Heritage Month

May is Jewish Heritage Month, and at RealWork Labs, we’re proud to celebrate the rich culture and contributions of Jewish Americans. We honor the important role they have played in shaping our society and recognize the many achievements and successes of Jewish individuals throughout history.

This month, we’re shining a spotlight on members of our team who identify as Jewish and sharing their stories and experiences with you. From their favorite Jewish foods and traditions to the impact their heritage has had on their lives and careers, we hope you’ll enjoy learning more about our diverse and talented team.

What is your connection to Jewish heritage, and how has it impacted your life?

“I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in NJ. Both of my parents were children of Holocaust survivors. We observed kosher dietary laws, observed the Sabbath, and embraced the complete religious lifestyle. However, as I left home to attend college in NY, I found it overwhelming, and I gradually distanced myself from those traditions. I embarked on a rebellious journey, indulging in forbidden bacon cheeseburgers and later falling in love with an ex-Catholic girl I met in Austin, where I now reside. Eventually, she became my wife.

In 2002, when I informed my parents of our engagement, it marked our last conversation. As expected, they immediately disowned me, mirroring a scene reminiscent of “The Jazz Singer” (the Neil Diamond version). Unfortunately, our story did not have a bittersweet resolution or ending, and, unlike the protagonist, I am not a talented singer either.”

“I was born in the communist Soviet Union, where it was illegal to “be Jewish” and to practice religion. At the time, they had started letting the Jews out for “resettlement” to Israel, but it was a double-edged sword. Applying for the program meant claiming your Judaism and having your name publicly posted as a traitor and a “Zionist.”  This was very dangerous in a time of rising antisemitism and communist crackdown. My grandfather, a WWII war hero, was publicly stripped of his medals. 

My sister, seven years old at the time, was publicly humiliated in a school assembly where they called all of the other kids’ names, one by one, to receive their young communist pins and left her standing alone under a spotlight on the other side of the stage. She got jumped after the assembly by her classmates, and the teacher laughed as she fought off six boys calling her a dirty Jew. And I almost died of sepsis after being turned away at two local hospitals until my grandfather was able to bribe a doctor to treat me – I was 1 yr old. We were accepted by the US when I was 4, became citizens when I was 10, and the rest is history.”

“My connection to my Jewish heritage has played a significant role in shaping my identity and life experiences. Growing up as a first-generation American in a household where my father is from Iran and my mother is from Argentina, I have been exposed to a rich tapestry of Jewish traditions and customs from both Sephardic and Ashkenazi backgrounds.”

What are some of your favorite traditions associated with your Jewish heritage?

“Well, it’s not exactly a tradition, but rather an anti-tradition. One aspect of Judaism that I appreciate is the absence of a culture or tradition of proselytizing. There is no fervent mission to convert people to Judaism. In fact, converting to Judaism is known to be challenging. If someone expresses interest in conversion, they are often discouraged and informed about the significant commitment and numerous rules involved. 

Essentially, they are politely told that it may not be suitable for them. Only when someone persistently demonstrates genuine dedication and seriousness will the process commence, which typically entails extensive study and education.”

“I actually have two favorite traditions – The first is lighting candles on Shabbat (the sabbath.) Every Friday at sundown, Jewish women around the world light candles and pray together. It’s a weekly celebration of the concept of power in numbers, light conquering darkness, and good over evil. Alone, each woman is just one woman against the world, but together we have the power to light up the world and create a massive impact. 

The second is the power of a “Mitzvah.” The literal meaning of the word mitzvah in Hebrew is commandment, but in this sense, it’s more of a “good deed.” Not a positive thought or a wish but a conscious act of kindness and empathy. This is why I love working at RealWork Labs – I approach most calls with small business owners from this framework. I have the benefit of seeing the results other customers are experiencing, and I know that sharing this information is a mitzvah – even if I have to push someone to listen. I know that a lot of small home services businesses have done other things in the past that didn’t work, cost a lot of money, and caused a lot of grief. It’s natural to fear the unknown- but unless I can help them understand how we are different and put their fears aside, they’ll never get to experience it for themselves. Every call where I have to help small business owner overcome their fear is a mitzvah, and seeing them experience phenomenal results is my reward.”

“If you were to ask any Jew what the most important thing about Jewish culture is, they would say food. Food is at the center of every single Jewish holiday and tradition. My family has cherished recipes that have been passed down through generations. Some of my favorite dishes include matzo ball soup, challah bread, Argentinian favorites like empanadas and asado, and Persian Jewish delicacies like ghormeh sabzi and tahdig. These flavors and aromas not only satisfy my taste buds but also evoke a sense of cultural belonging and nostalgia. 

One of my greatest passions is cooking, which I have developed a deep love for through observing and learning from my grandparents and parents in the kitchen. As they prepared traditional Jewish dishes before major holidays, I found myself drawn to the art of culinary creation. The aromas, the flavors, and the joy of sharing meals together have inspired me to explore and experiment with not only Jewish recipes but cuisines from around the world, incorporating my own twists while honoring the time-honored techniques passed down through generations. Cooking has become an easy way for me to connect with my Jewish heritage preserving the traditions and flavors that hold such significance in my family’s cultural identity.”

Are there any special foods or dishes that are important in your family's Jewish culture?

“Important? Probably not, but delicious? Most definitely. I make a pretty mean Matza Ball Soup and a kick-ass challah, the braided sweet bread.”

In my family, food is an expression of love. Coming from a country where food shortages and limited health care were the norms (Soviet Union,) there are a lot of simple foods that are culturally significant, but none more than “Jewish Penicillin,” aka. chicken soup. This amazing cure-all is served on holidays, craved for comfort, and touted as the magic cure (along with a walk outside) for anything and just about everything that ails you.”

Can you share an important Jewish holiday or celebration that holds significance for you and your family?

“Even though I’m not actively practicing, I have come to appreciate the Passover Seder, a significant and symbolic meal commemorating the exodus from Egypt. It is a tradition-filled occasion that I have grown to enjoy. Typically, we host a Seder at our home, inviting my Jewish friends along with their non-Jewish spouses and all the children.”

“Holocaust Remembrance Day holds a profound significance for my family, particularly through the story of my maternal grandmother. She was a courageous Holocaust survivor who endured unimaginable hardships during World War II. Fleeing Poland early into the war, she embarked on a harrowing journey, seeking refuge and safety, eventually finding sanctuary in Bueno Aires, where she rebuilt her life and raised her family.

For our family, like many others, it is a time of reflection, commemoration, and a reaffirmation of our commitment to ensure that the atrocities of the past are never forgotten. When my grandmother was alive, we would listen to her firsthand accounts, allowing her experiences and those of millions of others to serve as a poignant reminder of the importance of tolerance, understanding, and the fight against injustice. As fewer and fewer survivors live on, it is important for us as Jewish people to recount the stories of those who no longer can.”

How has your Jewish heritage influenced your personal and/or professional goals and aspirations?

“I was basically raised by Holocaust survivors. My parents, both children of survivors, were busy working and trying to establish a life for our family here in the US. My grandparents and my sister (who thought she was going to be the next Golda Meyer) were mostly responsible for my care when I was little. Some of my earliest memories are of my grandfather’s bedtime stories. He was born on a Jewish shtetl (a Yiddish term for the small towns with predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish populations in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust) and was the youngest of 18 kids (that he knew of!!) The family had three pairs of boots. 

If you woke up early enough, you got to go to school in the boots. If you woke up late, you either had to go barefoot, or in the winter, cold and snow – stay home. As a result, my grandfather never learned to read. His bedtime stories were amazing! They were all true stories about how he grew up, how he and his brother broke the rules as kids, about the big wooden spoon his mother gave him so that he wouldn’t starve while having to fight off all of his sisters and brothers when dinner was served, and my favorite stories about how he “accidentally” became a war hero when he was trying to find and save his sisters and their kids.

Every story was both heartbreaking and uplifting. Each story was proof that he and my other grandparents somehow defied the odds, managed to survive unbelievable hardships, and continued to see the positive side of every situation. It taught me that no matter how dark the night may be, there is always light at the dawn of the new day. His stories gave me role models who stuck firmly to their beliefs under persecution and the threat of death. He and his stories are why I try to do good in everything I do – Why I feel the need to leave a positive impact on the world with my actions. He taught me that I live not just for myself but for all of those who came before me and those who died so that I could have a chance to live.”

My Jewish heritage (and, frankly, my immigrant parents) has greatly influenced my personal and professional goals. The emphasis on education and intellectual pursuits within Jewish tradition has instilled in me a drive for continuous learning and personal growth. Professionally, I strive to contribute positively to society, inspired by the values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and social justice that is deeply rooted in Jewish teachings.”

Have you faced any challenges or discrimination related to your Jewish heritage, and how have you overcome them?

Of course – there are ignorant people everywhere you look. Heck, you don’t even need to look. Some of them even think that I personally killed their God. How do you counteract that? I try to explain to them that I had nothing to do with that and that I wasn’t anywhere near Jerusalem in the year 33 AD; if they have a problem, they should talk to my uncle about it – he did it, not me. Besides, I’m way too busy controlling the media, banks, government, weather, space lasers, etc. – that’s a lot of work and responsibility – I don’t have much time after all of that for decide. “

“Unfortunately, like many others, I have faced challenges and encountered instances of discrimination related to my Jewish heritage. Anti-Semitism still exists today, and it is disheartening to witness. However, I believe in standing strong and resilient in the face of adversity. By educating others about Judaism and promoting understanding, we can overcome such challenges and foster a more inclusive society.”

Are there any Jewish organizations or charities that you support, and why are they important to you?

It’s not specifically a Jewish organization, but I strongly support the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors and exposes hate groups. It’s shocking how many and how close they are.”

My family came to the US with nothing more than the clothes on our backs, 6 people, 3 suitcases, and under $100. The Jewish United Fund helped us and other refugees like us with food, shelter, and a community of support to help us plant our feet. It wasn’t much, but the studio apartment they secured for us,  translation and help with paperwork and even our 1st introduction to an American grocery store was the bit of support that we needed to be able to plant our feet and start a real life here in the US. 

For this I am forever grateful and aim to pay them back for that support 100x in my lifetime because I know that what I donate to them will always be used to pass on that mitzvah to others. Their motto is “JUF amplifies our collective strength to make the world a better place — for everyone.” Please consider supporting this great philanthropic organization.”

I actively support various Jewish organizations and charities that work towards promoting Jewish culture, heritage, and social causes. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) are particularly important to me because they advocate for religious freedom and combat anti-Semitism, extremism, and all forms of hate regardless of ideology or party.

In today’s world, it is crucial to recognize and appreciate the importance of Jewish heritage. Jewish culture has made significant contributions in various fields, including art, science, literature, and philosophy. It is a vibrant array of traditions, values, and historical experiences that should be celebrated and respected. Embracing diversity and fostering interfaith dialogue can help create a more inclusive and tolerant world for all.”

What message would you like to share with others about Jewish heritage and its importance in today's world?

“With Anti-Semitism on the rise again around the world, I just want to remind people that a history forgotten is a history bound to repeat itself. Not just with Jews but with every race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., that has been discriminated against and made the “other.” I hope that regardless of our backgrounds, skin colors, religions, etc., we can all learn to stand up for each other if we see someone else being treated unfairly, discriminated against, or persecuted. 

At the end of the day, I believe we are all one race- the human race. We need to make sure that history is never forgotten, we need to seek to understand diverse perspectives on history, and we need to stick together. There is power in numbers – And in the end, the light will conquer the darkness.”