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Stanislav Gluzman: “At that time I was playing poker professionally”

The young businessman and founder of the “Jewish business club” talks about things that may interest independent Jews, and what Jewish places to visit.

I was born in Kharkov. I went to a Jewish secondary school. Then I went to a specialized school, that wasn’t Jewish, and I fell out of Jewish life. This was in the mid-1990s, all my relatives and friends had left, and I got the feeling that we were the last Jewish family left in Kharkov. Now the Kharkov Jewish community numbers around 15,000 people according to my estimates, but before mass emigration it was one of the largest in Ukraine, along with the Kiev and Odessa community.

After I finished school I decided to try my luck in Moscow, and enrolled at the Moscow State University faculty of economics, and was estimated to be the top student in economic disciplines and the second overall. I was even invited to work at the Ministry of Economic Development and McKenzie, but I always wanted to work for myself, and I didn’t want to keep living in Moscow. So when in the last year of my master’s degree I received an invitation from acquaintances to organize a joint production project in my native city, without thinking it over for too long I returned to Kharkov straight after I graduated.

Back when I was a student, when I went home, I started going to the synagogue. I was invited to a weekly gathering with the rabbi, and I gradually became one of the custodians. On Fridays people still gather there: the lesson lasts for half an hour, a text or a weekly chapter is read, and the rabbi comments on it.

I didn’t take any more part in the life of the Jewish community at that time, because I still believed that there was almost no one was left in it. But in the autumn of 2007, on the advice of a completely non-Jewish acquaintance, I found myself in the Jewish community center, and from there I went to the Israeli cultural center – on Rosh Hashanah. There I met a person who asked people tricky questions, and I couldn’t help myself – I answered him. (Stanislav likes answering questions, and in 2003 he even won the game show “The Weakest Link” – editor’s note). He immediately approached me, and said he was creating a Jewish team to take part in the championship in Kharkov for “What? Where? When?” and “Brain Ring”. He gave training sessions at IKTS, Sokhnut, Gilel and the community “Orthodox Union”. Thus I plunged into the Jewish life of Kharkov young people, and in the way that was the closest and most interesting for me – through intellectual games and educational projects.

In one of these projects called “Metsuda”, organized by “Joint”, I had to analyze the life of the community in my city and create a project at this community. I probably approached this more seriously than the others: I carried out a thorough study of the Kharkov community and discovered that there were quite a lot of projects for children and young people, and programs for elderly people at “Hesed”, but there was practically nothing for people over 26. And I proposed to make a project for this audience. This was in 2008. Thus my project “From Yisrael to Israel” was launched, a detailed course of Jewish history, which I read to a small audience

In 2009, Oksana Galkevich, the head of “Joint” in northern Ukraine, gathered us together, and said: “I read the studies, and understand that we have a gap in projects for people aged from 26 to 55. I propose that you organize something.” What exactly it was did not interest her, the main thing was that it was a successful project that gathered people together. “It will be YOUR project. We will not interfere in any way, but we will provide you with support and an office.”

We began to work over ideas, and to start with they were rather ridiculous. At that time I was playing poker professionally – and I suggested a weekly poker tournament. This suggestion immediately found support. Incidentally, the poker club still exists: soon the sixth season will end, players compete for cups, and there is a saving fund.

In addition to the tournament, I proposed to organize a Jewish business seminar. We invited a trainer from Kiev. Everyone liked him, so we held another seminar. After this I a representative of Joint summoned me and said: “We are very satisfied with your work, but I have a request: please coordinate all the innovations which you want to propose with me first.” I said: “Why is that? You said that I should do what I want, and you would only give us support.” She replied: “I want this project to be fully under the control of Joint. And if you want to invite people from other Jewish organizations to our seminar, you must also coordinate this issue with me. I don’t want it to be associated with other Jewish organizations.

To that I replied that I hadn't created the project for the sake of Joint, and if Joint wouldn't provide support, then we'd work things out ourselves. In short, we had a misunderstanding, after which they tried to do the project without me for several months, and they even tried to use the name I had come up with “Jewish Business Club”. But they didn't succeed...

Incidentally, before this we had developed a different view on the development of the project. At the first seminars that we organized, “Joint” asked to make them as cheap as possible, so they could allocate as much money as possible to them. But I insisted that independent people, who had already started to earn money, should not have the funds of charitable organizations allocated to them at all. Why not spend this money on the needs of elderly people and children? I mainly expected to receive organizational assistance from Joint in logistics, PR and premises for various events of ours.

In the end, half the participants sided with Joint, and half of them supported me. After this Joint left us alone. They didn't give us any support, but they also stopped interfering.

We became self-financed, and gradually moved to new formats: business lunches with businessmen, major trustees of the community, thematic evenings timed with various Jewish festivals; interactive lessons on the Torah and so on. Many of these events took place in the cafe by the synagogue. Incidentally, Rabbi Moishe Moskovich gave me a lot of support at that time. But I also didn't want to be a burden on the synagogue. Initially I pursued a policy of maximum independence of the club and self-financing. So all the training sessions, evenings and lunches with businessmen were paid for, so our events could cover themselves. I still go to the synagogue, and talk to the rabbi, and the most that I ask from him is that he hangs up a poster of upcoming events.

There's a similar organization in Moscow with the name “Osher Jewish business club”. It appeared after your one, and grew quite swiftly. But this year at Rosh Hashanah, a hitman fired an Uzi at the car of their general director Sergey Sladkov. They say that it was over a large sum of money, which one of the club members owed him...

The death of a leader doesn't mean the death of an organization. On the whole it's a murky business. It's not quite clear who he gave money to, and whether this was why he was killed. These are just suppositions.

Did you have any concerns when you started working on the business club? When money is involved, this can be difficult.

— No, I didn't. Despite the name “Business club” and the fact that businessmen gather there, I consciously limited myself to business seminars. My goal was to create a platform where people would gather, where ideas would arise, common projects and so on. But I didn't intend to be in charge of these projects. Many people met there and started working together, but business as such was placed outside the brackets.

Tell me about the people who help you, about your team.

There's Viktor Komissaruk, our business trainer. He helps me with the Club, we discuss a lot of issues, and he has conducted practically all the recent seminars. Viktor is the head of the JOB.Ukr.Net service at Ukrnet.

Stanislav Baru helps me with the evening functions. He has his own event agency, he is in charge of corporate parties and PR. Guests have very good comments about our functions, some say that even in Moscow they don't have this level of organization.

Do you work on the club in your spare time?

Initially all of these projects were simply for self-financing. There was no aim of earning money. But at a certain stage I got tired of spending so much time on the club. I realized that I was taking this time away from my business. So some of the projects remained self-financing, but some of them, for example the “Jewish tours” project became commercial. But I don't earn a lot of money from them, and I don't particular try to. I simply find it interesting to do this. So the JBC is still more of a hobby for me than a business.

The idea of the “Jewish tours” arose two years ago. I was invited on a tour of Europe: Hungary, Verona, Cannes, Budapest. In Budapest I was interested to visit the largest synagogue in Europe, and in Venice the ghetto quarter, and other interesting Jewish places. I was also offered this tour on “Jewish” conditions: I would get a discount if I brought other people along to this trip. In the end I gathered an entire Jewish sub-group, with which we had excursions that differed from the general program.

Do you tell the travelers yourself about the places that they have visited?

— Yes, I was also a guide that time. And when I returned, I thought that we could organize our own routes, which would be interesting for Jews. So the project “Jewish tour” arose quite spontaneously. In the process of creating it I met with Iosif Zisels (Chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine – editor's note.). He provided financial support. This money was spent on making a video about the tour, and the bus that took us on the route. We visited Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, Belgium and Holland, with Shabbat in Amsterdam.

The next trip was in Transcaucasia: Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Then there was the winter “Jewish Tour 3.0”, which we devoted to the Jewish heritage of Slovakia, combining it with a ski holiday and a visit to Warsaw, Budapest and Vienna.

We were very lucky to organize the last visit to Spain and Portugal in the May holidays, as it coincided with the events on Maidan and the crisis in Ukraine (around two thirds of the participants in the first three “Jewish tours” were from Ukraine). The people who had registered in advance began to cancel the trip. My Moscow friend came to the rescue, he became the co-organizer and brought Russians along to take part in the tour.

Now the fifth tour to Morocco is being prepared. The unstable situation in Ukraine led to a situation when few Jews are prepared to travel. And for tourists from Russia, because of the fall of the ruble this trip is getting more expensive. But people are still booking places quite actively. Additionally, we plan to work with Israel and attract people from there. Although in the past there were one or two Israelis in each trip. I'd like to take this opportunity to invite readers to take part in this trip, which will take place on 6-16 March 2015

(vk.com; facebook.com).

How are the excursions and the accompanying guides organized?

All the participants meet the guide and me at the starting point of our journey. They get to it from various places themselves. This usually takes place on Friday, so we spend the first Shabbat together. Then we set off. We have our own guides, and they are changed. I determine the routes together with them. There was Chaim Levitsky, and on the last trip there was Artyom Fedorchuk. For excursions around cities we invite local guides. Kristina Fogel and her company USK-tour is currently very helpful with logistics and promotion in Morocco.

This project was quite unusual for the Russian-speaking world. Equivalent Jewish tourism projects only took people to Poland and Georgia. Whereas we went to 13 countries in four trips. On most of the trips the photographer Alexander Grinvald went with us. He always posted a huge number of photos when he came back. At one time I even tried to fight this. On the last trip, our main photographer was Alexander Lozhkevich.

What is the sphere of your main business?

I have never just worked in one field. I had a business for importing cars from the USA, and a business for manufacturing packaging.

A classic entrepreneur.

Yes, in most of the businesses I acted as an entrepreneur. In some I was an investor.

Most of the projects which I took an active part in have now either been severely curtailed or closed down. My financial education and ability to distribute money to different places helped me to create passive revenue, which now makes up over half of my entire income. I have a share of investments in projects, deposits and stocks.

I have the idea to create a joint Israel-Ukraine fund, when the situation in Ukraine settles down and the revenues become profitable for Israeli investments. So far Israelis receive 1% interest on deposits at home and 5% on state bonds, at best. But so far this is all at the discussion stage with lawyers and possible partners. Currently I am running an interesting and promising Internet project in the field of mobile applications.

Interview by Eydel Yulia


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