Tuesday, 8 November 2011


The chairman of Starbucks learns about life from Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt"l.
by Howard Schultz
Nov. 8, 2011 - The Jewish world is plunged into mourning with the untimely passing of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Rosh Yeshiva of Mir in Jerusalem.
I grew up in federally subsidized housing in Brooklyn. I was part of a generation of families that dreamed about the American dream. My dad had a series of blue-collar jobs. An uneducated man, he was kind of beaten by the system. He was a World War II veteran who had great aspirations about America, but his dream was not coming true.
At the age of seven, I came home one day to find my dad sprawled on the couch in our two-bedroom apartment in a full-leg cast; he had fallen on the job and broken his leg. This was way before the invention of Pampers, and he worked as a delivery driver for cloth diapers. He hated this job bitterly, but on this one day, he wished he had it back. In 1960 in America, most companies had no workers' compensation and no hospitalization for a blue-collar worker who had an accident. I saw firsthand the plight of the working class.
That experience had a significant effect on how I see the world. When I got into a position of responsibility at Starbucks, what I wanted to try to do was build a kind of company that my father never got a chance to work for.
We at Starbucks have been trying to create an industry that did not exist, and a kind of brand that was very unusual. We said to ourselves that if we wanted to build a large enterprise and a brand that had meaning, relevance and trust for all its constituencies, then we first had to build trust with our employees. So we tried to co-author a strategy in which those who worked for the business were really part of something. As a result, in 1989 we began to provide equity in the form of stock options to our employees.
A successful business is built on authentic values.
When we did this, we had a couple hundred employees and fewer than 50 stores. Today, we have close to 50,000 employees, whom we call partners, and we will open up our 3,500th store at the end of this month. We have built, I think, an enduring business upon a premise that says the experience that we create inside our company will be the defining mechanism of building our brand. We said we must first take care of our people.
A business must be built on a set of values, a foundation that's authentic, so you can look in the mirror and be proud of what's going on.
Recently I was walking down a street in London that was a very high-fashion piece of real estate. It had one designer store after another. Expensive stores, expensive rents. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a storefront that just did not fit. It was about 12 feet wide, and no more than a 500 square foot store. In the midst of all these fancy signs and fancy stores, this store had one word on top of the door: "Cheese." I couldn't figure out what it was, so, curious, I went in.
Behind the counter was a poorly dressed 70-year old guy, and I was the only customer. As soon as I walked in, he came to life. I said, "I don't know much about London, but it appears to me that this store really doesn't fit on this street." He replied, "Many people have said that to me, young man. But the truth is, it's been here over 100 years."
I said, "I'm sure you can make a lot more money on this store if you leased it or you sold your business." He replied, "Well, I wouldn't lease it because I own the building. The legacy, responsibility and pride that I have is to the generations of my family who have come before me. That is why I come to work every day to be a purveyor of cheese to honor the people who've come before me."
The cheese just came to life with his words.
Think about all our experiences every day. How often does anybody honor us as a consumer? Rarely. But when it does happen, the power of the human spirit really does come through. At the end of the day, when business is really good, it's not about building a brand or making money. That's a means to an end. It's about honoring the human spirit, honoring the people who work in the business and honoring the customer.
When I was in Israel, I went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox area within Jerusalem. Along with a group of businessmen I was with, I had the opportunity to have an audience with Rabbi Noson Tzvi Finkel, the head of a yeshiva there [Mir Yeshiva]. I had never heard of him and didn't know anything about him. We went into his study and waited 10 to 15 minutes for him. Finally, the doors opened.
Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease. Our inclination was to look away.
What we did not know was that Rabbi Finkel was severely afflicted with Parkinson's disease. He sat down at the head of the table, and, naturally, our inclination was to look away. We didn't want to embarrass him.
We were all looking away, and we heard this big bang on the table: "Gentlemen, look at me, and look at me right now." Now his speech affliction was worse than his physical shaking. It was really hard to listen to him and watch him. He said, "I have only a few minutes for you because I know you're all busy American businessmen." You know, just a little dig there.
Then he asked, "Who can tell me what the lesson of the Holocaust is?" He called on one guy, who didn't know what to do -- it was like being called on in the fifth grade without the answer. And the guy says something benign like, "We will never, ever forget?" And the rabbi completely dismisses him. I felt terrible for the guy until I realized the rabbi was getting ready to call on someone else. All of us were sort of under the table, looking away -- you know, please, not me. He did not call me. I was sweating. He called on another guy, who had such a fantastic answer: "We will never, ever again be a victim or bystander."
The rabbi said, "You guys just don't get it. Okay, gentlemen, let me tell you the essence of the human spirit.
"As you know, during the Holocaust, the people were transported in the worst possible, inhumane way by railcar. They thought they were going to a work camp. We all know they were going to a death camp.
"After hours and hours in this inhumane corral with no light, no bathroom, cold, they arrived at the camps. The doors were swung wide open, and they were blinded by the light. Men were separated from women, mothers from daughters, fathers from sons. They went off to the bunkers to sleep.
Am I going to push the blanket to the other people, or am I going to pull it to stay warm?
"As they went into the area to sleep, only one person was given a blanket for every six. The person who received the blanket, when he went to bed, had to decide, 'Am I going to push the blanket to the five other people who did not get one, or am I going to pull it toward myself to stay warm?'"
And Rabbi Finkel says, "It was during this defining moment that we learned the power of the human spirit, because we pushed the blanket to five others."
And with that, he stood up and said, "Take your blanket. Take it back to America and push it to five other people."

the Gift

A review of Sen. Joe Lieberman's book on rediscovering the beauty of the Sabbath.
by Michael Medved
If you've ever felt the yen to celebrate a Jewish holy day in a festive, traditional style, this marvelous book will enable you to approximate the experience - without calories from rich, filling food or risks of leaving wine stains on the white tablecloth.
Your host, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, comes across as a chatty, good-natured, Old World uncle who's free with advice, anecdote and sentimental reminiscence. Like most conversations around a religious family's Sabbath table, the discussion rambles and wanders, with amusing, earthy or insightful asides of sometimes dubious relevance, but it keeps circling back to the book's main argument: that all Americans, of every outlook or religious perspective, would benefit from a weekly embrace of the idea of a Sabbath.
The purpose of Shabbat isn't to recharge our batteries so we can work harder, but to recharge our souls so we can live better.
The purpose of "the gift of rest" in Mr. Lieberman's view isn't "to recharge our batteries so we can work harder but to recharge our souls so we can live better." Citing a wide variety of Jewish sources both ancient and modern, the senator affirms that work and rest form an indissoluble whole. Six days a week we work to improve our world; on the seventh day, we rest to improve ourselves.
The heart of the book describes the mechanics of that process of improvement and enrichment. Mr. Lieberman offers a lovingly detailed guided tour of territory that most of his fellow citizens might consider foreign and remote: the province he and his wife, Hadassah, have identified as "Shabbatland." (Shabbat is the Hebrew word for the Sabbath.) Like other exotic destinations, Shabbatland features its own distinctive culture, rules, foods, history, music, pleasures, standards of dress, communal gatherings and even language.
For secularists, and especially for the great bulk of American Jews who have received scant exposure to the rigors and joys of Orthodox Jewish practice, this informative exploration of the 25 hours of the Sabbath (it begins at sunset but concludes only at full dark) will prove fascinating and rewarding, answering the perpetual questions about how, exactly, observant Jews spend their time while they retreat each week from the insistent demands of the workaday world.
Mr. Lieberman possesses unique qualifications to offer this tour as surely the best-known Sabbath observer in the United States. As Democratic vice-presidential nominee in the epic campaign of 2000, he faced countless questions on whether strict limitations one day each week and on major Jewish holidays (no traveling in cars or airplanes; no using phones, blackberries or microphones; no monitoring media; no handling money) would impact his ability to handle the lofty office he sought.
In fact, an entire chapter in the book describes those occasions when Jewish law (according to Mr. Lieberman's understanding) allows violations of normal Sabbath procedure. He describes a particular Sabbath afternoon in 2010 when he spoke on the telephone to his friend Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, in a vain attempt to rescue a bipartisan climate-change bill. Mr. Lieberman explains a rabbinic tradition suggesting flexibility for Sabbath-observant Jews on behalf of "a greater good, such as preserving or protecting life and health or supporting the well-being of the community."
Of course, such reasoning could allow important leaders to abandon the Sabbath most of the time, but Mr. Lieberman makes clear his general practice of serving the public without violating religious traditions, emphasizing the all-important difference between the merely urgent and the truly important. In the midst of the recount crisis in December 2000, Al Gore hosted the Liebermans for an impromptu Sabbath meal with campaign staff at the vice-presidential residence.
After Mr. Lieberman recited blessings and led songs, Tipper Gore suggested to her then-husband, "Al, let's turn off our electronics. If anyone really needs us, they'll know how to get us." Later that night, the Gores walked the Liebermans back to their home in Georgetown - with a Secret Service detail trailing the two couples at a respectful distance.
In addition to such sidelights on recent history, "The Gift of Rest" cites long-ago examples of American presidents who, as devout Christians, observed Sunday restrictions in the White House. Franklin Pierce conducted no business on the Lord's Day and wouldn't even allow mail to be opened; Theodore Roosevelt, enthusiastic outdoorsman that he was, refused to hunt or fish on Sunday for religious reasons.
In the interest of full disclosure, David Klinghoffer (generously acknowledged by Mr. Lieberman, by the way) is a friend, neighbor and fellow congregant in our Orthodox Seattle synagogue, and Mr. Lieberman has been a friendly acquaintance since my days at Yale Law School 40 years ago.
But even those who have never met the senator will feel that they know him - and like him - from the pages of this book. In 2012, he will leave the Senate after 24 tumultuous years, and while few will recall his specific legislative achievements (or failures, like that ill-starred climate-change bill he cherished) all Americans should honor his true legacy: the dignity with which he has exemplified the principle that true religious faith, like the Sabbath itself, has more to do with warmth, joy and fellowship than restriction, guilt and intolerance.

Martin Hanczyc: The line between life and not-life