Working With Jews At A Startup
In response to Kanye West, and from an Artist, Entrepreneur, and a Christian perspective
When I heard the news that Kanye West was in trouble and being canceled, I was instantly curious for what reason. Was it for him wearing a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt? From an artist’s perspective I thought his choice was controversial, but his right. To place a positive value on a group shouldn’t be punished. In this case, the value that a group’s collective lives matter. No, Kanye wouldn’t be canceled for a t-shirt! It was through listening to some news fragments on YouTube, reading an article or two on Google, and listening to the Lex Friedman podcast, I learned the extent of Kanye’s hurtful dialogues and monologues.
Like he’s done before, Kanye raised some pretty powerful cultural questions — some that perhaps have never been asked before.
What should be done in response to Kanye? He’s one of the most influential artists of our generation, and one of the wealthiest men in America, and part of an ethnic group that has been discriminated against throughout the history of America. From an artists perspective, one can appreciate the moment. From a cultural perspective, it challenges us to identify with a particular ideology, one that is pro-cancellation, or pro-freedom of speech.
As an on-again, off-again Christian, I’ve noticed this kind of rhetoric in certain niche circles as well. Not usually direct anti-semitism, never to this extent, and certainly not the majority. In fact, the reason I keep going back to Christ is his ability to connect across all facets of life. The most inclusive community that I am part of is my Church in Korea, Onuri English Ministry, which caters to foreigners from all ethnicities, united under Christ, and through English.
In this case, I think the response to Kanye’s statements is indicative of the slippery slope left by our societies continual division and acceptance of casual racism. But is it weighted equally? What harm can be done by painting an entire community with a few broad brush strokes? What damage can be done by a man like Kanye, who has inspired me for decades, who is now working to normalize Jewish hate?
As such, I wanted to recount my personal interactions with Jews, which, like Kanye West, have been in business and partnership.
In 2018 I met my current business partner, Michael Lebhar, in Las Vegas at a conference called “Prosper”. The show brought together Amazon sellers from around the country to speak about how to sell on Amazon, and help them network amongst service providers and thought-leaders in the space. Michael Lebhar and I were invited to an “experts” session, which was hosted by Jeremy Weisz.
Where I grew up there were Jews, and in fact my close friend and financial advisor Lee Minsk, is also a Jew. That said, I haven’t closely interacted with a community of kippah wearing Jews until that conference. I found these interactions to be very positive. Jeremy, first and foremost, was very welcoming and a true ‘connector’ in all ways of that word. The event he organized was designed with the explicit purpose of enabling everyone within the Amazon community from all walks of life to collaborate and share ideas.
It was during this event that Michael and I, and another partner of mine, Eddie Chan (no relation), had several amazing and exciting conversations about marketing, selling on Amazon, our goals, our dreams. We wanted to work together, and like so many things that happen in Vegas, before you knew it, we were married informally, thrown into a new partnership with very little idea of where to start, or what to do.
Throughout this process Michael Lebhar and I had a vision for our business, to be a Brand Incubator, and perhaps, more, with the creation of amazing processes, philosophies, and approaches to business driven by innovation. Fast forward through the particular mechanics of a business that always change — the product, the strategy, the budgets, the bandwidth — one consistent factor remained: Michael Lebhar.
A very high-degree of transparency, a natural tendency to trust, very open-minded, very trustworthy. He is also very Jewish. His father is a rabbi in Los Angeles, and he surrounds himself in the Jewish culture.
I’m not looking to write about all of the other employees and friends that I work with, and their personal qualities as it relates to their cultural backgrounds. Perhaps it isn’t necessary, except for the fact that we as a society have become very comfortable with division, and with casual racism, and it is the negative opinions that are amplified, not the positive ones. We don’t read a lot of stories about positive business done with Jews. There really isn’t a need to read those stories anyway. But we do hear the opinions of Kanye West, who is saying never trust Jews. There should be alternative opinions shared, which is why I’m sharing mine.
So here I am, sharing a little perspective, my particular perspective, working very closely with one of the best people I know.
BTW, Michael Lebhar is Jewish! Do I think all Jews are like Michael? Of course not. Do I think his culture and religion play a large part into how he navigates life and business? Absolutely. Do I think this is positive. Without question.
If you ever catch yourself being accepting of casual racism, take a step back. Would I be cool if this was my group? This is why I’m writing about Jews right now.
Should Kanye be canceled? Sorry folks, he’s not cancellable. He’s above that level of punishment. Should he be penalized? He penalized himself. No brand can stand the financial risk of allying with an open racist. Do people deserve their opinion? Yes. Is Kanye West pushing boundaries? Yes. Is Kanye West an artist? Yes. Do I think he’s a genius? Yes. Do I respect Kanye west? Yes. Do I honor him? No, what he did was disrespectful and dangerous, as it sets our culture further on the path, the slippery slope that we’re already passed, where Asians can get punched in the streets and nobody stands up to protect them or call out their assailants. One where it’s us vs them, my neighbors, my former friends.
There are many people in my life, and outside of my life, that I honor. One of those people is my business partner who happens to be, a Jew.