Heroes are to be admired. They are unselfish, stand up for their beliefs, take risks, and do so honorably and with courage. Heroes are people who make a difference.
Chicago businessman Howard Bernstein is one such hero, at the top of my list of the individuals who have truly made a positive impact U.S. – Israel business. For more than 30 years, he has been a leader in his own community and throughout America, contributing his creativity, energy, and financial resources to benefit our movement.
A CPA and investment banker, Howard earned the reputation as an expert in consumer goods, particularly food and beverages. In fact, he and a partner facilitated the multi-million dollar acquisition of Massachusetts-based Tribe Mediterranean Foods by Israel-based Osem in 2008.
Howard was also the volunteer president of the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce-Chicago, one of our country’s oldest Israel economic support organizations. After completing his term of office in 1994, he led the effort to create a national America-Israel Chamber umbrella non-profit association, funding this fledgling organization largely himself. Typically, these well meaning lay leaders complete their 1-2 year terms of office, receive an award, and abdicate to the next person in line. Not Howard.
While recognizing Israel’s growing strength as a technology leader, Howard believed there was a new role for Americans, particularly Jews, to support Israel by getting them to buy Israeli consumer products. In this era of BDS, he created and funded BIG (BuyIsraelGoods.org), an amazingly effective website that promotes Israeli products and informs the public where they can be purchased in communities throughout North America and online. The site averages 4,000 hits a month, and one time, attracted 50,000 visitors during a Boycott Israel month.
“Howard Bernstein is a mentor to generations of AICC lay leaders and executive directors. His commitment of time, energy, and resources has been a driving force behind the America-Israel Chamber of Commerce- Chicago and the Chamber movement for decades,” says the Chicago organization’s current executive director, Michael Schmitt.
Now 84, Howard is starting the next phase of his long career. “For 30 years, I was a CPA. For the next 30, I was an investment banker. I want to focus my next 30 years on facilitating transactions between Israeli and American companies,” he told me. When I pointed out to him that he would be 114 years old at the end of this phase, he seemed nonplussed.
As for the the non-career accomplishment of which he is most proud, Howard immediately points to his success in promoting use of Israeli wines at Jewish events in Chicago and nationally. “Can you believe that AIPAC had been serving Argentinian wines at their DC conference? Last year, I convinced them to use Israeli wines for their 15,000 attendees!”
God bless you, Howard. Thanks for all you’ve done for Israel and what you will continue to do. You are my hero.
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