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Can a grandfather make Aliyah and join the Start-Up Nation? From Wall Street to Behalf

A Wall Street veteran shows how to make a transition from finance to tech
Illustrative. New immigrants arrive to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. (Gideon Markowicz/ FLASH90)
Illustrative. New immigrants arrive to Ben Gurion airport in Israel. (Gideon Markowicz/ FLASH90)

Half a year ago I embarked upon a great new adventure in Israel. To put it simply, I never would have anticipated this turn of events in my sixth year after making aliyah. Unlike the tiyulim that I look forward to for Yom Haatzmaut, this tiyul didn’t have a clear road map. Here’s how it happened.

Back in 2009 I was at the peak of my career. As a long-term managing director on Wall Street, I had worked at more than one large financial services firm where I enjoyed a successful 32-year career path as a credit analyst and banker in the public finance bond market. But I was ready for the next stage in our family life. We had talked and dreamed about aliyah for many years, and it was time to make it a reality.

Preparing for aliyah, I thought a lot about what work I might be doing when I arrived. The logical path most of us follow is to pursue opportunities in areas where our experience lies. Arriving in Israel that summer as an oleh chadash, I optimistically and enthusiastically sought employment in the mainstream financial sector here. That’s where my idealism met reality.

As quickly as I could hail a cab in NYC, I ran straight into a wall with prospective employers. They didn’t hesitate to tell me that my age was a problem, or that I was very overqualified for the job. An experienced headhunter bluntly told me that it was unlikely that a grandfather would find work here. I went down many paths during the first year, including working part-time as an on-line consultant for a financial firm in New York, and assisting three boutique financial firms in Israel. Finally, I concluded that I needed to consider reinventing myself.

By allowing myself to look beyond finance, I found work for the next four and a half years in the not-for-profit sector as an aliyah advisor, working for the central organization that prepares those who have decided to make the journey from North America to their new homes in Israel. Based on my own experiences, I understood that flexibility is surely the name of the game for an arriving “mature oleh”.

It is true that some percentage of mature olim actually succeed in finding work in Israel in their fields of expertise. However, the reinvention that some can only dream about in North America is possible here and very much required for us to succeed. In Israel, you can be happy, fulfilled and contribute because this country really does need every one of us, even if not in the original form that we envisioned.

After coming to terms with my reinvention – from Wall Street to the non-profit sector – a completely new opportunity arose last year. Most unexpectedly, a Facebook post from an old friend in Israel about a Customer Service opening showed up in my daughter-in-law’s feed, networking me into an interview at a new company named Behalf. You really never know from which direction your good fortune is going to come!

Following my own advice to other olim, I grabbed at the opportunity for yet one more reinvention, and met with their senior management team. The possibility of joining an Israeli start-up that is staffed with some of Israel’s best and brightest, and having a real role in helping it reach the next level of its development and success was too exciting and enticing to pass up.

So, after immigrating here from New York with most of my family, I have now joined the Start-Up Nation in a very real way. I became the Customer Service Manager at Behalf, an innovative small business financing company that pays vendors for inventory and services on behalf of their small business customers, while offering those customers flexible and affordable financing terms.

To my great satisfaction, I now find myself in a work environment at Behalf where my years of experience are sought after, and where all creative ideas and suggestions are welcomed with enthusiasm. After so many challenging years in the pressurized and highly competitive environment of Wall Street, I found a home in a place that is not only serious about building its business, but also values the contributions of each team member, stressing the importance of adherence to the highest personal and professional ethics. And the fact that I’m not the first grandfather on the team shows how unconventional Behalf is in its search for talent.

On my aliyah journey, I discovered that career flexibility and persistence don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Even after shifting away from my core financial career, I could step back into the financial world – this time in a completely new context in the Start-up Nation. Working at Behalf is fulfilling, creative and exciting, and most definitely has been a blessing for me.

About the Author
Howie Mischel is a veteran of the U.S. public finance industry. In a career spanning more than three decades he held managerial positions at several major financial institutions in New York and Boston. Following aliyah from New York in 2009, during the past decade he worked as an aliyah advisor at Nefesh B’Nefesh and with several start-up companies. He is a graduate of Harvard University with a masters degree in city planning. Today he lives with his wife Terry in Modiin, has four married children and is the proud grandfather of twenty.
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