Is there such a thing as a kosher bank?
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Is there such a thing as a kosher bank?

What’s so different about Cross River Bank in Teaneck?

About half the staff is Jewish, and many of the men wear kippot at work – including the chairman, Gilles Gade. Gade, who is 43, even wore his kippah – proudly – while being interviewed on CNBC and Fox Business News.

The bank is closed on Friday afternoons (at 4), Saturdays, and Jewish holidays. Doesn’t this hurt business? Gade replies, “It’s a blessing.” The bank gets a good deal of business from Jewish institutions.

The bank is doing well, too, although it opened only in November. Deposits are closing in on $50 million. And anyone can open a checking or savings account there – if they aren’t scared away by all the PRIVATE PARKING signs.

Gade was born in Paris and went to school there, then came to this country in 1991, when 25.

He pronounces his name the English and not the French way – “Gil Gade.” He’s quiet, modest, and careful in what he says. His office is small and windowless; on a wall, there’s a photograph of Albert Einstein, with this quote: “Imagination is more valuable than knowledge.”

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Gilles Gade, a banker who is an authority on anti-Semitism

He’s unusually knowledgeable about anti-Semitism: that’s what he wrote his thesis about while in a Paris business school.

What are some of the causes of anti-Semitism? Gade mentions dislike of the unlike; a belief that Jews have too much power; the Jew as scapegoat: “Jews have been in the wrong place at the wrong time for 3,000 years”; and allegations of deicide. But he concludes by saying that “the real reason is, the Jews began bringing morality and conscience to the world.”

Why are some Jews themselves stridently anti-Israel?

Gade talks about a post-Holocaust trauma, where Jews have been so intimidated they want to erase all vestiges of their own Judaism. And he points out that it’s a few liberal Jews who may be anti-Israel; political conservatives are overwhelmingly pro-Israel.

Gade is deeply involved in Jewish affairs. For 15 years, he’s been visiting college campuses all over the country, from Boston to California, giving lectures to Jewish students (usually at Hillels) about Judaism and Israel, under the auspices of Aish HaTorah, an international network of Jewish learning. He used to make as many as 50 trips a year, but now it’s down to 15 to 20. He’ll talk for an hour or an hour and a half, focusing on Jewish values and the Jewish heritage. “I want to make them feel proud to be Jewish,” he says.

Jewish students are more timid these days, he reports. “They’re not as willing to defend their positions” as earlier waves of students had been. The pro-Palestinian groups on campus are well organized and well financed.

“As Palestinian propaganda has ratcheted up, the Jewish students have gotten more defensive,” he says. Sometimes the Palestinians even have the support of faculty.

What has helped enormously, Gade goes on, is Birthright Israel – the program that sends Jewish young people, free of charge, to the Jewish state. Some 220,000 have gone on Birthright so far, and these youngsters tend to be more energetic in defending Israel. Besides, “If you’re attached to Israel,” he observes, “you tend to become attached to Judaism as a whole.”

Not long ago, very few Jews in the United States were bankers. Why was that?

In Europe, Gade replies, Jews were restricted to money-lending; when they came to the United States, they deliberately avoided banking and eagerly became doctors, lawyers, and teachers.

But he does not rule out anti-Semitism on Wall Street: Back in the early 20th century, J.P. Morgan, for example, the famous banker, would never hire Jews. Eventually Jews launched their own financial institutions, like Goldman Sachs and Bear Sterns.

“Today, it’s totally changed,” Gade says. Anti-Semitism in banking seems to have vanished.

This reporter asks, “How come you’re starting a new bank? A few years ago, banks were consolidating like mad.”

New banks, Gade explains, have a blank slate – no toxic loans fouling up their books. So they can be more liberal in granting loans.

But even now, underwriting standards are tougher: Today there’s a 65 percent loan- to-value ratio whereas once it was 80 percent. (Your investment must be 35 percent of the loan.)

How will Cross River compete?

Says Gade, “We’re offering friendly, courteous, personal service – unlike the impersonal service at Chase or Citibank. We tend to say ‘yes’ a lot.”

He explains that the name Cross River comes from the bank’s eagerness to do business with both New Jersey and New York customers – as well as customers from other states. “It suggests that we have no boundaries.” Also, it refers to Abraham’s crossing a spiritual river – introducing “a new type of banking, one where the customer is not just an account number.”

He says that Cross River chose to locate in Teaneck because of the large Jewish population there and in nearby Englewood, Tenafly, and Bergenfield.

Gade lives in a house in Cedarhurst, Long Island, and his commute is usually 40 minutes each way. Before starting Cross River, he worked for Bear Sterns and Barclay’s Capital and was CFO of First Meridian, a mortgage company in New York City. He’s been married for 14 years, and he and his wife, Sarah, have four very young children, all girls.

His favorite local restaurants? Dougie’s, Chickies, Sushi Metguyan, all on Teaneck’s West Englewood Avenue.

How does he like Teaneck in general? He answers: “I really like the sense of community, the Jewish life, the friendliness,and the fact that it’s centrally located.

“My wife especially loves the Paramus mall.”

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