Yes, they can get along

Yes, they can get along

Former Teaneck resident talks about his company, Innitel, and its mix of employees

Innitel employs Jews, Muslims, and Christians; here, Arab staff members are at the joint Chanukah-Christmas party. (Innitel)
Innitel employs Jews, Muslims, and Christians; here, Arab staff members are at the joint Chanukah-Christmas party. (Innitel)

When he lived in Teaneck, Dan Leubitz worked for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.

This was not a job he could continue once his family moved to Israel in 2006. He did freelance work for a few years while seeking a new direction.

Finally, in 2009, an “only in Israel” moment happened that would lead him to cofound Innitel, a Jerusalem-based enterprise software provider recently ranked by Deloitte as the ninth fastest-growing Israeli tech company.

That moment occurred at a bank in downtown Jerusalem, where Mr. Leubitz ran into Elie Rubin, an old friend from his Betar Zionist Youth Movement days. “I hadn’t seen this guy in 20 years,” he said. “He asked me what I was doing, and he told me he was working on a project with contact centers. Right away, we started to talk about a business concept.”

At first, the self-funded company focused on installing hardware and phones. In 2013 it pivoted to a cloud-based infrastructure and began rapid expansion in terms of both reach and size.

Simply put, Innitel software transforms a basic call center into a fully automated contact center that can manage not only phone calls but also other forms of customer communications, including email, Web-based chat, and instant messaging, without hiring more employees.

“Our software can quadruple sales and make a team of four seem like a team of 20,” Mr. Leubitz, now the company’s chief technology officer, said.

Innitel works with more than 10,000 call center agents, mainly in Eastern European countries and even in a few Arab ones.

This is where the story really gets interesting.

“With some Arab companies on board, we needed Arabic customer support,” Mr. Leubitz said. “Thankfully, being in Jerusalem it was not hard to find the right employees.”

Today, Innitel’s 38 workers are Arab Muslims and Christians; Jewish immigrants from countries such as France, Russia, Mexico, and Ukraine; and charedi native Israelis.

Many of them were referred to Innitel by one of several Jerusalem-based organizations striving to integrate these chronically underemployed populations into the city’s burgeoning high-tech workforce.

Mr. Leubitz said that Innitel’s human-resources policy is to cut the header off all résumés, so that the job applicant’s name and address don’t factor into the hiring decision. These details easily could indicate ethnic group or religious affiliation — say, an Arab name or an address in a charedi neighborhood.

“We began to understand that developers and engineers in Jerusalem are a microcosm of Jerusalem’s overall population, and our mix of employees reflects that,” he said. “We’re like a little U.N. You wouldn’t normally see some of these groups sharing a bus, but at Innitel we congeal nicely.”

Innitel founders Dan Leubitz, left, and Elie Rubin. Mr. Leubitz made aliyah from Teaneck. (Innitel)
Innitel founders Dan Leubitz, left, and Elie Rubin. Mr. Leubitz made aliyah from Teaneck. (Innitel)

Mr. Leubitz, who is modern Orthodox, points with pride to a recent joint Chanukah-Christmas party in the office. Muslim employees get Islamic holidays off in exchange for working on Jewish holidays.

“I always know there’s a Muslim holiday coming up when some kind of traditional sweets appear in the office kitchen,” Mr. Leubitz said with a laugh.

It would be naïve to assume that relationships in this little microcosm of Jerusalem could be totally free of friction. But the management tries to nudge things in the right direction.

Incidents in the so-called stabbing intifada — which began in the fall of 2015 and rears its head occasionally in the form of rammings, stabbings, or shootings by residents of Jerusalem-area Arab enclaves — naturally cause some tension in the office.

“People feel uncomfortable bringing up the recent unpleasantness, and I say we need to talk about it in a clear and open fashion,” Mr. Leubitz said. “At first it’s a little awkward, but in the end it becomes a bonding experience, and people want to discuss more. There are so many conversations that happen among us. If we are the exception to the rule in high-tech, we could be a model for high-techs in general.”

In the beginning, he was not sure whether Arab and charedi workers would stop and stand when public sirens wail, heralding a reflective pause, on Israel’s Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day. In their home communities, the sirens often are ignored out of disdain for the Zionist state. But indeed the employees do stand silently, without being asked to do so.

“We’re a fast-growing company, and the growth fuels our feeling of family,” Mr. Leubitz said. “I consider myself on the right side of the political spectrum, but there is no conflict. We’re all on this island together, and as long as there are respect and common goals there is no problem.”

Nurturing a culture of tolerant diversity in a for-profit company isn’t motivated by altruism but by clear-eyed practicality. Mr. Leubitz firmly believes that taking full advantage of Jerusalem’s breadth of cultures, educations, languages, and skill-sets has helped propel Innitel’s success.

The company has seen a nearly 800 percent increase in revenue in the last three years, and in November it was selected to take part in the London Stock Exchange’s Elite incubator program. A satellite office recently was opened in Bulgaria to provide services on weekends.

Mr. Leubitz said that 80 percent of Innitel’s leads come from referrals. “Our marketing budget is less than our monthly coffee bill,” he reported.

Another factor in its success can be chalked up to the founders’ roots in the United States. “We bring American-style support to the Middle East and Europe,” Mr. Leubitz said. “Good customer service is hard to come by in this region. It’s a point of pride that we’re making a big difference.”

Now 42, Mr. Leubitz is the only former New Jersey resident at Innitel, at least so far. He lives in Efrat, a community in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem that has attracted many modern Orthodox English-speakers. His wife, Andrea, works in clinical research for a pharmaceutical startup. Their children are 13, 12, 11, and 8.

“My wife and I always thought about aliyah, but being in the New York area during 9/11 tilted our perspective,” he said. “By 2006 we decided we had to make the jump. We moved in August, after a pilot trip in June.”

Though he reports that he was making strides in Ulpan, the intensive Hebrew language courses offered free of charge to all new immigrants, Mr. Leubitz has not had much opportunity to flex his Hebrew muscles since starting Innitel, because the lingua franca at work is English. Perhaps surprisingly, many East Jerusalem Arabs are much more fluent in English than in Hebrew.

“We’re attracting so many Arab-Israeli candidates because one of their main obstacles is Hebrew,” he said.

Mr. Leubitz hopes that his experiences will encourage other would-be American immigrants who may be wary of trying to start a business in Israel.

“Aliyah helps you reinvent yourself, which you need to see as a positive adventure,” he said. “It takes chutzpah to get started, but once we navigated the business networks in Jerusalem we found a lot of people and VCs we could talk to in English.”

The former member of the Young Israel of Teaneck said that overall he’s been “pleasantly surprised” at how well he has adjusted to life in Israel. “There is one big obstacle, though: not having Sundays to hike in the Palisades,” he confides.

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