One by one, they streamed past the sliding glass doors of my third floor micro-office. A gaggle of girls; young, animated and religious, chattered excitedly in a mixture of languages as they returned from lunch. I caught snippets of conversation in French and Hebrew as they rounded the bend and disappeared into one of WeWork Jerusalem’s larger offices. Minutes later, thunderous applause erupted from their coworking space and my interested was piqued.
“What company employs all of these young, religious women?” I asked Rabbi Todd Zeff, one of the three people I know at WeWork Jerusalem’s first location and co-director of The Nachshon Project, a fellowship program for college-age students looking to spread Jewish awareness within their home communities.
“No company yet,” he informed me, “but I think that’s the end goal.” I soon discovered that these women are all computer science graduate students taking part in Excellenteam, a scholarship-funded three-and-a-half-month programming course run by Start Up Nation Central. The organization offers the same boot camp-style course for Israeli-Arab men on the second floor, where they teach them useful skills needed by Israeli hi-tech companies while helping bridge the gap between academia and the industry.
Throughout the course, students learn how to work on a team, are coached through job interviews and are exposed to cultural real-world experiences.
According to Avital Blass, program manager of Excellenteam, WeWork Jerusalem provides the perfect environment to host their program. “We wanted our students to be in a hi-tech environment, to get the feeling of what it’s like working hard and those long, late hours. We wanted them exposed to even the smaller things unique to hi-tech, like people who bring their dogs to work,” she said.
If enrollment of the Excellenteam program is any indication, our tech future is definitely female. But for the moment, Jerusalem’s first WeWork co-working space at 20 King George Street appears to be predominantly male. Yet what the co-working space might lack in gender diversity, it makes up for in ethnic diversity.
It was this young, hi-tech-driven energy that initially drew me to WeWork Jerusalem. A work-at-home-mom for the past 14 years, I yearned for a new working environment when my home office morphed into my hospital room. Last year, while battling cancer, I kept up with my clients while dealing with grueling side effects of treatment. I drafted social media strategies from the same reclining chair I used to stabilize me for my daily injections, participated in conference calls while lying down in bed, and had a rotation of wigs and dark woolen hats to cover my bald head during weekly video conference calls.
A seasoned communications consultant with more than two decades of experience, I came to WeWork searching for an environment infused with entrepreneurial spirit where I could interact with like-minded professionals and potentially mentor individuals looking to break into my industry.
Gearing up to start commuting to an office for the first time in over a decade was exciting. I envisioned connecting with other industry professionals around WeWork’s hipper version of a water cooler, where we’d share media contacts and discuss Facebook privacy violations and algorithm changes.
I’d been following WeWork as a brand for years. Launched in 2010, WeWork is a platform that leases shared work space to communities of entrepreneurs, freelancers and small businesses and connects that community to business service providers. Via Instagram stories from their global locations, such as New York, London and Sao Paulo, I knew about the WeWork Creator Awards, a global competition held multiple times a year in regional locations and open to members and non-members who are entrepreneurs, performers, startups and nonprofits looking to win funding. One of last year’s US-based events was hosted by celebrity tech investor Ashton Kutcher and attended by Victoria’s Secret Supermodel Lily Aldridge and the country band Florida Georgia Line, yet I didn’t see any Instastories from the Jerusalem event held in June 2018.
I’d taken virtual tours of other WeWork locations and appreciated the similar, cohesive interior design plans, the free-flowing amenities, like all-you-can-drink coffee, filtered water and beer on tap, and frequent themed events, from exercise classes to parties held in comfortable, vast open spaces. The seventh annual WeWork summer camp retreat infused me with a strong sense of nostalgia, while I envied attendees who meditated daily with Deepak Chopra and attended sessions run by the likes of New York Times bestselling author Tim Ferriss and SoulCycle co-founder Julie Rice.
Yet with more than nine locations in Israel – five in Tel Aviv, one in Beersheva, Herzliyah, Haifa and now Jerusalem – I continue to be surprised by the lack of social representation, particularly on Instagram, for the Israeli side of the brand, especially since WeWork’s co-founder and CEO Adam Neumann is a sabra. And while 48% of WeWork members in their buildings on average globally are women, according to Frayda Leibtag, director of Public Affairs for WeWork Israel, female professional representation at the Jerusalem location appears to be lacking. I’m hopeful the male-to-female ratio will improve over time.
It also appears that hi-tech companies at the Jerusalem location are in the minority, as my micro-office shares a floor with an accounting firm, multiple Jewish fellowship programs, law offices and even a travel agency. While WeWork – named as one of the biggest private office tenants in Manhattan in August 2018 by Recode.net – doesn’t rent office space just to hi-tech companies, I was hoping the Jerusalem location would attract a similar tech-based clientele as found at their Tel Aviv locations.
Expectations about the Jerusalem WeWork location took me back to my 20s, when long before the tumbleweeds floated down Fifth avenue of Manhattan’s now-defunct Silicon Alley, I was the public relations manager of an Internet start-up company. It was thrilling to be a part of the start-up tech scene. I read Red Herring and frequently pitched the tech section of the Wall Street Journal, received a Palm Pilot and stock options as a signing bonus, and spent late nights discussing burn rates and strategy over pints of beer at tech-friendly bars like No Idea. With my co-workers, we burned the midnight oil while ordering in Ben & Jerry’s from Urban Fetch and listening to music streamed on Napster. When the start-up downsized me out of my job six months later, I found employment at a leading public relations firm, where I worked with Israeli hi-tech companies looking to break into the US market and was on the team that spearheaded the media relations launch of Amazon’s Gourmet Foods.
I tap back into that professional energy of my youth each time I swipe my black keycard to access the office space on WeWork Jerusalem’s third floor. With all my current clients based in the United States, it’s refreshing to work late nights in an office space with other professionals servicing the east and west coasts. Gone are the days when I had to whisper during conference calls so as not to wake my sleeping husband and children in adjoining rooms.
While I personally don’t use the location to host client meetings, there are multiple conference room options members can book using paid credits. For coffee lovers, there’s a stocked all-you-can-drink coffee bar and two types of Jem beers on tap, for whenever members feel the urge to imbibe. Catering to the observant members, the kitchen houses three different microwaves: one meat, one dairy and the other not kosher. There’s even a washing cup in the women’s bathroom. At Roth & Co., one of the accounting firms at WeWork Jerusalem, there are multiple mincha minyanim throughout the day and there’s also a dedicated prayer space on the second floor for Muslim members.
The dog-friendly culture is another perk at WeWork; I’ve enjoyed watching members walk past my micro-office with their dogs padding softly behind. Knowing that I can bring a dog to the office has taken our theoretical conversation about adopting a dog into more tangible territory, much to the delight of our children.
WeWork also prides itself on making connections, employing community managers whose purpose –aside from managing the day to day functionality of the shared office space – is to help facilitate those connections. Recently, I hired a WeWork Jerusalem member for a writing project and have slowly been meeting other digital marketers working throughout the building.
But I see the most potential with WeWork Jerusalem’s frequent member events; I’ve enjoyed their ice cream social, free sushi farewell lunch, and as a food allergy mom, appreciated their PB&J networking event. Ideally, I’d love for some of these events to be industry-specific, creating more intimate and qualified networking opportunities. But for now, I’m content breaking bread and mingling with other members.
In addition to frequent WeWork-run events, the space has also played host to events for both member and non-member organizations. Recently, member organization Gift of Life Israel Bone Marrow Registry hosted a swab & swish wine event in the second floor lounge area that was a huge success.
While co-working spaces in Jerusalem are not new, from Hub Etzion in Efrat to PICO Spaces in Talpiyot, I’m thrilled that WeWork opened a location in Israel’s capital. If pressed to isolate a singular feature about the co-working space, I’d say that it’s the ethnic diversity that gives me the most satisfaction. The fact that there are Israeli Arabs and Jews sharing a co-working space serves as a blueprint for coexistence that I hope spreads throughout this city. As the building continues to grow, I’m hopeful that the start ups and hi-tech companies that currently cluster in Tel Aviv will look toward WeWork Jerusalem as a place to call home.
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