The Asian and Jewish communities enjoy a unique relationship when it comes to the love for cuisines, their entrepreneurial spirit and observing family traditions alongside their respective cultures. Perhaps, these similarities were best illustrated at the inaugural Asian Jewish Business Network (ABJN) hosted on Monday, 4th November at the Lords Cricket Stadium.
The event was attended by a cross-section of dignitaries from the field of politics, business and law among others. Eminent members included Alok Sharma MP, Secretary of State for International Development, Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business, Sir Lloyd Dorfman CBE, Founder of Travelex & Chairman of Doddle, Lord Karan Bilimoria, Chairman and Founder Cobra Beer, Zaki Cooper of Indian Jewish Association, Faisal Islam, Economics Editor of BBC News and cricketer Monty Panesar among others.
The Brainchild of Russell Bahar and Justin Cohen
This unique network was the brainchild of Russell Bahar, Director of Spring Ad Consultancy alongside Justin Cohen, News Editor for Jewish News. Over 400 members from both the communities are believed to have gathered together for the corporate network that kick-started with a keynote speech from Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP. Having served in senior banking positions in Frankfurt, Stockholm, and London, Mr. Sharma was previously instrumental in introducing Masala Bonds to the UK. Now, in his role as the Secretary of State for International Development, he is striving to secure finances and support from private enterprises for countries in need of humanitarian aid. He said,
“I am honoured to be at the launch of ABJN. A few years ago, I was the Co-Chairman of Conservatives Friends of India and was speaking to my friends at another organisation, the Conservative Friends of Israel. Back then, we discussed what more we can do to encourage bilateral trade, foster business and ensure deeper engagement between the British Indian and Jewish diaspora.
“Now, a closer observance of the two communities reveals that they also have shared values around patriotism, tradition and entrepreneurial spirit. Be it in politics or business, individuals from both these communities have punched well above their weight and contributed to the UK's economic and cultural fabric. This network is, therefore, an iconic beginning to further strengthening these communities.”
Rajesh Agrawal, Deputy Mayor of London for Business also recognised the contribution of both the communities and said,
“People of Asian and Jewish heritage have played a central part in London’s economy for centuries. It is a great idea to bring them together.”
Lord Bilimoria warned: “Never get to the top” as an immigrant in the UK
Perhaps, another characteristic similar to professionals from both the communities is their hard work and determination to culminate their journeys into success stories. Lord Karan Bilimoria, Chairman, and Founder of Cobra Beer shared his own story whilst describing the UK as “a meritocracy and the most entrepreneurial nation in this world”. He recalled how his family had earlier warned him that he would “never get to the top” as an immigrant in the UK. He said,
“I am ashamed to say that they were right, but then I saw in front of my eyes this glass ceiling being shattered.
“I believe anyone in this country can succeed regardless of their race, religion or background.”
Elated by the manifold success of the event, organiser Russell Bahar is believed to be planning for another similar event in 2020. Although the details are in the pipeline, he is expected to scale up the size of the event as more entrepreneurs have now expressed their interest in associating with the network. He said,
“Before this event, I knew very little about the Asian community based here in the UK. I always loved Asian cuisine but through this event, I have also had an interface with members of the Asian diaspora. In the process, I have learned how professional and friendly they are.
“I am already in talks with representatives from some of the high street banks about organising next year's event. The whole objective behind this network is to harness the synergies of the two communities and I am especially grateful to Justin Cohen and Zaki Cooper, instrumental in the culmination of this successful event.”
The headline sponsors of the event were foreign exchange company Currencies Direct and law firm Axiom Stone Solicitors.