By Tova Norman
In 1990, when Antony Gordon was a Fulbright scholar at Harvard Law School (with classmate Barack Obama), he chaired the Harvard International Rock for Education Committee and made calls to major entertainers such as Bruce Springsteen and Sting from his dorm room, asking them to participate in a concert to benefit education.
The planning landed him in the office of the CEO of CBS and into networking opportunities with some of the top executives in the entertainment industry.
“Within a short amount of time I was meeting with the power brokers of the entertainment industry,” he said. “It was the most insane entry into an entertainment circle that people spend a lifetime trying to cultivate.”
That experience gave Rabbi Gordon, a native South African who also attended Oxford, a grand impression of America. “The most unbelievable thing about this country is anything is possible, and dreaming big can certainly pay off.”
Rabbi Gordon is speaking at the Atlanta Scholars Kollel’s annual networking event at Congregation Or VeShalom on Wednesday, Sept. 14, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
It’s the 12th year the kollel has held this event, which usually brings in around 300 participants.
“It’s a nice opportunity to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, eat some good food and get some inspiration before the High Holidays,” said ASK Rabbi David Silverman, who explained that the event is open to everyone.
“It’ really for people from all walks of Jewish life,” he said. “It’s just words of inspiration about growth and in this case growing from failure.”
The topic is “Failure Is the Beginning on the Road to Success.”
Rabbi Gordon knows about success and failure.
He has worked as a financial adviser and asset manager to such celebrities as boxer Manny Pacquiao, basketball players Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, and rapper MC Hammer. He has managed two hedge funds. He chairs the nominating committee of the Raoul Wallenberg Award.
His most recent venture, LAST (Life After Sports Transition), aims to help athletes prepare for the end of their playing careers financially and emotionally.
But “as much as I have been blessed with tremendous success, I think it would be safe to say that I’ve probably had more setbacks and more disappointments than most,” Rabbi Gordon said. “That comes with the terrain of being a person who really wants to leave a mark on the world and is prepared to do things out of the box.”
He said it helps to respond to those setbacks with positivity. “Probably the biggest blessing I have is a general proclivity to see the silver lining in life.”
During his speech he plans to discuss his own struggles and those of others. “I’m going to give some examples of pretty famous people who I know personally who have been through tough things in life.”
Rabbi Gordon said that over the years of working with celebrities and wealthy people, he has realized that more money doesn’t mean more happiness.
“I think one of the things that I’ve come to realize is that at the end of the day there are a lot of commonalities in the human plight,” he said.
He said he sees the negative results of America’s celebrity culture. “There’s a huge pop culture that flies in the face of what traditional Judaism imparts, and I think a lot of people are torn.”
Rabbi Gordon knows about those Jewish values. He spent close to two years learning with a study partner in Israel from 10 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. Los Angeles time before taking a 14-hour exam in Israel and receiving rabbinic ordination.
Becoming a rabbi, he said, was one of his “success moments.”
He said he hopes the audience at the kollel event will realize that setbacks and success go hand in hand.
“To me, the definition of success is really how we respond to the inevitable setbacks in life,” Rabbi Gordon said. “It’s not in spite of the setbacks and curveballs, but it’s because of those things that people achieve certain things.”
He hopes his speech will inspire attendees to move past setbacks and approach their dreams with zeal.
“If people leave the event at the end of the evening and feel empowered and have some specific ideas of how to move forward and achieve some of their life’s aspirations and dreams, as a speaker the evening would be a huge success,” Rabbi Gordon said.
And perhaps, he said, someone will be inspired to revive a dream. “If one person leaves that room and says, ‘I’m going to give it one more shot,’ then the trip has been more than worthwhile.”
What: ASK annual networking event
Where: Congregation Or VeShalom, 1681 N. Druid Hills Road, Brookhaven
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14
Tickets: $30 in advance or $36 at the door; atlantakollel.org or 404-321-4085