Every Jewish community around the world has adopted traits from the particular culture and country they call home. For beauty entrepreneur Natanel Bigger there are aspects of his own German-Jewish upbringing that he believes have stood him in good stead. “There’s the natural Jewish tendency for entrepreneurship, combined with a focus that is very German — I like things to happen as soon as possible! The efficiency, structure and strategy and perfectionism is definitely from my German side, combined with passion and creativity that is all Israeli!”
Yet his childhood in Hamburg was not easy. While cities like Berlin and Frankfurt have thriving Jewish communities, this was less the case in conservative Hamburg, where he and his Israeli mother were very much outsiders.
“Elderly people would poke at us with their walking sticks and mutter ‘Ausländer raus!’ (Foreigners out!)” Not having a Jewish community or a large family for support, it was hard for mother and son to maintain traditions like Shabbat or synagogue. Teachers would also try to make Bigger say Christian prayers in the classroom, while fellow pupils frequently made flippant jokes about Hitler as a way of dealing with the uncomfortable legacy that their grandparents had left behind. Once, he was even attacked by a much older boy — a neo-Nazi — resulting in a broken arm and almost five months in hospital.
Undeterred by these negative experiences, he threw himself into getting as much work experience as possible and at university decided to read Chinese Studies. This took him to China where he learnt to speak Mandarin (already speaking fluent Hebrew, German and English).
Surprisingly, China is where he reconnected with his Jewish side. “I started attending community services and reconnecting with my faith via other ex-pat Jews I met out there.” Rather than encountering hostility for being Jewish, he said that in China it was quite the opposite. “The Chinese know Jews as good business people. When you say you’re Jewish in shops, they drop the price and say things like ‘Jewish people are very smart — very, very smart!’”
After graduating, his work ethic and gift for networking led him to eventually meeting and working for Andy Rubin the CEO of Pentland Brands. Rubin recalls, “I was introduced to Natanel in 2012 by our Israeli business partner. After telling me about his very interesting life and what he wanted to achieve, I thought it was worth taking a punt on hiring him as my Executive Assistant. It paid off and he brought us a different way of thinking based on his understanding of China, Germany and Israel. He progressed quickly and was soon promoted. He is a natural entrepreneur, a great schmoozer and will build great businesses.”
Bigger has found a welcoming home among the British Jewish community, meeting other key industry players such as Mark Adlestone, OBE, Chairman of the jewellers, Beaverbrooks who would regularly invite him over for Shabbat dinners.
Bigger also noticed an increased awareness of Judaism in British culture. “I couldn’t believe how the UK Prime Minister would make a broadcast wishing us ‘chag sameach’. You contrast that with Germany, where top CEOs I worked for would ask ‘what’s Chanukah?’ There’s a feeling in the UK that everybody is aware of acknowledging and celebrating different faiths.”
Inspired by what his former mentor Andy Rubin had achieved, Bigger has set up his own business, Monpure London — a scalp and hair health brand, with the backing of his former employers and their associates including Rubin and Adlestone.
“Hair loss is something that affects 40% of all women in their lifetime but men are much more vocal about it,” he explains. “In women’s haircare, the focus is more about styling rather than treating and preventing issues like hair loss. I saw a gap in the market.” Why does he think so many Jewish people are drawn to becoming entrepreneurs? “It’s in our blood, that urge to survive. There’s this sense of ‘I have to be at the top so I can support others in less fortunate situations’. There are only 15 million Jews in the whole world. We have to keep supporting each other.”
Monpure London launches in May at monpure.com @monpurelondon