Lake View man finds answer on kibbutz in Israel

By FELICIA DECHTER
STAFF WRITER

    Mazel Tov to Lake View resident Todd Natenberg, who at age 31, has finally found himself.

    Last April, Natenberg quit his job, got divorced for the second time (no kids), sold his house, put his stuff in storage and went to Israel to live on a kibbutz.

   “It’s something I would encourage all 30-year-olds in “mid-life crisis” to take on.” Natenberg said.  “I know many have gone to a kibbutz, but few the way I journeyed.  It was the best experience of my life, and the most powerful ever.”

    A native of Highland Park.  Natenberg graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1991 with a degree in journalism.  He then worked in Phoenix as a reporter at the Arizona Republic newspaper on a Pulliam Fellowship, a journalism internship named after Eugene C. Pulliam, the well-known publisher.

    When Natenberg returned to Chicago later that year, he landed a job at the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald, where he worked for a couple of years. His ultimate goal?  Making it to the pages of the Chicago Tribune.

    It never happened.  “My third year in journalism, I began to question a lot of stuff.”  Natenberg recalled.  “Not so much the long hours and low pay.  But I was emotionally burnt out.”

    Natenberg, while working for the Daily Herald, had covered the Brown’s Chicken murders that occurred several years ago in Palatine.  After covering the “heart-wrenching” funerals of victims, he says, he became cynical, and began trusting nobody.  He left journalism shortly thereafter.

    After a brief stint selling shoes and as a sales manager and sales trainer for a telecommunications company.  Natenberg decided to start his own sales-training company.  Yet, he was in the midst of finalizing his second divorce when he decided he needed an adventure.  So it was off to Israel,  where he sought the opportunity to help his fellow Jews and learn about Israeli culture.

   “When I first arrived at the Kibbutz Yakum, I had no idea what to expect.”  Natenberg said.  All he knew was that he was about a half-hour from Tel Aviv, that the Kibbutz Yakum is about 50 years old, and like a little village, with about 500 people staying on its grounds. 

   Yet  Natenberg was in for a surprise,  because they were not all Jews.  “I was one of two Jewish volunteers on the kibbutz,”  he explained.  “In Israel, it’s not like it was 30 years ago on a kibbutz.  Today, it’s all 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds from Europe, without a care in the world.  Israel, a kibbutz and Jews meant little to them.  They were professional travelers, looking to meet other travelers.

   “The rooms were like a prison cell,”  he continued.  “They were very basic: a bed and drawers, no carpeting or anything.  My joke is that I slept with ants for six weeks.”

   By day, Natenberg was kept busy loading and emptying the kibbutz dishwasher (his job), and making friends.  He also found time to write an article about his experiences for the Jerusalem Post.  He spent two Shabbats at the home of Orthodox Israelis in Jerusalem,  prayed at the Wailing Wall, and even spent a Saturday night at a prayer ceremony in a synagogue with Hasidim Jews in an “ultra-orthodox,” extremist neighborhood.

   “At first I was viewed as an intruder,”  Natenberg recalled. But by the end of his six-week visit he had made many friends, won many hearts, and found where his heart belonged, as well.

   “It made me appreciate what I have in the United States in terms of freedom,” he said.  “After Israel, I discovered life is short no matter how long you live.  I’m living for the moment, but excited about tomorrow.”  Natenberg spent the last two weeks of his soul searching trip traveling Cairo, Jordan, Iraq and Jerusalem.

    He came home feeling spiritually refreshed and re-awakened.  So much, in fact, that he got a part-time job working as a mascot coordinator for the Chicago Bulls, ran the Chicago Marathon, where he proudly came in at No 16,116  out of about 28,000 people, and, finally began his Lake view-based business, TBN (his initials, B stands for Brian) Sales Solutions.

    TBN offers customized sales training for companies with small to mid-sized outside sales forces, and establishes sales processes designed to increase commissions and dramatically improve companies sales rep retention rate.

    “I get a kick out of sales.” Natenberg said.  “I was considering going to work for someone and then decided that at this point in my life I know what it takes to get the job done.”