Carmi Wurtman recalls a childhood growing up in the Philadelphia area, with his grandfather’s house on Chestnut Street and his step-grandmother’s kosher-style hot dog business.
Today, Wurtman is the CEO of the Jerusalem-based 2b Vibes, one of the biggest concert promotion and production companies in Israel, organizing about 30 live music and entertainment events annually. He lives in Sho’eva, a moshav near Jerusalem, and has three kids ages 6, 9 and 12. But his journey to this point, which includes jobs as a bartender, process server, real estate broker, DJ and Microsoft engineer, has never been a straight and clear path.
“Being able to bring culture to a place that has a lot of hardships, I feel really proud,” Wurtman said. “It wasn’t even something I meant to get into.”
Wurtman spent his first eight years living in Lower Merion. His parents, Stuart and Enid Wurtman, were heavily involved in the Soviet Jewry movement. In the 1970s, they held leadership roles in the Soviet Jewry Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“It was a short time in my life, but I have lots of memories,” Wurtman said. “It’s definitely on my bucket list to show my kids where I grew up.”
His parents’ work eventually moved the family to Jerusalem. Wurtman still returned to Philadelphia every summer for the next eight years to visit his grandparents, until they moved to Florida.
On his first day of school in Israel, he wore a Phillies hat and met Sha’anan Streett, who was wearing a Baltimore Orioles hat, a fact the two bonded over. Streett, now the frontman of Hadag Nahash, a hip-hop band in Israel, would become a lifelong friend.
“We both like having a good time,” Streett said. “We believe that it’s very important in life to enjoy yourself. We both appreciate good music and, you know, at this point in time, our kids are friends. We hang out. Our kids hang out.”
At the age of 18, like most Israelis, Wurtman went into the Israel Defense Forces. After his service there, he attended the University of Maryland, College Park for a year, where he studied business and psychology.
But the Gulf War soon broke out. Israel found itself under rocket fire from Iraq, and Wurtman decided to return home to be closer to his parents.
In Israel, though, Wurtman was confused about what he wanted to do. He started running a bar called the Border Cafe, located on the ’67 border. The bar, he said, attracted college students, yeshiva students and United Nations workers.
He ran it for about a year until it closed down. Then, he moved to New York City. He had a friend there who was working as a process server. The two started an agency together, which was successful, but Wurtman found he didn’t like the culture of the work.
His uncle, who lives in California, convinced him to move to the West Coast and try his hand at real estate. He got his license and worked as a mortgage broker for a year and a half. But he found that he missed his family and returned, once again, to Israel.
There, he worked for his father in real estate and studied television production. He had friends working at various bars throughout Jerusalem, and it was through them that he discovered Gotham City.
“It was a cool bar where the art community of Jerusalem hung out,” Wurtman said. “It was a late night place. … From the first day that I went to this bar, I ended up going every night of the week. It was a place [where] I felt very comfortable.”
Six months after he found Gotham City, he learned the bar was going to close. But he knew he would do whatever it took to help reopen it.
Two weeks later, he did just that, starting him in yet another new direction. For the next two years, he was the owner and occasionally the DJ at Gotham City. Streett’s band, Hadag Nahash, had its first two shows there.
Wurtman also expanded Gotham City into a nightclub called Gotham Club.
But Wurtman eventually grew tired of the nightclub life. After taking a coast-to-coast trip of the United States, he became certified as a Microsoft engineer and got into high tech.
Streett then approached him with an idea for a nonprofit that would set Wurtman on his current path.
The idea was the One Shekel Festival. Together, the two would put on festivals in poor parts of Israel for only one shekel, allowing people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it to attend.
“Financial differences and geographic differences shouldn’t be a reason to have cultural disconnection between us,” Streett said. “For some reason, I thought Carmi could help out, and I was right. … I knew that Carmi was a guy who wasn’t afraid of challenges.”
In the beginning, they didn’t know if they were going to be able raise the funds to pull the festival off, but it was a success.
That first year, they put on festivals in Kiryat Shmona, Sderot and the Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamonim, each attended by thousands. The second year, they also started putting on empowerment classes for teenagers. Over the next 11 years, One Shekel put on 40 festivals.
Running One Shekel, Wurtman started getting approached about putting on and promoting other concerts, leading to the creation of 2b Vibes. Through the production and promotion company, he has worked with international talent, including The Black Eyed Peas, Regina Spektor and Paul Young, among others. 2b Vibes has also produced the Matisyahu: Live in Israel DVD and supplied the Middle East production services for the Sacha Baron Cohen film, Brüno.
Between artists sometimes canceling at the last minute and even the threat of war hanging over the country, working as a concert promoter and producer in Israel can present unique challenges.
But Wurtman sees his job as a privilege.
“Today, I just enjoy putting on events,” Wurtman said. “My job is just to go around the country making people happy.”
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