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High Energy

Chany G. Rosengarten

Whether he’s boosting his investments in clean energy or conferring with the Torah world’s leading lights regarding spiritual propellants, Neil Auerbach always stays plugged in

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

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LEADING LIGHTS Neil Auerbach travels the globe to influence policy on clean energy worldwide, but Wall Street and the clean-energy sector aren’t the only places where he’s well-known. “The rebbe demonstrated a deep and sophisticated understanding of the inner workings of some of the world’s largest financial institutions. I was impressed by the rebbe’s grasp of international finance, clearly achieved without the Wall Street Journal” (Photos: Amir Levy, Tosh and family archives)

I t was a cold Purim night, the March winds stonewalling the spring buds that had tentatively sprouted on branches.

But inside Neil Auerbach’s Monsey home, there was music and merriment, a mingling of every sort of Jew. A Wall Street businessman in a red jumpsuit was in deep conversation with a couple close to retirement. Unaffiliated singles scanned the room for their potential zivug. A group of bochurim twirling fire batons shook the floorboards. A small knot of youngsters, already tipsy, performed a song they’d composed especially for this party.

At the head of a dining table in the center of the room sat Neil Auerbach, on this night dressed in a tie-dyed shirt and a Texan fringed vest. On his one side was a chassid wearing a flowered beketshe; on his other, a rosh yeshivah. Listening deeply, his head bent close to his visitors, Neil wrote checks. The chassid stood, proffered a warm brachah, and walked away while folding the bounty into his breast pocket. The rosh yeshivah, similarly encouraged, left with his small entourage. They were quickly replaced by others, a bevy of generosity seekers on this most holy of nights.

A line snaked from his table to the foyer to his front yard, where a crowd waited in a heated tent. “We never did a tent until now, it’s not our style,” Neil says, recognizing the luxury of such a thing. “But the weather is forecast to be in single digits and we didn’t want anyone waiting on the lawn to be cold.”

“That’s Nachman,” his wife, Judy, a leader in the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, says. “Focusing on the needs of a fellow Jew allows him to slow down. His mind is always active. But the connection, it stops him, it opens his heart.”

Power Source

When he’s not overseeing Purim parties, Neil Auerbach is the founder, CEO, and managing partner of Hudson Clean Energy Partners, a private equity firm that invests in the clean-energy industry.

Neil Auerbach presents his grandfather’s sefer, written in 1932, to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. When he inherited the manuscript, he had no idea of its value

Auerbach spent ten years on Wall Street as a tax lawyer before converting his skills to working as an investment banker and investor. Around 15 years ago, he started investing in hard assets like airplanes, railcars, and power plants for Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs, with a special focus on renewable energy assets, such as solar power and wind power plants.

Today, Hudson Clean Energy Group and Sunlight Financial (another Auerbach company), have invested around $1.5 billion in all parts of the clean-energy sector. Auerbach’s portfolio includes six companies active in over a dozen countries, as well as solar-power projects in the United States, Japan, and South America. His investments are diverse, ranging from power plants (wind, solar, and hydropower) to the companies that manufacture key pieces of equipment used in building those plants, and to the businesses that lend money to people who install solar power.

Neil travels the world to manage his businesses and convenes frequently with government and industrial leaders in the United States, China, and the Middle East. He is also active in the policy world of clean energy, where he contributes articles and provides advice to policy makers.

But Wall Street and the clean-energy world aren’t the only places Neil Auerbach is well-known. Institutions in Monsey, Lakewood, and Eretz Yisrael are also familiar with Neil, who is happy to support some of the Jewish world’s most venerable yeshivos and organizations.

Jewish Pride

Neil (Nachman Zev) Auerbach grew up in a traditional home in Queens, eventually attending New York University and Boston University for two law degrees. His comfortable upbringing was nothing like that of his father’s.

Shmuel Aaron Auerbach arrived in Eretz Yisrael as a child, and attended school in Kfar chassidim. But with World War II raging, young Shmuel Aaron, 16, enlisted to fight with the British against the Nazis. Less than a year into his service, Shmuel Aaron was captured by the Germans when his vessel was struck off the Isle of Crete. He went on to spend four years as a prisoner of war in a labor camp called Stalag VIII-B, just two miles from Auschwitz-Birkenau. Although he fared far better than some of his Jewish brethren, Shmuel Aaron Auerbach and his campmates were forced on a death march known as The Long March — several hundred miles in the dead of winter with almost no food, no warm clothes or proper boots, and no shelter. Shmuel Aaron saw two-thirds of his comrades perish.

Despite his traumatic experiences as a POW under the Nazis, Shmuel Aaron heeded the call of military duty soon afterward, serving as a senior officer during the Israeli War of Independence. Although he remained close to Yiddishkeit, the impact of spending nine years at war took its toll.

“He gave me a tremendous pride in being Jewish,” Neil says of his father. “In my early twenties, I realized that to a certain extent, I was also a Holocaust victim. To repair the breach was to reattach myself to the traditions of my father’s fathers.”

One singular opportunity to do that came during Neil’s first year at Boston University School of Law, where Rabbi Dr. Aaron Twerski (brother of Rav Michel Twerski of Milwaukee and of psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski) was one of Neil’s professors.

“My grandfather wrote seforim,” Neil Auerbach casually told Professor Twerski one day.

“I did a double take,” Rabbi Dr. Twerski says. “This student was a Ropschitzer einekel, a [descendant of a] nephew of the Divrei Chaim, a descendant of the Noam Elimelech.”

Professor Twerski told Neil, “You are an einekel of gedolei Yisrael. Are you going to do something about that?” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 663)

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