Intermountain Jewish News

Banner
Monday,
Sep 01st

In Israel, haredi men going to work

E-mail Print PDF

Haredi high-school students at Israeli Sci-Tech Schools spend their mornings studying Torah and their afternoons learning a trade.TEL AVIV — When Moshe Friedman turned 31, he made what was for him a radical decision: He left school and launched a start-up.

Plenty of Israelis jump from graduate school to the high-tech sector, but for Friedman the leap was longer. A descendant of rabbis, he had studied at leading haredi Orthodox schools where many of his peers would spend decades, never intending to work.

Friedman soon found himself caught between two worlds. Largely secular venture capitalists were reluctant to fund his video editing company, he said, because the cultural gap between secular and haredi engendered a measure of mistrust.

And he kept the company a secret from his extended family for fear they would disapprove.

“What I discovered was to be haredi and enter ‘start-up nation’ is very hard,” Friedman said. “The start-up world is a very secular world. They looked at me as a stranger.”

The question of how to better integrate a growing haredi population has long dogged Israeli leaders. Most haredi men never serve in the military, as is mandatory for other Jewish Israelis at age 18, and some haredi men instead engage in religious study full-time.

Israel’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies reported that as of 2011, fewer than 50% of haredi men worked.

The call by secular politicians for haredi Israelis to more equitably “share the burden” became a rallying cry this year. But a recent law extending the military draft to haredim was met with strident opposition, with haredi leaders accusing the government of trying to secularize their community.

A STEADY stream of haredi men has joined Israel’s workforce.?   Some view work as merely a necessity to support their families, while others see the rising tide of haredi working men as a quiet force for increased understanding between them and the rest of the country.

Friedman is among the latter. Three years after founding his video company, he co-founded a new initiative to place more haredi employees at Israeli technology firms.

The program, run by the Israel office of the telecommunications giant Cisco Systems, launched last year and already has placed 100 haredi employees at companies such as Google and Intel.

“There’s a stigma that because secular Israelis don’t have [Jewish] laws and religion, they don’t have clear values,” said Zika Abzuk, who heads the Cisco program with Friedman.

“What’s clear to us is that when secular and haredi meet one on one, they know each other as people and all the preconceived notions drain away.”

The Cisco program, called Kama-Tech, is one of several initiatives aimed at giving haredim the education and tools necessary to find professions.

Haredi primary schools teach little English and math, so graduates typically find themselves ill equipped to seek employment, often having to attend junior college and then earn a bachelor’s degree before they can hope to land a job.

But employment counselors at Kemach, a Jerusalem-based organization that has helped 6,000 haredim find work, say yeshivas endow haredim with skills useful to companies.

Talmud study in pairs teaches haredi men to collaborate on projects. Long hours at yeshiva give them a strong work ethic.

And because haredim who enter the job market typically have wives and children, they’re more settled and less likely than young secular Israelis to bounce around jobs.

“This generation of workers is always working, but people move to different places,” said Moshe Feder, an employment coach at Kemach.

“What’s important to the standard haredi employee is the stability of his salary. He doesn’t go other places. He’s more loyal to his workplace.”

While Cisco’s program aims for social cohesion, Kemach has no agenda beyond guiding haredim to gainful employment — an approach that has gained the tacit approval of leading haredi rabbis.

Students at Mivchar, an all-haredi college in Bnei Brak, said that rabbis sanctioned their earning a degree only after students said they needed one to support their wives and children.

Elazar Oshri, 28, who was cramming for an entrance exam last week to a geoinformatics program, was attempting to gain admission to the college after years of religious study. Even if he was accepted, Oshri said, he hoped to continue to study Torah at night.

“[My rabbi] didn’t make my life easy about this,” Oshri said. “But my conditions changed financially. This is a means, not a goal.”

SOME haredim are starting secular studies well before their bank accounts run dry.

At the Kfar Zeitim school near the northern city of Tiberias, haredi high schoolers spend the morning studying a religious curriculum and the afternoon learning a trade, such as carpentry or electrical engineering. Their school day runs from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Kfar Zeitim is one of five such schools run by the Israel Sci-Tech Schools, an organization focused on educating Israel’s minorities. Some 500 haredi students attend the network’s schools.

Zvi Peleg, Sci-Tech’s director general, said the schools have avoided ruffling feathers among haredim by targeting students who are struggling in the yeshiva system.

“There are adolescents who hang around in the street and don’t learn Torah,” Peleg said. “Their ability to get into drugs and bad places is high.”

A few haredim studying toward technical degrees said there was increasing acceptance of working men in the haredi community.

Even with the premium placed on full-time Torah study, Friedman said haredim prioritize their families’ economic stability.

“I didn’t want people to know I was doing a start-up,” he said. “But when I was already doing Kama-Tech, they were happy that I was helping people.”

 

IJN e-Edition

This is only a taste! Get full access to the IJN via our e-Edition, only $14.04 for IJN Print subscribers.

E-Edition subscribers get access to a complete digital replica of the IJN, which includes all special sections.

Get the IJN's free newsletter!

Shabbat Times

JTA News

Report: SodaStream mulling departure from West Bank plant

Marcy Oster The Israeli firm SodaStream, which has been a target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, is considering closing its West Bank factory. ... [Link]

Canadian Nazi Party founder running for Ontario township post

Marcy Oster The founder of the Canadian Nazi Party, John Beattie, is running for deputy head of the town council in an Ontario community. ... [Link]

Foreign Affairs Committee’s Royce and Engel to visit Israel

Marcy Oster Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will visit Israel this week. ... [Link]

Turkish Jews can stay mum on Israel’s Gaza op, Turkish Jewish intellectuals say

Marcy Oster Jewish citizens of Turkey are under no obligation to comment on Israel’s operation in Gaza, a group of Jewish intellectuals in Turkey said in an open letter. ... [Link]

U.S. calls on Israel to reverse land appropriation

Marcy Oster The United States called on Israel to cancel the government appropriation of West Bank land in the Etzion bloc, while Israeli ministers praised and panned the decision. ... [Link]

Artists in Brazilian exhibition protest Israeli funding

Marcy Oster Most of the artists participating in a major Brazilian art event protested funding for the show from the Israeli government. ... [Link]

Thousands rally against escalating anti-Semitism in Britain

Marcy Oster Thousands of people gathered for a rally in central London to protest the rise in anti-Semitism in Britain. ... [Link]

New children’s books: a tale from Spain, easing a young girl’s pain

mbrodsky Jacqueline Jules was inspired to write “Never Say a Mean Word, A Tale from Medieval Spain” by a Torah commentary she read — more than a dozen years ago. ... [Link]

Intermountain Jewish News • 1177 Grant Street • Denver, CO 80203 • 303 861 2234 • FAX 303 832 6942
email@ijn.com • larry@ijn.com • lori@ijn.com