Feature Stories

Giving Israel’s Haredim Hope for Self-Sustainability

Akiva prepares for his first paid job at JDC's Mafteach Haredi employment center.
Akiva prepares for his first paid job at JDC's Mafteach Haredi employment center.

It can be hard enough to plan for the expected, but as Akiva, 31, and his wife Tzipora, 28, recently learned, having to adapt when the unexpected happens can literally alter the course of a family’s life. A child of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) parents, Akiva was raised to make Talmud study paramount. As an adult he fulfilled this mandate by studying at a kollel (institute for Talmud study) rather than pursuing a career.

With their first child, Akiva and Tzipora lived frugally on his modest kollel stipend and her salary. Their life on the outskirts of B’nei Brak was manageable until Tzipora gave birth to triplets and the family’s expenses quickly eclipsed their income.

Despite efforts to conserve money, the family of six skidded deeper into poverty. Akiva was ashamed that he could not provide for his wife and children, but with no education or work experience outside the yeshiva world, opportunities to increase his income were extremely limited. Then he answered an ad in the community newspaper for JDC’s network of Mafteach (Hebrew for “key”) Haredi employment centers.

JDC’s Mafteach centers address the stigma, cultural barriers, and gap in education and professional experience that often preclude Haredi parents from efficiently maneuvering in the modern job market. At Mafteach, Akiva was encouraged to think broadly about his capabilities and build his resume; he was then connected to companies where JDC has established relationships.

Following an intensive screening process, Motorola offered Akiva his first paid job, including future training. Mafteach guided Akiva through the process of negotiating terms, accepting the position, and successfully obtaining approval from his prospective supervisor to adjust his shift time so he could drop his children off at daycare.

Today, Akiva’s salary is helping him and Tzipora chip away at their debt and move steadily toward supporting themselves with dignity. The couple agrees that, at least this time, the unexpected brought not only new lives into the world, but new life and opportunity to their young family.

Tags for this story: Employment / Entrepreneurship Training, Haredi

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