Bringing Opportunity to Israel’s Haredi Job Seekers

March 31, 2015


Until he turned 18, “Shimon” had never used a computer. But when he turned it on, he was instantly captivated — and committed to pursuing his newfound interest in electronics.

Since Shimon grew up attending ultra-Orthodox Haredi yeshivas in Israel and had very little coursework in secular subjects like mathematics and science, technology felt like a “new world” to him, even though he was a millennial.

At the same time, the field came naturally to him, and his interest continued to grow.

After getting married, having two children, and learning in a kollel (an institute for full-time study of the Talmud and other rabbinic texts), Shimon decided to look for a job. He wanted to find fulfillment in his profession life — and to ensure that his young and growing family would not be trapped living in poverty.

Without knowledge of the working world or role models in his ultra-Orthodox family, Shimon went to JDC’s Mafteach Haredi Employment Center in Haifa to get started, and there he received a range of support from the center’s staff, themselves members of the Haredi community.

After taking courses in basic English, mathematics, and computer skills, Shimon met with a job counselor who suggested he pursue higher education to develop a career instead of plateauing at an entry-level job.

His JDC counselor connected him to a yearlong prep program for Haredim hoping to study at the Technion in Haifa, Israel’s most prestigious science and technology university.

Shimon decided to take the risk and dive into his studies.

“I couldn’t wait,” he said. “I started as soon as I could.”

Today, while Shimon’s neighbors think he’s continuing his religious studies at the kollel, Shimon is actually beginning work on an associate’s degree at the Technion.

He said he’s most interested in electrical engineering but appreciates that the Technion’s holistic program will give him a taste of a variety of fields.

Though it’s difficult for his family to get by on his wife’s salary and his scholarship, and they often find themselves pinching pennies by the end of the month, he knows their struggles will pay off in the long run.

“One day, I want to work somewhere like Waze,” he said of the Israeli GPS mobile application. “I want to take an idea and use technology to make it happen.”

Because of religious sensitivities and the stigma of going out into the secular workforce in his Haredi community, Shimon has so far only shared his academic pursuits and professional ambitions with his wife. One day, he hopes share his success with at least part of his extended family, too.

But until then, he’s dreaming about his future and — with JDC’s help — taking the personal and professional risks needed to make it a reality.

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