"I never worked with anyone before who wore a kapota [the long black coat
worn by some very Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews], and I certainly never shared a
bag of bisli with anyone like that. Though we live in the same city, we live
in two different worlds," says Jeremy G., a long-time employee at a major
Jerusalem high tech company, about a co-worker.
"But since Moshe and I started working together on this Internet project, we
both discovered that we can like and respect each other without dressing the
same way or having the same worldview."
Jerusalem is the center of the world, yet her population comes from the four
corners of the earth - a sure recipe for divisiveness and dissention. The
pressure cooker of life in the holy city too often builds walls instead of
bridges between people. But the workplace is often a happy exception.
"When our third child was born, I decided I didn't want my wife to continue
working full-time while I studied in a postgraduate yeshiva," says Jeremy's
co-worker, Moshe C., a 26-year-old graduate at Jerusalem's Haredi Center for
Technological Studies. "But getting a good-paying job wasn't easy because I
lacked a formal degree."
Though highly educated in religious texts and proficient in intellectual
excercises, most of Israel's ultra-Orthodox community lacks prerequisites
necessary to gain entrance into professional training programs. And few
programs exist that meet the unique religious requirements of a strictly
traditional lifestyle, like separate men and women's classes and a class
schedule that can accommodate family obligations and religious requirements
for prayer and study.
Even in economically challenged times, the high tech sector accounts for
two-thirds of Israel's industrial output and 80% of industrial exports. The
Haredi community is known for its large families, high unemployment rate -
and, increasingly, its natural aptitude for working with computers.
Thus the Haredi Center was founded to train and facilitate members of the
community's entry into Israel's high tech workforce. Offering courses in
computer programming, multi-media, software engineering, architecture and
interior design, the Center has become a supplyer of motivated, competent
and highly skilled employees.
The Center's Director General, Rabbi Yehezkel Fogel, sees Maimonides'
statement that the highest form of charity is helping someone become
independent of others as the school's motto.
"Though my years in Yeshiva trained me in analytical thinking," comments
Chaim L., a system networking student at the school, "I wasn't accepted into
standard degree programs because I lacked the necessary entrance
requirements. Without a degree, no menial job I could get would bring in
enough money to pay my bills. It was a no-win situation."
"We make it possible for young men and women who could never get a decent
paying job to train in an environment compatible with their religious needs,
and be able to support their families in a respectable manner," says Rabbi
Which is what happened to David L.
"At The Haredi Center," he says, "I utilized my abilities without
compromising my religious beliefs. I attended evening classes, studying in
Yeshiva during the day. After receiving my degree, I got a good-paying job.
In this wide and modern world, it is nice to see that there is room for my
religious life-style too."
"The teachers offer the kind of direction and learning I was looking for
when I decided to switch careers from an umemployed school teacher to
interior designer," said Channie T., another Haredi Center student.. "And I
enjoy the mix of post high school girls and grandmothers in the classes."
For Orthodox women working as teachers, secretaries and store clerks, the
Haredi Center offers a way to upgrade to better paying jobs by studying in
the morning. Their increased salaries, ironically, mean less hours at work
and more time for their children.
From 35 students in 1996, The Haredi Center has expanded to over 1400
students in five branches throughout Israel. Approved by Israel's Ministry
of Labor, and affiliated with academic institutions like Bar Ilan
University, two-three year courses of study are offered in a variety of
"We bring together all types of people: Chassidim, 'Modern' and Haredi
Orthodox, Ashkenazim, Sefardim, everyone," comments Arieh Sharvit, Jerusalem
Branch Director. "We make it possible for every interested and capable
person to attend. We even designed preparatory classes to give students who
have never studied Math, English or Hebrew composition the tools needed for
advanced professional studies."
But the Haredi Center doesn't stop there. By keeping abreast of industry's
changing needs and maintaining a Job Placement Center, it has helped 80% of
its graduates find positions in their careers of choice.
"We've reached the point where major Israeli corporations actually call us
to see which students will be graduating," says Academic Affairs Director
Michael Winett. "Our students have proven themselves to be well-qualified
and reliable employees who, because of their family responsibilities, are
also highly motivated."
It seems that the high tech corporations agree. "I'd be happy to employ more
Haredi programmers," says David Schindler, Vice President at Jerusalem's
MALAM Systems Ltd. "They're older and more mature, and they have a
tremendous drive to succeed. [and] they're used to sitting for many hours
without taking a break, or getting up to chat and drink coffee. They are
Sounds like the perfect employee.
AM ECHAD RESOURCES
[Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein lives in Jerusalem and writes for newspapers in Israel,
the USA, and England. Author of "A Children's Treasury of Sephardic Tales",
"Happy Hints for a Successful Aliyah ", and "On Bus Drivers, Dreidels and
Orange Juice", she has edited several books including "Salt, Pepper and
Eternity" and "To Dwell in the Palace" an anthology of life in Israel.]