Student Ariel Ashkenazi
Photo: Avihu Shapira
Student Yermiyahu Zalmanov
Photo: Avihu Shapira
Much of the criticism leveled at Israel's haredi community pertains to the issue of employment. Yet at this time, more haredim choose to shatter the stigma and not only focus on Torah studies, as they increasingly seek to join the workforce.
"The way to make a dignified living – study and work," is the name of a special academic track for haredim offered by the Zefat Academic College and reflecting the new perception among haredim. The program aims to allow the ultra-Orthodox to combine Torah and academic studies in the aims of securing desirable jobs in the areas of economics, human resources, and business administration.
One haredi who embraced the change is Ariel Ashkenazi, a 36-year-old married father of three. "There is great difficulty in finding work among the haredim," he told Ynet. "In every interview I speak about my experience, which includes the successful management of workers. Yet when I'm asked about an academic degree, I understand that I have no chance. Doors would close…because I am a haredi without an academic degree."
Another haredi man, 46-year-old Yermiyahu Zalmanov, a married father of 10, is also excited about the new possibilities offered by the program.
"To my great joy, problems that made it difficult to implement the plan among the haredim such as modesty, food, and time limitations had bee resolved," he said.
'Opportunity not to be missed'The haredi initiative at the Zefat College got underway last year with a pilot program, which is taking off this year already. Overall, about 100 haredi students are expected to attend the program, supervised by Bar-Ilan University, this year.
In an effort to promote the unique academic track, a foundation dedicated to promoting haredim on the professional front is granting generous scholarships to ultra-Orthodox students who show interest in joining the academic world.
Yahal Dahan, 45, a father of 11, says the academic studies are "an opportunity that must not be missed."
Dahan, who runs a Kabala and Judaism center says the business and management knowledge he acquired allowed him to improve the center's services.
The College's president and one of the program's initiators, Professor Aharon Kellerman, expressed his satisfaction over the project's success.
"After two years of work with the various communities in and around town, we created cohesion that enabled us to launch an academic track adapted to the haredi population's needs," he said. "They study at a separate building outside the college, next to a beit midrash. This enables them to combine Torah studies and academic studies."
Making up the gapHowever, one of the difficult problems faced by haredi students is the fact that as opposed to their secular counterparts, they did not study the "core subjects" at an early age, topped by English and math.
"People arrive with zero knowledge in these fields, which are not taught at haredi schools," Ashkenazi said. "Despite this, we have such memorization and internalization ability that within a short period of time, through intense preparatory studies, we are able to make up many years of study in these fields."
Professor Kellerman is also optimistic about the haredi ability to close the gap.
"The stigmas that were created can disappear because of the new road we are paving here," he said. "We are dealing with people with families who are eager to study and gain knowledge. They acquired highly developed abilities to study at a young age as result of their Torah and Talmud studies, and this program would enable them to supplement this with the knowledge needed for an academic degree within a short period of time."
And what about haredi women? The college also launched a separate class for ultra-Orthodox females that hold a high school diploma and serve as certified teachers. The program enables them to complete their studies and acquire an academic degree.