Kosher high-tech helps jobless Jews

2013-01-20 21:28
Jewish students are taking Twitter to court to force it to remove anti-Semitic messages. (AP)

Jewish students are taking Twitter to court to force it to remove anti-Semitic messages. (AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Jerusalem - In a chic auditorium typically reserved for late-night concerts, Israel's next generation of high-tech entrepreneurs are gathered. Though their vocation is modern, their appearance and lifestyle are distinctly traditional and they are seated separately - men to the left, woman to the right.

It's a first for Israel, a high-tech conference designed specifically for haredim, or ultra-Orthodox Jews.

They are a community long stigmatised for enjoying sweeping draft exemptions and raising large families on taxpayer-funded handouts. They are under ever-growing pressure to break out of their cloistered world of scripture study and get jobs.

In recent years they have indeed begun joining the work force, and some have found an unlikely home in the country's booming high-tech industry.

That changing reality was illustrated by last week's gathering of bearded men in black suits and women in head coverings and long dresses who came to network at a leading Jerusalem venture capital firm.

Yitzik Crombie, who initiated the Haredi Hi-Tech Forum, says about 10 000 haredim work in high-tech, 75% of them women.

Although they may lack basic math and science skills, advocates say their intense, methodical study of ancient religious texts provides tools that are oddly applicable to computer programming.

"Someone who finished yeshiva and studied Talmud and Gemara, his brain is built for high-tech," said Crombie, a 30-year-old haredi and chief executive of iSale, which offers mobile guided selling solutions to businesses. "With a little faith, we can make a major breakthrough and become leaders in the field."

Many rabbis fear immersion in mainstream society will expose haredim (Hebrew for "those who fear God)" to secularism and cut into the prayer and study that has distinguished the Jewish people for centuries.

10 children

But unemployment and poverty are very high among haredim who make up about 8% of Israel's 8 million citizens, and families of eight to 10 children are common. More than a quarter of all Israeli first-graders are haredim, studying in independent school systems that focus primarily on religion while barely teaching math, science or English.

Experts have long warned these trends are jeopardizing Israel's long-term economic prospects. Now, according to Israel's central bank and its central bureau of statistics, the tide has begun to turn.

In 2011, for instance, 54.5%of haredi women and 45% of the men held jobs - an increase from 48% and 33.1% respectively nine years earlier. The numbers, while still far below the national average of around 80%, show the community is far from the homogenous mass viewed by outsiders.

The shift is further highlighted by their participation in Israel's greatest engine of economic growth, the high-tech sector, which is secular-dominated.

At the Jerusalem research and development centre of the semiconductor giant Intel, more than 100 of the 700 employees are haredim, making chips and performing quality assurance.

"The public discourse in Israel has yet to internalize the enormous changes taking place in the haredi community," said Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, himself a former high-tech executive.

Bringing the haredim and their ethos of scholarly rigour into the work force could ease one of Israeli society's greatest schisms, which is a perennial source of partisan political discord, especially with the approach of Tuesday's general election.

So employing the haredim is ethically wise, and also makes smart business sense, said Erel Margalit, founder of the Jerusalem Venture Partners firm that hosted the conference and a parliamentary candidate.

"Israel can compete with India as far as software development. What we now send there, we can send here," he said. "We offer a working alliance with the haredi community."

Segregated

Still, challenges remain. High-tech firms have to provide segregated male and female work space, cafeteria menus must follow the dietary kosher rules more stringently, time must be allocated for prayer and women must be allowed flexible hours if they are to manage their often large families.

Nili Davidovitch, a mother of five, heads Daat Solutions, a firm that specializes in internet development and quality assurance. She employs 40 haredi women like herself and aims to offer them a career in a cutting-edge field without undermining their lifestyle.

"If you give them an appropriate working environment they will come," she said. "There are lots of shades of haredim. The society today is not what it once was."

Shlomo Peeri, the vice president for human resources at the Israeli branch of NDS, a part of Cisco, said the company has never experienced any religion-driven tension. About 100 of the company's 1 200 employees are haredi systems engineers and developers, he said.

"We've created a working environment based on mutual respect and harmony," he said. "We are a microcosm of Israeli society that shows we can live together."

But even if the main obstacle remains the haredi community's lack of scientific education, what is already happening "is a revolution," said Stuart Hershkowitz, a senior official at the Jerusalem College of Technology.

"It is becoming mainstream in haredi society to find a normal way to support yourself," he said. "Being resigned to a life of poverty is no longer acceptable to the haredim themselves."

- AP

Read more on:    israel  |  technology  |  religion
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
8 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Wednesday Cape Town - 18:04 PM
    Road name: Nelson Mandela Boulevard Outbound
    DELAYS approaching Hospital Bend
  • Wednesday Cape Town - 18:04 PM
    Road name: De Waal Drive Outbound
    DELAYS approaching Hospital Bend
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

DSTV Mobile iDrifta

The iDrifta is a plug and play mobile DVB-H receiver...

From R445.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may find yourself fascinated by something which could draw you in to obsessively exploring this subject in depth....read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.