Feature Story: JDC’s TEVET Program Helps Fast-Growing Haredi Community Expand Career Opportunities

ELAD, ISRAEL, March 31, 2011, 10:30 a.m. – At first glance, it looks like a typical small Israeli town – windy streets lined in stone and clay yielding to rows of deco-style apartment buildings built in a concrete block.  

Except for the balconies. 

No balcony is built directly above another one, so each one can function as a sukkah come fall.  This is the first obvious sign that we are in an ultra-orthodox area.  In fact, Elad is 98 percent Haredi and one of the fastest-growing ultra-orthodox towns inIsrael.  On a larger scale, the country’s Haredi population – with an average of seven children per family – is growing so fast, it will comprise 78 percent of children in primary schools inIsraelby the year 2040. 

That presents major challenges to the country, particularly on an economic level.  In fact, Aaron Friedman, who oversees the JDC’s TEVET (Career Alternatives) Program in Elad, says this unusual population boom could result in a “financial implosion of welfare dependency,” because the men spend all day studying and the women are not career-oriented.   

“The man gets a stipend for school. The woman might get a job doing some seminary work.  Add children. And more children. How can you raise a family?” Aaron said. “They have no skills, no credentials.  The word ‘career’ is not in their vocabulary.” 

Enter TEVET, which trains young ultra-Orthodox women to enter professions that are more productive and in higher demand than the oversaturated field of teacher education.  By working with the top seminaries, TEVET seeks to stimulate cross-sector change in women’s employment, inspiring other seminaries to adopt more diverse career training. 

TheEladTEVETCareerDevelopmentCenter, one of eight locations throughoutIsrael, provides free assistance to women seeking employment, taking scribbled resumes and turning them into professional presentations.  It also reaches out to employers to help find the right match for jobs that may be available. 

“We spread the word to employees and employers,” said Gidi, an “employment advancer” at TEVET.  “We tell employers, ‘We will send you just the right people.’” 

Ultra-orthodox life can bring its share of challenges to the workplace.  Having as many as seven children can wreak havoc on a 9 to 5 schedule. Women in their 30s may have a little job experience, but they almost always need retraining.  And some women in their 40s have never worked at all.

“Many of the women have unrealistic expectations,” said Gidi.  Added Aaron:  “The younger we can intervene, the farther we can go.” 

When women successfully move through the program and do gain employment, it gives them a tremendous boost in self-esteem, Aaron proudly pointed out. 

Not to mention keeping a roof over their head – except for their sukkah.

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