The challenge of integrating the ultra-Orthodox, known as Haredim, into Israeli society

News publications including Israel National News, the j. Weekly and a recent article titled Israel Prods Ultra-Orthodox to ‘Share Burden’ featured in the NY Times have shed a light on an issue that Federation has provided funding for  —  enabling the ultra-orthodox (Haredim) in Israel to become productive citizens of Israeli society.  It’s part of JCF’s mission of supporting programs that advance social justice and promote equal opportunity in Israel.


Because of their commitment to full-time Torah study and a fear of assimilation, little more than 4 in 10 Orthodox men work (less than half the rate of other Jewish men in Israel), and their average salaries are 57 percent of other Jewish men in the country. Nearly 60 percent of Haredi families live in poverty, and by 2050 they are expected to make up more than a quarter of Israel’s population.  There are many barriers to their integration into the workforce. Haredi schools teach little math, science or English.  One recent study said graduates had the equivalent of zero to four years of secular education. The community shuns the Internet. Many men want to work few hours, and some refuse to work in office with women. The low number of ultra-Orthodox men with jobs has a dire effect on the economy in terms of productivity, taxes and the drain caused by welfare payments.


Shachar Chadash (New Dawn) is a program that provides a religiously and culturally appropriate way for the ultra-orthodox of Israel to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The initiative gives help and advice to youth who do not wish to continue with Torah study alone, directing participants towards professional education, productive work environments, or the army. Supported by the American Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) as well as the S.F. Federation (which granted them $180,000 this past year), Shachar Chadash has helped more than 2,500 ultra-Orthodox men serve in the military while remaining within their communities.


Murray Zucker, who participated in the JCF Israel Consultation Trip, visited one of our programs and commented “Today, the expression “seeing is believing” was taken to a new level. The programs we visited and the people we got to meet were not only inspiring but showed how much can be accomplished to make profound social change in an Israel that is a just, pluralistic, and vibrant democracy.  One of the programs, Shachar Chadash provides a culturally acceptable way for Haredi (ultra orthodox) men to serve in the IDF where they get vocational training and support in finding meaningful employment after the service. The Haredi population is rapidly increasing: the men usually don’t work, their community lives off of welfare, they keep insulated – but exert a disproportionate political sway. Not only has this caused financial drain on the economy but increasing tensions and resentments among the majority of Israelis.”

Rabbi Yisroel Hofrichter, the executive director of JDC's Shahar Chadash program recently visited the Federation offices in San Francisco, and provided an overview of the program and its impact.  “It’s hard for them,” Hofrichter explained. Because the Israeli military is so secular, he said, “those who went to the army were considered dropouts; it was hard for them to get [married]. Five years ago at the beginning of our work, the guys didn’t want to wear their uniforms in their neighborhoods — they’d change clothes when they got off the bus.”

Today, he says, the Haredi soldiers wear their IDF uniforms proudly. “People see they are respectable — and they’re making money.”


Learn more about how Federation funding is aimed at strengthening Israel as a pluralistic, democratic and just society.


Categories: Grantees, Israel, Videos


June 19, 2013


The Federation