JFNA Israel mission: Providing job training for the haredi community

Kotel (2)

Esther and Don Schon, 2015 chairs of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s annual campaign, and Marty Haberer, chief development officer of the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, are currently on the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission to Tbilisi, Georgia and Israel. Here, Don Schon reports from the Israel portion of the mission.

What do you do if you are a Haredi scholar in Israel who has set up six kollelim for Haredi to study in and one day realize what you built does not meet the needs of a large number of Haredi men and women? You set about correcting the situation.

At the formation of the State of Israel, 400 men were exempted from the army in order to salvage the field of Torah study. However, that 400 has grown into a large population of ultra-Orthodox with only a  seventh-grade secular education level and minimal job skills. The number of Haredi needing financial assistance and not serving in the IDF is so large it has become disruptive to Israeli society. Recognizing that he had students whose needs were financial and for whom a lifetime of devotional study was not appropriate, he started a new program with JDC (The Joint Distribution Committee or “Joint”).  In this program, women who have teaching degrees that they cannot use (too many ultra-Orthodox woman have trained as teachers and there are not enough jobs for them) are retrained. Men get job skill assessment and skills training at a separate time of day.

In this program, they identify existing skills, teach candidates to write a resume, get them into a program for the Israeli equivalent of a GED, provide job training programs in the private sector and military and help them achieve the dignity of self-reliance and exposure to the rest of Israeli society. After assessment and training, clients qualify for government-subsidized training programs. This program is very careful to train only men and women who seek out the help. This program is also careful to tell clients they do not have to leave their lifestyle and social network to participate.

This and sister programs throughout Israel have trained and obtained employment for 30,000 Haredi men and women and have taken them off the welfare roles while giving them the dignity of self-reliance. After completing the program, the trainee qualifies for government-funded educational and training programs. Thus the cost per client to JDC is only about 250 Federation dollars. These programs, as with most JDC programs, are expected to gradually become self-funded.

Some of these programs have been sponsored by the IDF, which places Haredi men in non-combatant support roles. In one example of a group trained as aircraft mechanics, the secular commander was so pleased with their performance during Operation Protective Edge, that he requested as many Haredi mechanics as he could train.

These programs use JFNA dollars raised in North America. Our sages tell us that Jews are responsible to and for each other and that no Jew should ever be left behind. I think that we can be proud of what we do!

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