A festive award ceremony in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin concluded the first-ever Civil Service cadets course for haredi men, and signaled in a coming course for 25 haredi women which will begin after the Jewish holiday season.
Haredi men from across the spectrum of the community, Sephardi, hassidic, and “Lithuanian” non-hassidic, all participated in and completed the six-month long course called “Mashpi’im” or “Influencers,” and have gone on to work in a wide range of posts in public administration in government ministries, as well as state agencies.
Among the course graduates on Tuesday are a Gur hassid who is now working in the National Public Transport Authority; a young man from the Lithuanian community with a degree from the Open University who is now working in the administrative department of Wolfson Medical Center in Holon; and a haredi attorney from the Sephardi community who is now working in the legal department of the Hatzor Haglilit Regional Council.
Indeed, the fact that so many of the graduates were from the mainstream sector of the haredi community is striking, demonstrating how entering the workforce and seeking substantive employment has become a normative path in the sector.
The initiative to create a Civil Service cadets program for the haredi community came from a government resolution, but received 50% funding from two philanthropic organizations, the Kemach Foundation and the Wohl Legacy foundation.
Less than 1.5% of all Civil Service employees in government ministries, state agencies and various regional and public administrations come from the haredi sector, while the community comprises some 10% of the Israeli population.
The course was therefore initiated as part of efforts to integrate haredi men and women into both the workforce and into Israeli society.
Yisrael Heineman, 33, from Bnei Brak, studied in mainstream haredi yeshivas for five years, served in the IDF in a course for haredi soldiers as a technician at the Palmahim airbase, and then got a degree in business management.
He worked for seven years in the private sector, but said that after his wife told him about the work she was doing in an NGO to help disadvantaged people get access to various forms of state aid and benefits, he began to feel a need to contribute more to society.
He is now working as a municipal project manager in the Bnei Brak Municipality.
“Eventually I felt that I wanted to affect change, to do something bigger, for other people. I wanted to make an income too, and to create a career, but that it should be something where I can help others, something where I can contribute which has added value,” Heineman said before the ceremony, adding that his commitment to his haredi identity has remained steadfast and unchanged.
“I did the course out of a sense of duty, and to represent ethical behavior, integrity, professionalism, and a desire to contribute to society, which is how I was educated in the haredi sector,” he said, adding that he could now “come as a proud haredi person, and serve the public regardless of religion, race or gender.”
AVITAL BIALOSTOTSKI, a Jerusalemite with a degree in education, is one of the 25 women about to start the course for haredi women. She lives in the haredi neighborhood of Neve Yaakov, said she first consulted with a rabbi before applying for the course, and that her entire family is supportive of her career and her decision to join Mashpi’im.
Bialostotski also spoke of her desire to have a greater impact on society as the motivating factor behind her decision to apply for the course. Until now she has worked in the field of haredi education and employment, helping haredi women get higher education qualifications and employment.
“I wanted to have an influence on a wider scale, in the general population outside of the haredi community,” she said. “All citizens in the state are responsible for it, we are a generation that has merited a state, and I want to be a part of what is happening in the country.”
The Mashpi’im course has made national headlines because of a legal petition against it by a women’s rights NGO, which argued that it was illegal for the state to run gender separate courses and that such separation was discriminatory against women.
At a certain stage, the course was under threat of closure, but the Jerusalem District Labor Court eventually ruled that it was permissible.
Bialostotski said she did not understand in any way how the fact that the course is gender-separate was discriminatory, and said that she would not have applied for it had it been a mixed-gender course.
“This is the kind of course that involves personal development and a necessity to be open and expressive, and I would not have been able to do that with men in the course,” she said.
Working in a mixed-gender framework, she said, was something different altogether and perfectly acceptable to her.
“There wouldn’t have been one woman who would have registered for this course if it would have been mixed,” she said. “As haredi women, we know our value and importance, and we don’t have to be in a mixed-gender environment for us to be identified as powerful women.”
Kemach Foundation director Mordechai Feldstein said the graduates of the course would be able to help bring about greater familiarity between secular and haredi Israelis who very often lack knowledge about each other and their societies.
Critically, he said, it would also give haredi men and women the opportunity to take greater responsibility in the country.
“We want the haredi community to bear the yoke of jobs which are involved in what happens in the State of Israel. Not just serving their own community, but serving the wider community as well,” said Feldstein.
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