A HAREDI child reads from the Bible during a reading class at the Kehilot Ya’acov Torah School for boys in Jerusalem in 2010.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
While all of Israel has been focused on Iran and the Gaza border, one Israeli has been tackling a problem that might be an even greater threat to Israel’s future.
Rabbi Menachem Bombach is the founder of the Torah Academy of Israel, the first mainstream Haredi yeshiva that not only teaches Torah on the highest level, but also offers the full range of general studies in which students graduate with a complete matriculation certificate. Bombach, a Vishnitz hasid who grew up in Mea She’arim and studied in the Mir Yeshiva explains: ”In 2018, 40% of all first graders in Israel will be haredi children. We’re talking about a very critical mass – the overall number of haredi children between the ages 0 to 14 is 460,000. Right now, there are 16,000-17,000 haredim who finish school every year and enter the real world. Most of them do not have the required skills to make it. Understand how much this is detrimental not only to Israel’s economy – which in my opinion is very important – but also detrimental to the haredim. They do not have the ability to provide for their children. In the haredi city of Beitar Illit, 60% of the children are classified as impoverished.
Outright poverty. It’s very simple: their lot is to be poor children.”
Bombach founded the Torah Academy of Israel to alleviate that condition.
When asked if any specific experience led him to establish this revolutionary institution in Beitar Illit, Rabbi Bombach relates: “I think the most dramatic moment came when I got married. I decided to go and work. And then I discovered that I don’t know anything. I didn’t know how to solve basic mathematical equations. I didn’t know how to deal with complex texts. I didn’t even know the most minimal amount of history.”
Bombach taught himself from zero, earning a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in public policy. He then founded the haredi preparatory program at Hebrew University with the goal of providing haredi young men with the background and tools needed to succeed in university.
But the number of young men who came to him and said “I can’t do it” made Rabbi Bombach realize that a university preparatory program is too late to be of real assistance. Bombach understood that a growing haredi population with no ability to support itself would be catastrophic for Israel’s economy, and destructive for the haredi community.
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That situation, he realized, would only increase the societal gap and tensions between Israel’s populations, and that’s what led him to found the Torah Academy of Israel.
Many in Israel became familiar with Rabbi Bombach and the Torah Academy because of a viral video showing these Haredi boys commemorating Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day. Seeing mainstream Haredi boys reflect, emote, and display gratitude and respect to fallen IDF soldiers touched all who saw the yeshiva program, and demonstrated that attitudes and ideologies can, in fact, change with time.
But the yeshiva is much more than that. Young Haredim – wearing the full garb of black hat, long frocks, and curly sidelocks – can be seen tackling a massive math equation, discussing the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, playing soccer, and going on an overnight trek in nature. What is going on is nothing less than a revolution that will change the face of Israel.
These young men who will enter the high-level workforce after obtaining academic degrees will be the vanguard of a movement that will soon see haredi doctors, attorneys, accountants, hi-tech entrepreneurs – and even IDF generals.
Incredibly, there is now a waiting list of hundreds of boys who want to attend this yeshiva.
Rabbi Bombach’s dream is to open branches throughout Israel, to construct a main mega campus, and to reach thousands of students per year.
I have been involved with the integration of haredim into Israeli society for the past seven years. My focus has been on helping haredi men receive training and assisting them with job placement. Training people in their twenties and thirties with no skills and the pressure of supporting a family is not ideal.
Without a doubt, Rabbi Bombach’s vision is the solution and the path toward the goal of Haredi integration and self sufficiency. He is to be commended for his courage and determination and all of Israel is sure to benefit from his success.
The author served as a member of the 19th Knesset.
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