Haredim make significant inroads in hi-tech

High ultra-Orthodox birth rate leads to growing need for ways to escape cycle of poverty.

A HAREDI STUDENT works on a computer  at the Jerusalem College of Technology. (photo credit: JCT)
A HAREDI STUDENT works on a computer at the Jerusalem College of Technology.
(photo credit: JCT)
Anyone who sees haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities as being totally insular is mistaken. Regardless of whether they are part of Hassidic, Lithuanian, Ashkenazi or Sephardi groups, haredim are making significant inroads into mainstream society in many fields, particularly in hi-tech.
This emerged on Tuesday in the haredi hi-tech report presented to President Reuven Rivlin by Moshe Friedman, the founder of KamaTech; Prof. Amnon Shashua, senior vice president of Intel and the co-founder of Mobileye; Karin Meir Rubinstein, president and CEO of IATI (Israel Advanced Technology Industries); and Deputy Transportation Minister Uri Maklev (UTJ), head of the Authority for the Economic Development of the Haredi Sector.
In a world in which non-haredi families are having fewer children, the ultra-Orthodox birth rate continues to be high. As a result, there is a growing need to find ways to escape cycles of poverty.
Hi-tech has proven to be one of the most effective means of challenging brainpower and producing increased innovation and improved prosperity.
When Friedman initiated Bnei Brak-based KamaTech some seven years ago with five haredi start-ups, people treated the concept as a joke. Since then, KamaTech has received applications from more than 1,000 haredi start-ups that want to join the program.
Friedman had approached some 30 leading hi-tech and venture-capital companies and asked them to train, mentor and temporarily employ haredi techies, with the aim of eventually having them make a meaningful contribution to the economy.
His confidence in successful haredi integration into hi-tech was not misplaced. In fact, he was so prescient that the government entered into a cooperative venture with KamaTech for the establishment of a joint national program for integrating haredi hi-tech professionals – both men and women – into Israel’s hi-tech workforce.
Despite many news reports about haredi resistance to the teaching of core subjects in their education system, the number of young ultra-Orthodox men and women with degrees in computer sciences, mathematics and other subjects keeps growing.
According to the report, the ratio of haredi hi-tech employees is growing by leaps and bounds, with a 52% increase from 2014-2018.
According to Finance Ministry statistics, there are 9,700 haredi hi-tech employees, most of whom are under the age of 28. They represent 3% of all hi-tech employees.
Six years ago, most of them were ages 35-45 and represented 0.7% of the hi-tech workforce.
WOMEN CAN be considered as haredi hi-tech pioneers in that many entered the field because it enabled them to work from home, while taking care of young children and supporting husbands who were studying Torah.
Women still comprise the bulk of the haredi hi-tech workforce, numbering 6,900 and showing a consistent growth rate.
Ultra-Orthodox hi-tech employees do not earn as much as their secular colleagues, but this is expected to change. At present, their average monthly salary is about NIS 10,800 per month, compared with NIS 22,500 for the sector as a whole.
In response to the report, Rivlin said the coronavirus has taught us in the most distinct manner that there are hardships that can be overcome only if the different sectors pull together.
“We are in this crisis together – secular, national-religious and haredim, Jews and Arabs,” he said. “So we must all work together to press forward, or we will all be left behind.”
Underscoring that hi-tech made Israel a start-up nation and a light unto other nations, Rivlin said there has been a hi-tech recession during the pandemic in which many people fell by the wayside, including haredim who work in the sector.
Nonetheless, the report indicates that hi-tech is the optimal means of integrating the haredi community, which invests so much in education, into the mainstream work force, Rivlin said.
Friedman called the report encouraging and optimistic.
Shashua, who is also chairman of the KamaTech advisory committee, characterized hi-tech as the bridge and the link between all sectors of Israeli society.
Maklev said the significant achievements of haredi hi-tech entrepreneurs and employees justified the investments made by KamaTech.
Meir Rubinstein said hi-tech is the contemporary pillar of the Zionist enterprise.
Rivlin has initiated a project in which major technology companies help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic. It is being carried out in cooperation with Facebook and technological experts, who will voluntarily counsel small and medium-sized businesses, helping them to create online marketing and sales outlets.
Rivlin said he hopes this will enable them to stay afloat and ultimately make them stronger and more profitable.