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Refoel Pride

It’s obvious to just about everyone that the chareidim are a society of parasites with no hope of gainful employment. The one problem with that perception? It doesn’t quite reflect reality. Quietly, without fanfare or headlines — but with encouragement and support from gedolim — dedicated activists have been arming chareidim with the skills and tools they need for self-sufficiency. Do the chareidim really need a secular escort to the workplace?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

yeshiva studentsWhen Israeli media personality Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid party swept an astonishing 19 mandates in the January Knesset election, promising to make the chareidi population “share the burden” through mandatory army service and workforce participation, reactions in Israel’s chareidi community ranged from shock and dread to fiercely determined resistance.

Yesh Atid officials professed that their goal was only to help chareidim. “I don’t hate them,” Lapid proclaimed repeatedly and insisted, among other things, that the chareidi employment rate was lower than that of the general population simply because no one had compelled them to get jobs.

But Yesh Atid’s very insistence that nothing has been done until now to encourage chareidi workforce participation either betrays a casual and callous ignorance or belies the party’s claim that it feels no antipathy toward the population.

Rabbi Yoseph Deitsch, chairman of the Kemach Foundation — an employment program founded by and for the chareidi sector — has seen it all before. He remembers the provocations of Yair Lapid’s father, Tommy, whose Shinui party twice held 15 seats in the Knesset.

“[Tommy] Lapid and those of his ilk were sure they understood the chareidi community and knew the best way to ‘civilize’ them, to get them into the army and the workplace,” recalls Deitsch. “They tried very hard, and they failed. They failed because they came from the outside — they just thought they could come in and ‘educate’ the chareidim.”

In the intervening years, Deitsch and his staff — along with other organizations, such as Mafteach, Temech, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee — entered the arena, developing their own programs for chareidim seeking employment, and compiling an impressive track record. Thousands of yungeleit, forced out of the halls of kollel by financial, domestic, or personal circumstances, are on the road to economic stability without having compromised their beliefs or lifestyles — all through the efforts of a few dozen askanim working quietly behind the scenes.

As a result, Deitsch cannot help but be galled by the arrogance he perceives in Yesh Atid. He is unsparing in his condemnation.

“In this last election, we suddenly had people coming — Naftali Bennett from one side, [Yair] Lapid from the other — and saying, ‘We don’t recognize what came before today with the chareidim.’ I’m telling you, they truly don’t know what’s happening in the chareidi community. They don’t know how many chareidim are learning, how many are working … they don’t have a clue.

“The last few years they’ve been pounding the drum, complaining that chareidim don’t work, calling us parasites. But they have no idea of the workforce participation figures in the chareidi community. It’s just a convenient means for them to unite the entire Israeli population against the chareidim. They seem to think the first thing we say when we wake up in the morning is, ‘Let’s see, how can we leech off the state and the American Jewish community today?’”

“What we’re trying to say to them is: You think you know what’s going on, you think you know the numbers, you’re trying to impose a way of life on us that is not suitable,” says Kemach spokesman Gidon Katz. “You think that we’re incapable of taking care of ourselves and not responsible for our community, that we’re closed and narrow-minded. But we say no, we’re doing things the right way. We’re going to preserve our way of life. Kemach has been around for five years now, and we’ve proven we chareidim can smoothly integrate into the workforce without turning anyone against us, and still safeguard our traditions.


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