Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Adina Bar-Shalom has set out to change the situation of the ultra-Orthodox community. Her innovation is to offer ‘academization’, as she calls it, to ultra-Orthodox women (and now men) in Israel, while fully respecting their traditions, and the range of other demands on them. She observes that Israeli society as a whole is becoming increasingly academized, and those without academic degrees miss out on employment opportunities. The women who enter the college she founded in 2001, Haredi College in Jerusalem, are often the main or sole support for their families, which are often large, and they live under the close supervision of rabbis or rabbinical bodies. The men are often restricted to a life of religious study that does not include paid employment. For both, the opportunity to learn academic subjects (education, economics, computer programming or laboratory sciences are just a few examples) and to acquire professional skills (law is popular) provides personal dignity, much needed remuneration, and access to the wider society on the basis of mutual respect. The President of Hebrew University, Menachem Ben-Sasson says, “Society must adjust itself to the changes taking place in traditional societies around the world, to encourage the acquisition of higher education and to take part in bearing the economic responsibility borne by the society as a whole.”
Like other entrepreneurial and successful projects that deal with coexistence and the integration of marginalized communities, this initiative deals with ‘the politics of interests’ much more than with the trendier ‘politics of identity’. Rather than talking about mutual understanding and the acceptance of the other’s values and beliefs, Bar-Shalom’s Haredi College equips its graduates with concrete knowledge and tools that enable them to satisfy their personal, communal, material and spiritual interests, yet also feel a bit closer to the rest of the society. Rather than discussing emotions and fears in what often turn out to be pleasant, yet fruitless, mixed group deliberations, Haredi College faces the issues of exclusion, inadequate skills and alienation head on by addressing the most crucial practical needs and the most concrete interests of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. Doing this in ways that are accepted and recognized by the rest of society brings the graduates and their families a step closer to the social mainstream.
The results are unequivocal: two such colleges, Haredi College in Jerusalem and another in Bnei Brak produce 540 of graduates every year who, in turn, achieve impressive placements rates of 94% in a wide variety of jobs. In Israel and other places, not only colleges are being established following Bar-Shaloms pioneering work and ideas, but also other, less academic employment initiatives, which show both the religious communities and their surroundings the power of professional integration: call centers have been opening in ultra-Orthodox towns in Israel and a dozen of local hi tech companies realized that this community can provide reliable and skillful workers, if the companies are clever and sensitive enough to cater for their special needs. Through influencing public policy, speaking engagements and conference participation, her message is brought to traditional communities, as well as policy maker in many countries. A good example of her influence – way beyond the activity of her college – is the new ambitious program of Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, to specifically encourage employment of ultra-Orthodox women via tax breaks and other incentives, and by so doing to improve Israel’s general GDP and ranking in terms of productivity and economic performance.