Creating employment opportunities for Israel’s haredim

Joseph and Wolf Lebovic team up with JDC to benefit ultra-Orthodox

By Daniel Horowitz--Men raised in the haredi educational system do so from their childhood with a full-time focus on learning the Talmud and halacha, Jewish law.  From an early age, school hours are lengthened to enable this intense focus to become the norm. With this dedication of learning comes a strict adherence to haredi cultural norms that are not always the norms of mainstream Israel – essentially no mixing of men and women except within the family; standards of dress that reinforce modesty and make the individual identifiably haredi, and a willingness to dedicate oneself to spiritual pursuits at the expense of one’s material well-being.

While the haredi educational system prepares them for a life of Torah scholarship and promotes analytical thinking, it does not necessarily provide the training needed for gainful employment in mainstream Israeli society.

And, while haredim value large families as an expression of a mitzvah from the Torah, as families grow, expenses grow. Despite a modest monthly stipend, the burdens on the wife grow as she tries to meet material needs, and financial troubles often begin, trapping many haredim in poverty.

That’s where the new Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Shachar Employment Program comes in.

A project of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), with which UJA Federation of Greater Toronto has a strong relationship, the employment program that bears the Lebovic name will enable 2,000 haredi men to lead their families out of poverty to success through employment. It will also make their transition to the working world “safer” in terms of Haredi cultural codes.

“As a member of the American Joint Distribution Committee, I was told about a number of projects that they were seeking funding for, and I was moved, in particular, by the plight of haredi men,” explained Joseph Lebovic. “These are men who are committed to spending their lives studying Torah; and it’s not just so that they can learn, but it’s so that they can keep connected and in touch with the life they have chosen. Unfortunately, their studying of the Torah doesn’t lead to employment. While they receive a stipend from the government, it’s not enough to support a family.”

While the program was started as a pilot, it proved its worth almost immediately, taking off quickly due to the needs of employers and the needs of haredim.
“The haredi community is not monolithic,” explained Solly Kaplinsky, executive director, Overseas Joint Ventures, JDC. “While some sectors really insist upon full-time learning ‘forever’, others accept that it is a proper way to begin married life, but that eventually one will have to transform into work. As graduates of the haredi educational system, men have often gained excellent analytical skills, but lack basic credentials for employment such as English, mathematics and computer skills.”

Thus, when finding a job is absolutely vital to meet their burgeoning financial responsibilities, it is not easy for haredi men to transition quickly while, at the same time, giving up the income of the Kollel stipend. It is often a very difficult choice to make.

The Lebovic gift of U.S. $500,000 will enable 2,000 haredi men to gain the training and education needed to find more lucrative jobs. The American Joint Distribution Committee will secure matching dollars for the program, which will go to prepatory education and skills courses, on the job training, food, monthly salaries, and much more.

The gift from the Lebovics will also benefit the haredim in the following ways:
• It will provide program participants with immediate monthly salaries well above their stipends, reducing the financial pressure on their families.
• It brings together haredi men with Israelis from other sectors of society at work allowing them to interact with each other. 
• It will encourage non-haredim to appreciate the haredim as individuals making a positive contribution to Israel.

“It’s very important that these men have the chance to learn job skills in a place that is run by other haredi men; a place where they have the proper food required, a place where they are comfortable, as haredi men,” said Joseph Lebovic. “This is absolutely vital to their well-being, and I’m glad that we are able to provide this atmosphere where they can transition more easily.”

“The vision and compassion displayed by Joseph and Wolf Lebovic never ceases to amaze me,” said Ted Sokolsky, CEO and president, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “While their generosity has helped reshape the Jewish community across the Greater Toronto Area with their gifts to Mount Sinai and the Tomorrow Campaign among many, many others, their commitment to tzedakah and tikkun olam knows no boundaries. Through their gift to the JDC, these men and their families will benefit greatly not only financially, but in terms of their peace of mind.”

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