The impact of the Hassidim who graduated law school this week

The news headlines this week have focused on a possible truce with Hamas, John Bolton’s visit to Israel, President Trump’s Middle East peace plan and his legal struggles, the sale of SodaStream to Pepsi, and more. As often happens, one of the most important events of the week did not receive much coverage. But that doesn’t take away from its significance to Israel’s future and the future for Israel-Diaspora relations.

The picture is stunning. Three Belzer Hassidim wearing graduation robes at the ceremony where they were awarded their law degrees from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) campus of Kiryat Ono College. The three attended law school with the blessing of the Belzer Rebbe, and two of them have already opened their own law firm in Jerusalem. The grand opening of the office was attended by leading rabbis in their community.

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This development is a major breakthrough for the hassidic community in Israel. While there have been many employment initiatives for the ultra-Orthodox, and more men are working than ever before, academic degrees which enable them to enter the workforce at a higher-level income have been lagging. I have no doubt that this week’s ceremony with the accompanying support of the rabbis will open the doors to hundreds who will follow their example and enroll in similar academic programs.

This belief is based on a reality that the haredi community has demonstrated over and over in recent years: When given an opportunity, the ultra-Orthodox population breaks away from that which used to be taboo in their community to do what is necessary to support their families with dignity.

A prime example can be found in the hi-tech industry. Kamatech, founded in 2013 to facilitate the successful integration of haredim into the Israeli high-tech workforce, opened the world of Start-up Nation to the ultra-Orthodox. To date, it has helped close to 1,000 haredim find employment in hi-tech companies, and has facilitated the creation of over 30 new start-ups from within the haredi community.

The following examples demonstrate the difference that has been made by a number of these start-ups, founded by ultra-Orthodox men and women:

CauseMatch uses an algorithm-based platform to help nonprofits improve fund-raising. Anomalee Next Generation uses predictive math models and artificial intelligence to perform behavioral analytics and predict when and where a cyberattack will happen. Knowledge Works draws data from emails, automatically updating tasks and projects in real-time using artificial intelligence.

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Cognitive ID Ltd. is a cybersecurity company that developed a technology able to determine the identity of a computer or mobile user by analyzing cognitive, physiological and psychological traits. Webbing Labs develops a group operating system that simplifies group communication with tools such as instant messaging, file-sharing, and calendar management. 2Drive is an app that connects pre-vetted driving instructors with driving students preparing for their tests, offering driving lessons at a reduced price. Membit develops off-the-shelf chat-bots – an artificial intelligence which conducts a conversation via auditory or textual methods – for companies and organizations. MilkStrip is developing a test strip that monitors the quality and makeup of breast milk to help parents test pre-pumped breast milk simply by adding a drop of milk to the strip. Users upload the picture of the test strip to a mobile application that analyzes it and provides recommendations. Galileo Satellite Navigation develops and markets products for the civil global navigation satellite system and GPS market. Joku aims to make security camera-data and footage accessible to ordinary citizens.

THERE ARE now more than 1,000 haredi applicants who want to join Kamatech to try to build their start-up ideas. They were given a chance and the floodgates have opened.

The benefit of haredim going to work – especially at this level of the workforce – is not limited to them supporting their families with dignity, which is a worthwhile goal in and of itself. When haredim work, they become more moderate and accepting of broader Israeli society, and broader Israeli society becomes more tolerant and accepting toward haredim. This positive interface leads to a more unified Israeli society, which also impacts the political side. The ultra-Orthodox parties are not growing, despite the significant growth in its population. This is largely due to the younger generation, exposed to the workforce, looking for a different direction than the old guard has been offering them for decades. This shift in political power will then have an impact on Israeli policies, both within Israel and with regard to Israel-Diaspora relations.

So, among the many news stories this week, let us not forget the three brave Belzer Hassidim who will now be working as attorneys in Israel, paving the way for many more as we continue on our way toward an Israel filled with ultra-Orthodox attorneys, hi-tech entrepreneurs, accountants, public servants, doctors – and most importantly – toward a more tolerant and unified Israel.

The writer served as a member of the 19th Knesset and chaired the task force for the integration of the ultra-Orthodox into the workforce.

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