El’ad, about 16 miles from Tel Aviv, is an island of apartment buildings sandwiched between two national forests. What distinguishes it from other planned Israeli cities is its population: the overwhelming majority is Haredi (ultra-Orthodox), a group that has traditionally had difficulty finding affordable living spaces for their large families. To accommodate them, housing here has room for more children, and schools are located closer to residential areas. Buildings are planned so that each apartment has an outdoor space for a sukkah.
The women of El’ad have a problem common in Haredi communities: they are expected to support their families while their husbands study, but they are not provided with job training except as Jewish educators, a field that is saturated.
The Federation-funded Mafteach program, part of the larger Fighting Poverty Through Employment initiative, is tackling this problem by helping 3,500 members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community train for and find jobs. In fact, there’s a Mafteach Job Opportunity Center right in El’ad. Many of the women who turn to Mafteach have no idea where to start. A typical resume might be two scribbled sentences on a sheet of paper.
One of its graduates is Chedva, a young Haredi wife and mother who previously worked as a high school teacher, prepping kids for computer science exams. When Chedva and her family moved from the north of Israel to El’ad a few years ago, she found that teaching positions were in short supply. She dreamed about working in the high-tech field, but that would have required her to work in another city. “I would have to spend an hour and a half every day commuting,” she explained. “Kids need Mom, and it is just impossible for a mother to be away from home for so many hours.”
Fortunately for Chedva, a high-tech company called 3Base came to El’ad at about the same time that she did. Its founders made a decision to exclusively recruit Orthodox women to work as web developers, and tailored their company to the needs of these women. The majority of the 80+ women who work there are the primary income providers in their families. As long as they get their work done, says one founder, “all the workers here are free to come and go whenever they want. They can be with their kids and also be the best programmer.”
Chedva says, “I can realize my personal potential, both from an intellectual point of view and through the things I learn and achieve. It is really rewarding, both mentally and economically.”
Chedva’s co-worker, Miri, an Orthodox mother of six and another Mafteach graduate, outlines the reasons she prefers to work among members of her own community—and some of the reasons 3Base might prefer to hire women like her. “It is more comfortable in social terms, as all of us are female. The work day is eight hours, compared to the general market, which asks for nine hours or more. The Orthodox as a community are known as more qualitative, more loyal to the workplace. On the other hand, the salaries are lower than the general market average.”
Without the help of Mafteach and 3Base, Chedva does not believe she would have been able to find employment. “I contacted human resources companies and friends. I looked on the Internet, in help-wanted columns…but because of my social, religious and commute limitations, it is very hard to integrate.”
Chedva does not plan to stay where she is forever. “My ambitions are to advance professionally, to know and accomplish more and more, to utilize the newest technologies as much as possible to reach personal fulfillment.”