I helped increase economic productivity withing the Haredi sector several times this past week (pats self on back). How did I do it? After all, I don’t have half a billion shekel lying around to earmark for “integrating Haredim into the workforce.” I don’t have the power to help pass a (misguided, in my opinion) austerity budget that (the theory goes) will “incentivize” Haredi men to get jobs since handouts will not be sufficient to get to the end of the month.I didn’t give a speech in which I patronizingly suggested that years in yeshiva makes Haredi men particularly qualified for hi-tech work.I didn’t even offer any Haredim a job sweeping my street, cleaning my house, or otherwise performing some menial task on my behalf (though I once “hired” a young Haredi man to help me load my groceries into my car). So how much of a help could I have been?
Quite simply, I regularly take advantage of lower prices on a whole host of services and products sold in Kiryat Sefer, the Haredi city just 10 minutes away from my hometown of Modiin. This past week alone, I had business cards made, got a haircut, completed my 2012 Israeli taxes, and got some dry cleaning done.
Going further back, the list gets a lot longer. I’ve rented cars, bought furniture, clothing, strollers, meat, and school supplies, and done banking in Kiryat Sefer, all at prices substantially less than what it would cost in Modiin, without sacrificing quality in the slightest.
I also lent a hand to the owner of the dry cleaner/ laundromat. He was on his way to Clean Show 2013 in New Orleans and needed a place to spend Shabbat. I hooked him up with my friends who live there.
Lest the skeptical reader assume that the lower prices are the result of shady cash-only off-the-books transactions, I’ve got the tax invoices to show – many of these purchases are, after all, business expenses.
And to preempt the next inevitable questions: I feel perfectly comfortable wearing a t-shirt and jeans (and a fuchsia-colored knit kipa) there and doing business with men and women alike. And perhaps one final point: I have Haredi clients as well.
This is a double win. It’s a win for me, because I save a few bucks. It’s a win for the business owners (and arguably for the growing Haredi economy as a whole) because they get more business.
Perhaps most importantly, these transactions take place between equals. The shekels that flow from my wallet into Kiryat Sefer are not charity and are not taken by force. They generate neither feelings of superiority nor feelings of resentment. Each party enters the relationship without sacrificing freedom or dignity, without threatening or feeling threatened by the other.
This can serve as a true paradigm for the type of coexistence that does not demand conformity or sacrifice from either party. Sounds like a better plan than the ham-fisted efforts of some of our illustrious politicians.