All too often, stereotypes impede advancement in our societies, including in Israel and within the Jewish community at large. Our commonly held beliefs about anyone’s race, religion, or gender mean that we cannot comprehend that individual’s full potential, and in self-fulfilling prophecies, these stereotypes ultimately prevent that person from becoming their true self.
But imagine if we trained ourselves to give our fellow men and women the benefit of the doubt by consistently thinking the opposite—by inverting the plot. What would that mean for our cultures and societies, particularly in important everyday arenas like the workplace?
If there is just one day on the Jewish calendar to view the world in this day, it is the holiday of Purim. The Book of Esther’s concept of “v’nahafoch hu”—meaning “it was turned upside down”—gives us a unique opportunity to celebrate a Jewish version of “opposite day.”
The Purim story’s inverted plot includes how Haman planted a tree for the hanging of Mordechai, yet the villain himself was hanged on the same tree; how the method (ring, letters, and couriers) that Haman used to seal the fate of the Jews was later implemented by Mordechai in the Jews’ defense; and how Mordechai first donned mourner’s cloths in the king’s court but later wore royal garb in the same place.
At the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), we take pride in crafting a Purim-style inverted plot for Israeli society and the Jewish world. Stereotypes sometimes exist because past or existing trends back them up. Historically, haredi men have entered the Israeli workforce in relatively low numbers, and women—particularly religious women—have lagged in their participation in high-tech professions. But JCT is changing the game on these fronts, thereby helping to create a more inclusive, balanced, and harmonious Israeli society.
The education of young religious men and their entrance into the workforce is one of the central issues facing contemporary Israel, and a key to its social and economic wellbeing. JCT provides all of its students, including haredi men, with a learning environment that simultaneously meets their religious needs and focuses on secular subjects that lead to professional career development. As the driving force behind the integration of religious men into Israel’s workforce, JCT reduces their dependence on government support, and to helps them become more active participants in Israeli society.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 50.3 percent of Israeli haredi men were employed by the end of 2017. But JCT inverts the plot, with its haredi graduates attaining an 89 percent employment rate, including 77 percent in their field of choice.
Further, according to Israel’s Council for Higher Education, 1,000 Israeli haredim studied computer science in 2017—and two-thirds of them studied at JCT.
Bucking stereotypes about women in general and particularly religious women, 53 percent of the students in JCT’s computer science department are women. Nineteen percent of the women studying computer science in all of Israel are haredi women—nearly all of whom study at JCT.
JCT’s student body includes 700 women studying engineering, 900 studying nursing, and 700 studying accounting and business. The university also cultivates the technology skills of religious women through special events like a hackathon held last December in collaboration with Microsoft and Kamatech.
By helping religious men and women defy stereotypes, JCT is writing a new story for Israeli society—one in which the haredi community is no longer stigmatized for falling short in its social and economic contributions. It is a story that perfectly aligns with Purim and the Book of Esther, but it also contains a message and approach that any society should internalize on a daily basis. If we truly understand that we can invert the plot, there is no goal that is beyond our reach.
Stuart Hershkowitz is the Vice President of the Jerusalem College of Technology.