What’s in an anniversary?
As nations and institutions mark their milestones year after year, the celebrations can often feel formulaic. Does being one year older make a real difference? Does it matter when a particular year’s anniversary is a big round number, like 50?
That’s the question I’ve been asking myself as the college where I serve in the administration, the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary later this year. As I reflect on the significance of our milestone, what comes to mind is a different and higher-profile milestone that occurred two years ago: the 50th anniversary of a reunified Jerusalem.
From June 1-2, Israelis and Jews worldwide will observe Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), marking 52 years since the city’s reunification during the Six Day War. Make no mistake: the reunification was a defining moment in Jewish history. But this moment also serves as an important reminder that we — both JCT and Israel as a whole — still have plenty of work to do when it comes to life in the city of Jerusalem, especially on the issue of socioeconomic equality.
Poverty is a nationwide problem for Israel. According to a study released last December by the National Insurance Institute, more than 21 percent of Israelis live below the poverty line, giving Israel the highest poverty rate among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Jerusalem, meanwhile, has long been the poorest major city in Israel — largely because it has the highest concentration of Arab and Haredi residents among those cities. The poverty rates for Israel’s Arab and Haredi families in 2017 were 47% and 43%, respectively, the National Insurance Institute study found.
Jews around the world are driven to undertake social action and community service projects through the principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Yet the center of the Jewish world, Jerusalem, is arguably also the most socioeconomically vulnerable city in the Jewish world. This is a critical issue for the future of Israel and the Jewish people, and it deserves our immediate attention — especially on Jerusalem Day.
At JCT, our concerns extend beyond the walls of our own institution. We care about our city and we take concrete actions to spur socioeconomic progress in the community that surrounds us. Unfolding on a parallel track with what will soon be 52 years of a reunified Jerusalem, JCT’s 50-year-long history is a remarkable story of creating unprecedented prosperity for underserved populations in Israeli society such as Ethiopians and Haredim.
For decades, we’ve witnessed unacceptable levels of poverty in Jerusalem. We’ve responded by pioneering an academic solution to the Haredi employment dilemma. JCT’s Haredi graduates have an 89% employment rate, including 77% in their field of choice — far exceeding the roughly 50% employment rate for Haredi men across Israel.
We achieve this progress by providing the necessary academic support and resources to succeed in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines, enabling our students to attain employment in the professions within Israel’s job market with the greatest current demand for skilled labor. With experts warning of a future shortage of administrative jobs in Israel, the problem of Haredi unemployment will likely worsen in the coming years without a greater nationwide commitment to educating Haredim in STEM subjects.
According to the Taub Center, the average monthly wage for Haredi men working full-time and possessing a higher education degree is 80% higher than full-time Haredi male workers who haven’t graduated from college, while the average monthly wage is 71% higher for Haredi women with a college degree. The ticket to prosperity for the Haredi community, therefore, is a high-quality education in a discipline which will provide a clear path to employment.
When it comes to a brighter and more equitable socioeconomic future in Jerusalem, JCT’s mission extends far beyond the Haredi community. Shattering the stereotype of women’s relative lack of interest in science and technology, 53% of our computer science students are women — 18% higher than any other Israeli college or university. And our Reuven Surkis Program for Students from the Ethiopian Community empowers young Ethiopian-Israelis to improve their lives by enabling them to earn an academic degree and pursue careers in high-tech, business, and the Israel Defense Forces, producing graduates with a 95% employment rate.
On this Jerusalem Day, let’s do more than celebrate the anniversary of the city’s reunification. Let’s commit to a more prosperous future for Jerusalem. That means taking steps to alleviate poverty in Israel’s eternal capital, chief among them supporting high-quality academics for Haredim in order to set them up for success in the workforce.