Daniel Fogel

The time to incentivize Haredi higher education has arrived

The common refrain around Haredi employment in Israel goes like this. Haredi education does not teach science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, nor English. As such, it fails to prepare its graduates to matriculate, succeed in the psychometric exam, study for higher education and enter the workforce with well-paying jobs. When this lack of preparation is combined with the subsidies provided to Haredi families, especially those in which men do not work, nationally, we have created a scenario in which Haredi men are discouraged from working.

Haviv Rettig Gur’s recent analysis adds to the chorus on this issue, taking a hardnosed look at Israeli Haredi employment numbers and the impact of decades-long Israeli government support of the Haredi community. It cites the recent warning by the Israeli Finance Ministry, which estimated that with no change in the Haredi employment rate, by 2060 Israel will lose NIS 6.7 trillion in cumulative GDP. For anyone who cares about the future of the State of Israel, this economically apocalyptic forecast must be a clarion call.

As a society, we must do something.

While the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) is not the only school striving to integrate Haredi men into academia and the high-tech work force, we are proud to be the premier school succeeding in that effort. Our track record speaks for itself. JCT is the second-largest institute of higher education in Jerusalem and is proud to have nearly 5,000 students of whom over 2,000 are Haredi men and women. Of our Haredi students, 35% are men.

Why are we successful?

Simply put, JCT respects Torah. Our academic degree programs are taught alongside Torah study. JCT students excel in computer science and engineering, nursing and bioinformatics, management and accounting, and do so without compromising their religious principles or practice.

For Haredi students with no background in core subjects, our one-year preparatory program trains them to the highest level of high school math, physics and English. Thirteen months after they are introduced to arithmetic, they begin degrees in engineering.

Many students receive scholarships, subsidies, tutoring and counseling. These forms of assistance significantly reduce the drop-out rate. The “costs” of these forms of aid are paid back to society (in income tax, increased GDP, and a reduction in unemployment related government funding) in fewer than two years.

Our alumni go on to top positions as engineers, start-up founders, healthcare professionals, and defense industry and business leaders. Our alumni have a placement rate of over 90% in their field, soon after graduation.

The impact is enormous.

JCT strengthens the Israeli economy, brings highly trained employees to the high paying workforce, breaks the cycle of impoverished Haredi families and does all this without threatening religious life – which has everything to do with Torah and nothing to do with employment or unemployment.

Imagine if societally we incentivized a Haredi man to enter the workforce where he would earn as much or more than his non-Haredi counterpart while remaining true to his values. Instead of gloom-and-doom economic forecasts, we could be speaking of a net gain to Israel’s GDP of NIS 6.7 trillion in the next 30 years.

JCT alumni – including Haredi men – enter the workforce earning many times what Haredi families receive in government subsidies. With incomes like these, subsidies are irrelevant. Our graduates support their families and their community and make a positive contribution to the Israeli GDP. Perhaps most importantly, they change the mindset that posits that a Haredi man who enters academia and the high-tech workplace is tantamount (as described by Rettig Gur) to having cast his teffilin into the sea.

Israel is strengthened by empowering the Haredi community to join the high earning labor force, while retaining their identity. We are privileged to have partners in this work from across multiple sectors, including Jewish federations, foundations and funds in North America and Europe, the City of Jerusalem, and industry and defense leaders like Intel, Google, Microsoft, Amdocs, Rafael, Elbit, Check Point, Cross River Bank and others.

The time for debate about Haredi unemployment and underemployment is over. The time to incentivize Haredi higher education has arrived.

We are proud to have a winning model. Winning, for us, means advancing the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Every day we develop new partners strengthening Israel with us – and we need them all in this challenging and sacred work.

About the Author
Daniel “Doni” Fogel is the Vice President of the Jerusalem College of Technology. He previously held leadership roles at AIPAC and the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Virginia, where he worked regularly with community leaders, Israeli government ministers and Knesset members, Congress members, and the foreign diplomatic corps.
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