02 August 2016

Haredi Programs at Jerusalem College of Technology

Jerusalem College of Technology's Haredi Programs in the News

The following article was the lead story in the weekend edition of Yedioth Aharonoth, published mid-July and written by Nahum Barnea, the newspaper's top journalist. The article, a positive review of JCT's education of members of the Haredi community, was written following a visit by Barnea to the Lev Campus.

Nahum Barnea, Yedioth Aharonoth, 15 July 2016

"I discovered that there are many kinds of 'Haredi'," said Vardit Markowitz, Director of the Pre- academic programs (Mechina) at the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT) – Lev Academic Center in Jerusalem. Black is the color usually attributed to the Haredi community, despite the fact that the Haredim studying at the Jerusalem College of Technology are known for their long sleeve white shirts – the popular Haredi attire. Some wear blue. Haredim who entered the workforce are referred to as "blue shirts." Black, white and blue.

English is the most difficult challenge for the Haredi students. They find nothing familiar in it – not the letters, the words or the sound. We walked into an English class. Most of the students in the classroom did not know a single word when they began studying, three weeks ago. The lecturer, David Shtal, kind looking and thick bearded, distributed the text of the day, "Here comes The Sun," by George Harrison, recorded by The Beatles in the summer of 1969, 47 years ago. "Who is the song referring to?" Asks Shtal, and he continues with a question: "The angel Raphael? No, the sun. The song was written in England. It's cold there in the winter. When the sun comes out, they rejoice."
He asks the students to read a line from the text and translate it. The bold try and succeed. "Now, I'll play the song for you." Shtal tells them, "Don't worry, no women sing on this track.”

He loads the clip on YouTube. The students are fascinated. Here and there fingers tap to the beat, mouths hum, and under the tables, feet tap. "How many of you have ever heard of The Beatles?" I ask. Half of the class, hesitantly, raise their hands. One heard they wanted to come to Israel but the government wouldn't allow it.

"What do you want to gain from studying here?" I ask the students. "To support my family with dignity, but to keep all 613 mitzvahs," answers one. "What is your dream?" I ask. They exchange uncomfortable glances. "It's still early for me to dream," answers one, and he's right. Studies in the Pre-Academic Program have only begun and until the first year of studies, the year that counts, 50 percent of the students will discontinue their studies.

There are private colleges where Haredi students attend with the main purpose of earning a degree: the degree paves the way to positions in public service. This academic center trains them to be engineers for difficult professions, essential for the industry and IDF, such as electro-optics, electronics, informatics, software engineering and computer sciences. They offer a bachelor's degree in nursing, for women as well as for men. The courses are demanding and expectations are high. The institutions statistics are impressive: 93 percent of graduates are employed, 89 percent of whom are employed in their field of study.

This Mechina class consists mainly of students associated with Shas and Litvak. The Shasniks, graduates of "El Maayan," learned mathematics up to eighth grade. The Litvaks only studied religious studies. "Don't you have any criticism to offer the system that refused to educate you on core subjects?" I asked.

"I do," said one. "If they had taught us English, I could forgo this year.”

"I don't have any complaints," said another. "The Haredi education wasn't right for me personally, but that doesn't mean it's not right for others.”

I asked if they were considered to be failures by the standards of the Haredi community.

The word, "failure" elicited strong reactions. Israelis hate failure, regardless of what sector of society or religion they belong to. A resounding chorus of "No!" filled the room. "Do they view you as deserters, traitors?" I asked. "Absolutely not," said one. "Some see us as trailblazers.”

"Every family has its own set of values," said another. "My family doesn't consider working as something inferior.”

And indeed, some of the students from families that encourage secular studies have a working father and brothers. Some in these sectors call them burnt out.

"How many of you served in the army?" I asked. Three raised their hands. "where are you from?" I asked. "We're Chabadniks," said one, sporting an impressive beard. The class responded with a long "Ahhh." They don't consider Chabadniks to be Haredi. Rabbi Shach once said that Chabad, is the closest cult to Judaism.

"Are the walls of the Haredi Ghetto slowly cracking?" I asked. "It's not a Ghetto, and the walls aren't cracking" replied one of the students. "It's a commitment. And the media is to blame. It makes it seem like all Haredim are the same.”

What is failure?

For several years, I served on the board of the Hebrew University. I asked them to establish a separate campus for Haredim. There was money and a vision, the president was in favor of the idea. But the professors rejected the plan outright, and they have their rationales: the Haredi demand for separation between men and women, between students and professors, offended them. This offense won and the state and university lost.

The Jerusalem College of Technology doesn't share this problem: men and women teach and study separately, the cafeterias are kosher, Badatz, and the computers have information filters, otherwise the rabbis wouldn't allow Haredim to study there. 5,200 women and men study on three campuses, two thirds are Dati-Leumi (Orthodox/ Modern-Orthodox) and a third are Haredi. 120 study in a specialized program for Ethiopian-Israelis. Chaim Sukenik, a chemistry professor from Bar Ilan, and immigrant from the US, serves as president.

Levi (full name in records) is a Belz Hassid, 28, married, and a father of four. He's in his second year of studies towards a degree in computer sciences. "I came here because I wanted a way to make a living," he says.

He went to his Admor (rabbi) and received approval. "We [Belz Hassidim] encourage those who find it difficult to leave the Yeshiva and go and study," he said. "I'm not the only one to leave the Yeshiva. There are four or five more who left to work.”

He relies on government support, which covers half of JCT's budget, and scholarships. The community doesn't provide assistance, his wife doesn't work. "What did you know when you came here?" I asked.

"I knew the multiplication table up to 100," said Levi. "I didn't know anything else in math. I knew a bit of English – my parents are from New York. But I didn't know how to read or write.”

"What do you plan to do when you enter the work force?" I asked. "I have no idea." He said. "We accompany them up to the stage where they begin working," said Vardit Markowitz, the director.

Baruch (full name on file) is considered an Avrech (studies during the day and receives a small stipend in return). He is a member of a Kollel. The Kollel doesn't know that he is studying in an academic institution. He's 32, a father of six. During the mornings he teaches in Shas schools. In the afternoons, he studies engineering. "My father graduated from an academic institution," he said. "Every so often he would say, consider the option. I want to support my family. I'm considering the hi-tech industry.”

"Are your friends interested in entering the workforce?" I asked.

"Some are slowly doing so," he said, "but they aren't openly discussing it.”

The management didn't like the references to exiting the Haredi environment. "We do not encourage students to cross any lines," stated Vardit Markowitz. Prof. Sukenik supported this claim. He quoted the head of the Ramat Gan campus who said, "I do not know how to define success, but I do know how to define failure. If a student decides to abandon his/her heritage – we have failed. “

Translated from Hebrew: Yediot Article

Jerusalem College of Technology

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