The Jerusalem Post reports:
In a ceremony held in Ramat Aviv on Wednesday night 54 former haredi men and women received academic scholarships from the Hillel organization that will help them catch up academically with their fellow Israelis.
Hillel, founded in 1994, is an entirely voluntary organization, that gives guidance and assistance to young men and women from ultra-Orthodox families who choose to leave their communities.
The young ex-haredim discover that their education has not prepared them for the secular workplace, according to Irit Panepe, the organization's volunteer spokeswoman. "Usually we are talking about extremely intelligent people who came to a real conclusion, that "the ultra-Orthodox world" is not their place," she told The Jerusalem Post before the start of Wednesday's ceremony.
"Even those who come from the best yeshivas, such as Ponevezh, stopped their [secular] education at somewhere around the fourth grade level, she said." They learn nothing about history, civics, literature, and geography - not even Bible as we now it. The organization emphatically affirms that its agenda is apolitical.
"We have no political identity," Panepe insisted. "We are a social organization; we help people who need help."
And that help is impressive in scope. Hillel operates apartments in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in which 'yotz'im beshe'ela', those who left the haredi world behind for secular Israel, can live for a few weeks or even months.
During this time the organization's 300 volunteers help them with writing resumes and finding work.
The young former haredim also receive academic tutoring and psychological help in addition to what volunteers call "basic help," such as assistance in choosing and purchasing colorful clothes.
In addition, Hillel takes groups on weekend trips all over Israel.
Many of the young people taking part on the trip have never seen Israel's outdoors.…
And the haredi reaction to all this? Nothing surprising here:
Hillel's work has encountered much resistance in the haredi world which views leaving the ultra-Orthodox community for a secular lifestyle as a danger to the community's cohesion and ideals. The organization's offices have experienced several break-ins during which identifying information about the organization's participants was stolen. In addition, Hillel representatives claim that haredi leaders have set up a similarly named organization meant to receive phone calls from confused haredi youth seeking Hillel.
The biggest threat to haredim may very well be this:
While Hillel doesn't have any political affiliations, it does openly call for establishing and enforcing a standardized educational curriculum throughout Israel.
"If the state doesn't mandate a minimal curriculum," said one representative of the organization, "then we believe the Education Ministry should take responsibility for these people who know nothing, and help them to catch up." Until such a policy is in place, vowed the representative, "we're doing it."
This is what the recent fight over funding of haredi education has been based on. Haredim produce students ill-equipped to function in society. They cannot hold jobs other than the most unskilled. And they cannot feed their families without welfare. Haredim are a tremendous financial drain on the state, but continue to deny the problems generated by their sub-par school systems on the one hand and refuse to do anything to further prepare the masses of haredim for work on the other.
In America, a former Lubavitcher, Malkie Schwartz started a smaller version of Hillel. Footsteps does what Hillel does, but on a much smaller scale due not to a smaller need, but because of limited financial resources. (You can help by donating here.) This is probably because in America, welfare is paid by a truly secular state, and is divorced from specific Jewish community politics. If it were closer to home, rampant haredi welfare fraud and abuse would be a huge issue for the American Jewish community, just as that same abuse and fraud is a major issue in Israel.