Low Key British Philanthropist at the Forefront of Endeavor to Grow Haredi Employment in Israel

A Haredi man receives computer instruction at JDC's Mafteach job training center in Jerusalem. Photo by Ofir Ben Natan; courtesy JDC.
A Haredi man receives computer instruction at JDC’s Mafteach job training center in Jerusalem. Photo by Ofir Ben Natan; courtesy JDC.

Today, in New York, Jewish Funders Network is bringing together Jewish philanthropists from around the world for strategic discussions about fighting high rates of poverty and unemployment among Israel’s fast-growing Haredi community.

Accelerate: Haredi Employment & Economic Empowerment in Israel, will allow philanthropic leaders, Haredi educators, and other stakeholders – including representatives from Israel’s business, nonprofit, and government sectors – to share ideas and lay the groundwork for future collaboration. “Accelerate” is the first conference ever to not only address this issue from the perspective of funders but to address this issue head-on.

Haredi Jews suffer poverty rates as high as 66%, according to the most recent poverty report from the National Insurance Institute of Israel. Many choose not to work, with most men opting to study in yeshivot full-time. A higher proportion of Haredi women work, but education in secular subjects is often low-quality, for men and women alike.

This economically troubled sector is projected to grow quickly during coming decades. Comprising about 10% of Israel’s current population, Haredi Jews have significantly higher fertility rates than the rest of Israel, and Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics projects that the Haredi population will grow at more than three times the rate of the non-Haredi Jewish population between now and 2059.

A driving force behind this conference is British property developer and philanthropist, Leo Noe, who through the Rachel Charitable Trust, is a benefactor to various charities in the UK and Israel.

eJP recently sat with Noe in his London office. In a wide-ranging, and free-wheeling discussion, we found Noe to be affable and well-spoken. Our conversation ranged from the lack of support for aggunot to German reparations to Israel [during the early days of the State] to real problems in Israel today where a rabbi can be found on every corner!

On the Haredi empowerment front, Noe supports the highly successful Kemach Foundation. Kemach’s mission is to help Haredi students “sustain themselves in dignity.” What’s key here, Noe explained, is that Kemach is run by the Haredi community for the Haredi community – helping to instill a mindset that “things do not have to stay this way.” The participants see others in the community that are successful and say, “I want that!” And “I have to be responsible” for my success.

Noe is passionately dedicated to broadening funder interest in this sector through developing partnerships and collaborations. Relative to this conference, one of the items stressed throughout was that while the monies for these initiatives are coming from charitable funds, they should not be considered “charity” but rather an “investment” in the Haredi community so that, among other goals, they become less dependent on the State. (Of note, Noe – as most British – view the word “charity” as the voluntary giving of help to those in need. Even at the government level, applicable legislation is found in the “Charities Act”).

To understand and then deal with the high rates of poverty and unemployment it is necessary to have at least some knowledge of the eco-system that exists in this community, including the cultural barriers, gaps in education and varied professional experience. Solutions are needed that help the “community.” This is an integral part of the Conference program.

Noe pointed out that through initiatives to date, “thousands of Haredi men entered programs, subsequently joined the workforce and are no longer in need of support from the State, or charity. They have become net contributors to the economy.” With the ever-increasing percentage of Israel’s Haredi population, society can only benefit from expansion of these initiatives.

Today’s Conference has attracted a great deal of attention from the funding community. Let’s hope it is also the beginning of new partnerships and collaboration. Israel’s overall well-being requires nothing less.