Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Beit Shemesh, located 20 miles west of Je­rusalem with a population of 100,000 people, is home to innovators like Rabbi Joel Padow­itz, whose ventures have a direct relationship with the haredi community.

Padowitz, 36, is co-creator of what he be­lieves is a “game-changing” product for Israe­li tourism and business called the “Israel App.” Originally from San Diego, Padowitz made al­iyah in 2009 and lives in Beit Shemesh with his wife and six children. He teaches Mishnah every day at a men’s kollel in Beit Shemesh, is an avid mountain biker, and is the found­er of a Manhattan-based investment bank. Al­though he has rabbinical ordination and an MBA from Bar-Ilan University, he is now pur­suing a BA in social science from Harvard Uni­versity.

The co-founder and manager of the Is­rael App is equally eclectic 28-year-old Yaak­ov Lehman, formerly from Tucson, Ariz., who is married with a newborn child. A part-time rabbinic student and part-time social entre­preneur, he has a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in global studies, an MA from the London School of Economics in economic history, and an MA from the Univer­sity of Vienna in world history. He came to Is­rael in 2008.

“The reason I founded the Israel App is be­cause people come to Israel and do not get a legitimate or even meaningful presenta­tion of this incredible country,” Padowitz tells JNS.org. “We cater to the majority of tourists who don’t hire human tour guides. We want to give them a way to appreciate more deeply all that Israel has to offer.”

The Israel App—which currently has about 6,000 users—contains GPS-guided tours for any tourist who needs to find sites or hotels or restaurants, a virtual concierge for making reservations, coupons, and back­ground content like an “Israepedia,” a glossary covering a wide variety of historical informa­tion. Tourists can use the app without roam­ing charges as they travel around the country.

When Padowitz and Lehman initiated their project, they began looking for a pro­gramming team. They happened upon Net­Source and its subsidiary, Concept Creative Technology, a service provider of software development. “We liked the service, the price, and their work environment,” says Lehman.

NetSource’s 48-year-old CEO, Mazal Shirem, is a divorced mother of three who grew up as an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem, where she lived until the age of 20. After 16 years with Intel and a stint in Munich, Germa­ny, she found a business partner for her new venture whose mission “was to get Orthodox people into the employment market and give them the tools they need to learn the work environment.”

NetSource was launched in 2010 and to­day employs 200 people—90 percent hare­di women and 5 percent haredi men—al­most all living in Beit Shemesh. According to Shirem, the company operates so that the employees “receive the full respect of their lifestyle, including the on-site ko­sher kitchen, flexible work hours, and even proper subjects on which they work.”

Tamar, a 26-year-old haredi mother of a 3-and-a-half year old and a 1-and-a-half year old, is consulting with Shirem in her of­fice. She started work there a year and a half ago as a secretary and worked her way up to an account manager.

“I really like to work here,” she says. “The girls are very nice and it’s convenient for me to work in this company because I find all the conditions which I need in order for me to go out and do my job in an appropriate environ­ment.”

Tamar adds, “They respect my moth­erhood in terms of hours and are a firm supporting my lifestyle; the holidays are being celebrated properly here and the company is flexible to our home needs.”

Across the street is a second part of the company, a call center, with 130 worksta­tions where “some employees want ca­reers and some want jobs,” says Shirem, but essentially all are Orthodox/haredi.

“Most of the employees here have a ba­sic education, [but] we give confidence for those who want to do more,” she says.

Israel App, meanwhile, has employed some 20 people all over Israel doing mar­keting, design, research, transcribing, data entry, photography, audio recording, and content—although the venture doesn’t have a formal office yet. Lehman says, “My computer is my office, wherever I am.”

By Sybil Kaplan/JNS.org

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