May 28, 2024
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KEMACH Empowers Charedim in the Israeli Workplace

There is a very high rate of unemployment in charedi society in Israel. Government figures in 2003 indicated that only 33% of charedi men were participating in the workforce. In 2007 three well regarded Jewish philanthropists—Leo Noe of London, Aaron Wolfson of Lawrence, and Eli Horn of Sao Paulo—decided to work together to help find a solution to this growing problem. They established the KEMACH organization in 2007, whose goal is to enable every charedi individual “to fulfill their potential, while not compromising their religious values and lifestyle in any way.” Looking back after 13 years of growth and progress, the results are very encouraging—Israeli government figures for 2019 show that 52% of charedi men are now employed.

As Rabbi Nechemia Steinberger of KEMACH noted, the organization has played a pivotal role in bringing nearly another 20% of the charedi population into the workforce. And by passing the 50% employment threshold, KEMACH has helped challenge the stigma in charedi society against working.

Getting to this point has not been simple or easy, however.

It took a while to build the infrastructure to make significant strides in removing barriers to employment for charedi men and women. In 2014 KEMACH established the Kivun Placement Center in Jerusalem, which to date has assisted over 24,000 charedim find jobs with growth potential and salaries that can enable them to meaningfully support their families. That year, KEMACH also established Movilot, a year-long program to connect motivated and capable charedi women with Israeli business leaders. The program has enjoyed a 95% success rate and graduates usually double their earnings during or shortly after the program.

In 2016 KEMACH established the Kishrei Kehillot program—mobile placement centers inside the communities, to offer career counseling, guidance services and vocational training all over Israel. In 2017 KEMACH set up Bizmax to help charedi freelancers and business owners grow professionally through shared workspaces, an incubator for charedi entrepreneurs, professional workshops and other programs. In 2018 KEMACH created the Mashpim program to prepare charedi men and women to work in municipal and civil service positions.

Along the way, KEMACH has built strong bonds with Israeli government leaders, counting former Minister of Finance and Labor Naftali Bennett among their strong supporters. Israeli government leaders understand the dangers of high charedi unemployment. As Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin stated recently: “Without Haredi society taking a meaningful part in decision making, in the labor market, in the shared responsibility, it will be hard for Israeli society to continue thriving.” In a recent news story in CTech, a technology website that is part of the Yedioth Ahronoth Group, the deputy head of the budget division of the Israeli Ministry of Finance, Assaf Wasserzug, commented that if charedi employment does not increase, “it will cost the Israeli market more than $100 billion a year within the next several decades.”

It isn’t only Israeli government leaders who understand the essential work of KEMACH. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman commented: “The KEMACH Foundation has a huge influence not only over the charedi community but over the entire Israeli economy! The U.S. government understands the need and the importance of KEMACH, and the U.S. Embassy will continue supporting and encouraging your important activities.”

Rabbi Steinberger noted that KEMACH is the most prominent organization dealing with charedi employment in Israel. “No other group deals with the countrywide situation, at all levels and in all charedi groups. We work ‘in all shades of black’.” They do this in part by employing a staff that is almost entirely charedi, which increases the comfort level of their charedi clients.

The importance of the work of KEMACH is underscored by demographic trends projecting that the charedi community will become one third of the state’s population by the year 2050. (They are currently 13% and growing, with an average family with seven children.) Much of the community lives under the government’s threshold of poverty, including nearly two thirds of charedi children.

Through KEMACH’s programs, charedi men and women are assisted in finding training and then employment at all levels: in vocational careers, such as bus drivers, chefs, plumbers, electricians, and bookkeepers; or in academic careers, such as computer science, social work, engineering, medicine and paramedics and dentistry. KEMACH offers scholarships that cover 70% of the costs of training programs (an average of $2,200); the funds are billed as loans until the student completes the degree, after which they become scholarships.

Over the history of KEMACH’s operation, they have assisted over 40,000 individuals with their services. Currently 6,148 people have received scholarships and are engaged in studies. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, KEMACH has stayed remarkably active, with 4,943 students participating in online training activities.

As one sign of the growing impact of KEMACH, the organization held an online fundraiser among only their graduates for three weeks in the late fall. The initiative attracted 2,700 donors and raised close to $1.5 million shekels (approximately $450,000). The success of this drive demonstrated both the enthusiasm that the charedi men and women who participated in its programs have for the organization and the increased financial capability these programs helped them to achieve.

Rabbi Steinberger, senior director of strategic partnerships for KEMACH, does not just ‘talk up’ the organization because he passionately believes in the cause and the vital needs it addresses. He is a strong advocate of KEMACH because he’s seen firsthand how well it works.

As a native to a charedi community, he is a KEMACH graduate. He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s in education and later obtained a master’s in Jewish philanthropy from Hebrew University. Without KEMACH’s scholarship, he would not have been able to complete his degrees.

In addition to his work with KEMACH, Rabbi Steinberger is the rav of the Ohel Yitzchak Shul in the Rechavia section of Yerushalayim and also runs the charedi men’s program at Hebrew University. He and his wife have five children.

With his unique perspective, Rabbi Steinberger knows well what KEMACH has accomplished and what it can do with more support. He points out that while KEMACH annually awards 1,600 scholarships, they are forced to turn down 4,000 other requests. He invites Jewish community members in the United States to partner in the important work of KEMACH, to help them help more charedi men and women find their place in the Israeli workplace.

For more information on KEMACH, see their website at: https://kemach.org

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