JERUSALEM – Ultra-Orthodox Jews now have the opportunity to be a part of Israel’s vibrant start-up culture thanks to a special office in Jerusalem that caters to their religious customs and needs.
A temple where they pray together, filters that block inappropriate content online and a men-only policy are just some of the features that make this co-working space unique.
Aaron Breuer’s work at a platform that helps in the design of 3D products has meant he has worked with people from different backgrounds and religions, something which he admits has caused more problems than he anticipated.
Before working at Bizmax, Breuer, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, says he often fell victim to discrimination due to his faith, lifestyle and clothing.
“Working here makes me feel comfortable, because of the dress code and it also makes me feel comfortable because I feel appreciated rather than looked down (on),” he told EFE.
Breuer joined Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community 13 years ago after moving from his hometown of New York.
He says that even in Israel he struggled to feel at ease and make personal connections in the labor market because of his faith.
Pesach Parkoff, a father of four who is self-employed as an image consultant for real estate firms, doesn’t have an office at home and was unable to work in public spaces, where he found too many distractions because of women dressing “inappropriately,’’ he said.
The two “Haredi” men share a premises with more than 100 ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, a shared working space called Bizmax in the heart of Jerusalem where women are banned from renting an office, access to certain “inappropriate” content online is blocked and the kitchen separates meat and dairy products to keep things Kosher.
“I feel more comfortable in Bizmax, because of the ultra-Orthodox grouping and camaraderie,” Kalman Labovitz said as several men returned from afternoon prayers at the building’s synagogue. “I feel like I have the same background as many of the people here.”
Labovitz, founder and CEO of a start-up that provides marketing and web development solutions, said that he arrived at Bizmax after working at WeWork, whose offices don’t cater to the strict standards required by Haredim Jews.
“WeWork had people from many different backgrounds, they were wonderful people, I never had problems with them, but approaching them and having conversations with them was quite difficult,’’ Labovitz said. “But here, you dress similarly, have similar backgrounds, everybody prays together and people fast together.”
One of the factors that those who work at Bizmax most appreciate is the sense of community and familiarity they cannot find at more secular workplaces.
“It me feel comfortable because I feel appreciated rather than looked down,” Breuer said.
Integrating the community into the workforce is one of the country’s major challenges.
According to a recent Bank of Israel report, only 54 percent of ultra-Orthodox men, who make up almost 12 percent of the Israeli population, are employed, while the rest receive subsidies for studying the Torah.
Fewer still are the Haredim working in start-ups and high-tech companies, the majority of which are located in or around Tel Aviv.
This low rate of employment is a concern for one of Israel’s fastest growing communities; in 2017, ultra-Orthodox Jews represented only 8 percent of the population, but they are expected to make 28 percent of Israelis by 2065.
Parkoff says that more Haredim are joining the workforce because of dwindling subsidies for religious study.
Costs of living, meanwhile, have gone up, due in large part to the number of children they have, meaning that those who do not seek gainful employment risk living below the poverty line.
Slowly shifting attitudes within the Haredim community thanks to rabbis relaxing their strict standards mean that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men will increasingly join the labor market, Labovitz says.
“I think the rabbis allow it (...) because they want people to stay in Yeshivot and learn, but when somebody needs to go out and work, they understand it.”