Launched in 2014, Hanoch is designed for young ultra-Orthodox men who are not involved in full-time religious study but are also not engaged in gainful employment due to lack of skills. Hanoch provides employment counseling and sets participants on a road to professional training and advancement. It prepares them to find decent work and lift them out of the cycle of poverty and idleness in which many are mired.
Hanoch is designed to help participants acquire the tools and skills that will enable their integration into the labor market, while enabling them to pursue some measure of religious studies and maintain an ultra-Orthodox, yeshiva-based lifestyle. This dual approach of a community-anchored life coupled with employment, often in the secular world outside the community, has gained growing acceptance by parents, rabbinical leaders and ultra-Orthodox opinion setters.
The program is conducted in cooperation with ultra-Orthodox yeshivas with professionalism and sensitivity born out of the understanding that acquiring a profession and making a living are key to social and economic mobility – but only if they do not threaten the religious way of life and if they align with the rabbis’ consent.
What’s Special about this Program?
The program is unique in that it grew from within the ultra-Orthodox community. With the community's full cooperation, the program operates within the participating yeshivas and combines vocational studies with employment counseling, along with the daily yeshiva routine. The program is structured in a way that enables participants to adhere to their religious way of life and encourages them to join the workforce and strengthen their standing in the community in which they live. Hanoch operates in conjunction with yeshiva heads and bolsters the skills of the yeshiva staff in guiding and counseling program participants.
Yossi Yehezkeli grew up in Tsfat, the youngest of seven Haredi children.
Two of Yossi's older brothers left Haredi life to join the army, an act that was not overtly welcome in his community. Yossi was deeply influenced by his brothers’ choice as he, too, felt his spiritual connection to his yeshiva fading.
“In seventh grade, I was the best student in my class and I felt there was nothing more to achieve,” recalls Yossi. “At the age of 16, I was accepted to all of the yeshivas I applied to and didn’t have to work hard to do well on the tests. I was keeping all the laws and practices — but inside, I did not consider myself religious."
Yossi decided to “escape” like his brothers by joining the IDF, but his parents and his yeshiva intervened. His family’s disapproval weighed heavily on Yossi; a relative even told him that joining the army would send his father to his grave.
He soon transferred to Derech Hashem, an alternative yeshiva for boys who did not have the discipline or desire to fit into a regular Haredi yeshiva. It was a compromise that left Yossi only temporarily satisfied.
“At Derech Hashem I learned to choose to be Haredi from my own free will,” he explains. The yeshiva followed a looser schedule and requirements for study, and Yossi momentarily felt satisfied. He even married a young Haredi woman and began to plot out his adult life.
But it wasn’t so simple. Yossi wanted to enter a degree program but discovered that he was not eligible without completing his army service. That was the last time Yossi would compromise his future — it was time to join the army. He was drafted into the IDF’s intelligence division with guidance from JDC's Shahar program for Haredim. He became an officer, managing a team of soldiers in computerized research.
Following his IDF service, Yossi had the chance to join a hi-tech company. It was a certain path towards a lucrative, top-level management position. Instead, he decided to give back to the Haredi community as a staff member of JDC-TEVET's new Hanoch program.
“I wanted to help young men discover their hidden potential, their ability to achieve greatness within a Haredi framework, and strengthen their ties to the Haredi community,” Yossi explains, “Addressing the issue [of employment] will not just strengthen young men who are ‘going off the path’ of Haredi life, it will strengthen the entire Haredi community.”
The program consists of three stages:
- Training: Participants undergo preparatory learning of English, mathematics and Hebrew literacy – studies that are not usually part of the yeshiva curriculum. At the same time, they take part in various workshops to identify their professional interests and map out a vision of their future employment. The workshops are also designed to empower and prepare them for the labor market by simulating job interviews, teaching them to compile resumes and prepare for assessment tests, and equip them with tools to confront difficulties they may encounter in the workforce.
- Testing and Placement: Following a process of testing, participants are directed to a track found most suitable for them – vocational training, academic studies, completion of high school matriculation exams or employment.
- Job Placement: The placement is carried out in cooperation with JDC-Tevet’s employment counseling centers.
The Program in Numbers
By 2017, 1,200 students from 22 yeshivas had taken part in the program.
Some 75 yeshiva rabbis underwent training and awareness sessions on the importance of employment for young ultra-Orthodox men and the ways to achieve it.
Three courses have been conducted for yeshiva heads and supervisors.