|Image from the Jerusalem Post|
Integration is a good thing. But there are some on both sides of that issue that might oppose it - for fear of being contaminated by the other side. And there may even be a grain of truth in that fear.
I know what you are thinking. But stop thinking it. I am not in any way a racist. I’m not talking about that kind of integration. I am talking about Israel - and integrating Charedim into general society.
On the Charedi side the opposition is based on the belief the secular values that dominate Israeli culture (most of which they consider negative and even anti Torah) would rub off on Charedim if they were to intgerate. On the secular side the opposition is based on the fear that Charedim will somehow end up imposing their way of life on them.
But the fact is that we can all learn from each other. We can all be good neighbors. Charedim will continue to live their lives in that manner in which they were raised as American Charedim that live in an integrated society do. There are a lot of neighborhoods that have both Charedim and secular Jews -and even non Jews living together.
And secular Jews can continue to live their lives as they see fit. Good neighbor will respect each other and not force their own ways on their neighbors. Not only can we learn to live with each other, we can all learn ABOUT each other and end the stereotypical negative images so often portrayed in the media that caters to their own demographic.
The fact is that it is already happening. At least in the workplace. Asaf Malchi , a researcher for the Ministry Labor and Social Affairs reports that there are a considerable number of Charedim entering the workforce. And getting the proper training for good jobs:
In the previous academic year there were approximately 1,200 ultra-Orthodox students earning advanced degrees (graduate and above), and of about 10,000 ultra-Orthodox graduates, a considerable proportion have the academic training required for relevant fields in the civil service with degrees in law, business administration, medical professions and social sciences.
A recent decision by the Israeli government gives ‘Affirmative Action’ status to Charedim that want to integrate more easily into civil service in various positions. I am not a fan of Affirmative Action, because that tends to lower standards for reasons unrelated to qualification. But Malchi suggests that it is quite the opposite and that a lot will be gained by it:
Without success stories, it will not be possible to recruit additional ultra-Orthodox candidates to this sector. Therefore, affirmative action for ultra-Orthodox integration in the civil service must be carried out fairly, by empowering and improving the ultra-Orthodox human capital through new policy in the education system, both schools and universities, and the military and appropriate conditions accepted by the Civil Service Commission.
I agree with this goal. But I am not sure I agree with putting lesser qualified students ahead of more qualified students into these schools - if that is what is happening.
All in all, this is great news. But I do not believe it is enough. Because I believe there are still many Charedim that are losing out because they lack the basic education needed to succeed in those schools and are unable to catch up.
The real answer to this situation is along the lines I have been advocating for quite some time. Requiring Charedi schools in Israel to offer a core curriculum of secular studies comparable to the Charedi schools in the US. In that way, Affirmative Action will not be necessary and admission to schools will once again be merit based rather than diversity based. At least in theory
I also have to wonder if those numbers reflect American Charedim that immigrated to Israel? If it does, that is not a n accurate reflection of how many Charedim in Israel with no secular studies background get advanced degrees. Because most American Charedim that make Aliyah had some sort of core curriculum that better enables them to seek such degrees. Although I will admit that 10,000 Charedi undergraduates is a pretty sizable number even if it does include some American Charedi Olim.
So while I am pleased to see more Charedim getting the education and jobs they need to support their families, it does not seem like nearly enough, considering the tens of thousands of them are not doing it.
For me the the goal should be a system that enables a lot more Charedim to get the education and training for those good jobs than is currently the case. Because there are probably a lot of Charedim that are so ill-equipped in secular knowledge that they are unable to catch up. Until that changes, I’m afraid all of this affirmative action will produce only limited results.