Sunday, March 20, 2016

In Israel, a new generation of ultra-Orthodox Jews seek integration 

A quiet revolution is arising inside the insular world of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — chipping away at the ghetto walls its leaders have erected to protect against what they see as the dangers of secularism. More and more, young ultra-Orthodox insist they can continue to lead pious lives while also embracing technology, the modern workplace and their fellow Israelis.

Experts have long warned that Israel faces long-term economic ruin if its fastest growing sector, known as the Haredim, continues to reject the mainstream education system, enjoy sweeping military draft exemptions, raise large families on taxpayer-funded handouts and devote themselves almost entirely to their cloistered world of scripture and study.

The current call for reform, however, is coming from within a community long resistant to outside pressures to change.

Some are leaving ultra-Orthodoxy entirely — one in 10 is moving on to more moderate Judaism or secular life. But others like Avigdor Rabinovitch, a single, 25-year-old political science student at The Open University, are building a grassroots movement that strives to transcend a life of poverty and isolation, and to redefine what it means to be an ultra-Orthodox Jew in Israel.

“It’s a new identity that I call ‘Israeli Haredim,'” said Rabinovitch, who organizes events for like-minded reformers. “We’re not trying to be like anyone else. We want to be ourselves but to open up to new worlds as well. We want to be involved and not just watch from the side.”

After generations have shunned military service, more young Haredim are looking to improve their future job prospects by joining combat and intelligence units that have been set up for them. According to the military, some 2,300 enlisted during the last draft year, up from 288 in 2007. Far more are enrolling in higher education as well.


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