As Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Enter The Workforce, High-Tech Beckons : Parallels Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Israel are increasingly seeking jobs in the secular world, with an eye especially on the high-tech sector.

As Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Enter The Workforce, High-Tech Beckons

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Ultra-Orthodox men in Israel used to study in Jewish seminaries full time. But more ultra-Orthodox are now entering the workforce and, therefore, the secular world for the first time. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports that some of them are finding jobs in Israel's high-tech sector.

YOSEF EHARMAN: What happened to you...

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: In an ultra-Orthodox enclave of Jerusalem, Yosef Eharman watches his children play in the street while his wife prepares for the Jewish Sabbath. Eharman wears a black suit and skull cap. He's juggling Bible study, family life and his first job at age 33.

EHARMAN: I had two kids already. I didn't have any income. It was a question of responsibility to step up and make a living for my family.

FRAYER: So Eharman left the Jewish seminary or yeshiva where he'd studied since childhood. He'd never taken math or science. They weren't part of the curriculum.

EHARMAN: I realize I don't have any education in the workforce. I was looking for - I didn't get any interviews - anything. So what happened was I reached KamaTech.

FRAYER: KamaTech is a company that helps the high-tech industry recruit ultra-Orthodox workers. It gets some money from the Israeli government as part of an effort to better integrate them into the mainstream, things like the army and work force, and reduce their dependence on welfare.

KamaTech CEO Moshe Friedman is ultra-Orthodox himself and knows how hard it is to find work outside the community.

MOSHE FRIEDMAN: So, for example, if I want to be a rabbi, I have a lot of friends that can find me a very good job. But if I want to be engineer in company like Microsoft or Cisco, I don't know any person that works in these companies.

FRAYER: So Friedman is trying to change that...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

FRAYER: ...By taking a bus load of ultra-Orthodox on a tour of the Israel offices of Facebook, Google and Microsoft.


FRAYER: Daniel Warrenklein, in his black hat and beard, describes the reception they've been getting.

DANIEL WARRENKLEIN: After the first, like - what are you doing here? - people are just great all over.

FRAYER: Government statistics out this year show, for the first time, a majority of ultra-Orthodox men now work. It's worth mentioning that ultra-Orthodox women, who typically don't attend yeshivas as long, work in even greater numbers.

Both men and women want to join the high-paid tech sector. Nimrod Kozlovksi is a venture capitalist scouting for talent. He says studying ancient Bible logic can actually prepare someone to write computer code.

NIMROD KOZLOVSKI: Sometimes, we say, OK, it probably would be impossible. They've not studied math or English. And we're shocked. They pick up in months how to do programming.

FRAYER: There are obstacles. Companies have to provide kosher food and, in some cases, offices segregated by gender. Some rabbis forbid the kinds of smartphone apps these tech workers are designing. They insist on so-called kosher phones that don't connect to the internet, a distraction from holy life.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I want to say something.

FRAYER: Back in his ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem, Yosef Eharman says, after leaving yeshiva, he got a degree in electrical engineering and landed a job with a solar-energy firm. His rabbi allowed it, as long as Eharman continued studying the Bible. His neighbors were skeptical at first.

EHARMAN: Of course, they look at you different. They don't understand. How could it be? A engineer religious? But they learn. They learn.

FRAYER: He says some of his neighbors are even asking him for career advice now. Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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