Working in Israel: Challenges for the Ultra-Orthodox

    January 2012          
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Why the Ultra Orthodox in Israel Do Not Work

Name Withheld

After reading so many different articles in the online Israeli news sites, I noticed that a common thread is that of Orthodox bashing. One of the common approaches is to reproach the Orthodox community referring to them as leaches on society with the accepted 'fact' that they do not work. I would like to address such criticism.

Firstly, I am an engineer who received my degree at a respected institution and have worked in the USA for many years. I decided to come to Israel for one year to learn in a yeshiva, since I felt the need to increase my knowledge of Judaism.

I was a senior engineer at a large and well respected firm who tried to talk me out of leaving to come to Israel since my talents were much needed by them. But following my spiritual needs, thirty-three years ago, I left the USA and came to Israel where I eventually settled down. I have never left Israel with the exception of a few family visits to the USA.

I worked in several places in Israel and my impressions were all the same, as I will describe. What I found unfortunately was that many seculars hate the religious with a deep and inborn hatred. This hatred comes out obnoxiously strong in the work sector.

I worked for the Israeli Army as a outside engineering contractor. I was hired by a contractor who had a contract with the Israeli Army to supply them an engineer. I was well liked by the other engineers who were mostly Russians, as was my Army boss who was a civilian.

The structure in the IDF was that my boss reports to the commander of the the section that I was working in. I never had any problems in the army either with personalities or with my work. Except that one day after working there for several years, my contractor boss called me on the phone to tell me that the army did not want to renew my contract; he wanted to know what did I do. I told him that I did not know; that this was the first I had heard of it.

I came down to his office and he called the section commander on his speaker phone so that I could hear it. The commander told him clearly that my work was sub-standard and he (the contractor) must provide a different engineer. After hanging up, I was totally puzzled so my contractor boss called my section boss, the man who had hired me and asked him what was up. He told him in clear terms that my work is great, I get along fine with every one but that the commander hates me since I am Orthodox. He was saddened to say that there was nothing he could do since the contract is in the commander's hands.

There was a strange twist of fate in this story. The commander was promoted to a higher command and moved to Tel Aviv and a new commander was brought in. The new commander was a real tough fellow. I went to him to plead for my job since my family's welfare depended on my working. The commander looked at me and told me in these very words: "I don't care who you are, if you do the work, you're in; otherwise you are out!" Well, T.G., he checked into me and found out that I did do the work well. He authorized an extension of my contract.

The first commander who had moved to Tel Aviv heard that the new commander was approving my contract. He called the new commander up and ordered him to cancel it. The new commander was amazingly tough. He told the old commander that he was in charge of this section and that he did not talk orders from him. My job was spared.

Second Job:

My immediate boss in the army retired after twenty some years and decided to open an engineering office of his own and provide engineering services to the army. He asked me to come and join him; he had signed up a city in Israel as a client and they wanted one engineer. I accepted and left the army. At this city engineering office, I encountered that same problem, the person who was to break me in and show me around did not like the Orthodox and made me many problems. I finally was able to get around him and learn what I needed to do for the job from other engineers who were more sympathetic to my learning what the work entailed. I soon became a top engineer there and was able to finish my tasks much faster and with better designs than the city employed engineers.

After a while a notice went up that they were looking for an engineer to do exactly my work. I decided that I would like to have a fixed job. The city paid well and had many good benefits so I applied for the job. I was notified by mail when to come in for the interview. My superior, a lady of questionable morals, was shocked to see me at the interview. I told them that I was interviewing for the job that I am currently doing well. Well! Even though this lady (?) appreciated my work, she certainly had no desires to have an Orthodox person employed in the city engineering department.

Third Job:

A while later I left the city job and was hired by a contractor to supply engineering work for one of the largest electronic manufacturing companies in Israel. My qualifications were exactly what they wanted and the contractor snapped me up. I was accepted by the company representative who was impressed with my work background and they put me to work immediately.

The company was duly impressed with my work and soon the company approached me to work directly for them as a contractor - meaning that I should quit working for my boss/contractor and open my own contracting business which I did. I was their high paid contractor for quite a long time, but the work while lucrative was not steady. I then saw that this company had a sign up for an engineer to do approximately the same work as what I was doing, so I spoke with my interface boss. He was a nice fellow, quite honest and straight. He told me that they would never hire me as a company employee since there are times that employees have to work on the Shabbat doing work that can not be done during production time and they know I will not do that. They will not tell me this, but he explained that this is one of the reasons that I would never be hired as a regular employee.

The three cases that I mentioned above are only three of many instances of discrimination that I have suffered by the non religious in Israel. When I worked in America, I wore a skull cap and left early on Friday. I have a few instances of anti-Semitic slurs and discrimination but it was nothing like the discrimination that I suffered in Israel. The Israelis are much more blatant, yet deceiving and cruel.

I can give other cases of problems that I suffered here in Israel, but I think that these three are enough.

I retired a few years ago, and I spend my time doing various projects. But when I read what the seculars do to slur the religious, I know exactly the feelings in the Israeli work force that discriminate against the Orthodox. I really believe it is my duty to inform the public since I understand why the Orthodox do not enter the work force so quickly.


If the seculars were kinder and accepting of the Orthodox, there would be many Orthodox workers entering the work force. The Orthodox are not stupid, they understand well the situation but seeing personally the anguish that must be endured is there any reason that a talented Orthodox man would seriously put himself in such disgusting situations?


from the January 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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