How high-tech went Charedi

Ortho­dox women in Is­rael are clam­our­ing to work for IT firms — at low In­dian rates of pay. But the ar­range­ment

The Jewish Chronicle - - FEATURES - BY LIANNE KOLIRIN

CHAVIE JOSOVIC stays up late most nights wash­ing, iron­ing and cook­ing for her hus­band and six chil­dren. Her day be­gins at dawn. She takes a shower, says her prayers, and makes break­fast for her brood, who range from 18 months to 12 years. Her hus­band leaves for syn­a­gogue at 6am, leav­ing her to ferry the chil­dren to their schools, nurs­eries and child­min­ders. There is enough time for a quick sprint on the tread­mill, and by 8am Josovic is at her of­fice com­puter, ev­ery inch the con­sum­mate pro­fes­sional.

Josovic, 34, is one of hun­dreds of strictly Ortho­dox women who have joined the latest phase of Is­rael’s high­tech revo­lu­tion. Ma­trix Global, a lead­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pany, had been con­sid­er­ing out­sourc­ing part of its work­force to In­dia. In­stead, it dis- cov­ered a vi­able al­ter­na­tive on its doorstep. Four years ago, the firm, which em­ploys 3,500 tech­ni­cal staff in Is­rael, opened a new of­fice in the re­li­gious town of Modi’in Ilit.

Josovic says: “Years ago there wasn’t the op­tion for a Charedi wo­man to work as a com­puter programmer, but I love work­ing here. It’s in­ter­est­ing and it keeps the mind sharp.”

Res­i­dents of the town, lo­cated just inside the West Bank, rank among the coun­try’s poor­est. Men spend their time study­ing To­rah, earn­ing lit­tle if noth­ing at all. Yet the av­er­age cou­ple in Modi’in Ilit has seven chil­dren to feed.

Ma­trix Global first con­sid­ered mov­ing to Modi’in Ilit af­ter the then Fi­nance Min­is­ter, Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, ag­gres­sively slashed wel­fare ben­e­fits. Be­fore the cuts, a range of al­lowances and tax ex­emp­tions en­abled many Charedi fam­i­lies to get by with­out work­ing. In fact, many were bet­ter off un­em­ployed.

Ne­tanyahu aimed to get Charedi fam­i­lies and other “un­pro­duc­tive” mem­bers of so­ci­ety into work. Steps were si­mul­ta­ne­ously taken to im­prove and sub­sidise child­care and pro­vide grants to em­ploy­ers. Un­der an In­dus­try, Trade and Labour Min­istry ini­tia­tive, Charedi women now pay as lit­tle as NIS 270 (£37) a month for child­care from 7am to 4pm. Mean­while, em­ploy­ers are el­i­gi­ble for grants worth up to NIS 1,000(£138) a month per em­ployee for five years.

In Modi’in Ilit, the ini­tia­tive was taken by the town mayor, Yakov Gut­ter­man. He ap­proached sev­eral Is­raeli com­pa­nies about the scheme.

Gut­ter - man says: “ I w o n - dered how to tap into this po­ten­tial and turn some of th­ese re­li­gious stu­dents into mod­ern work­ers.” Ma­trix Global took a gam­ble…an­ditha­s­paid off. The firm opened its highly suc­cess­ful “Tal­piot” project, an off­shore de­vel­op­ment out­sourc­ing cen­tre, four years ago. The work­force is al­most en­tirely fe­male. Th­ese women are of­ten highly skilled, yet p r e p a r e d t o w o r k at a rate com­pet­i­tive with In­dia. In ex­change, Ma­trix Global has cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment de­signed to meet their needs.

Ro­nen En­gler, vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing for the com­pany, says: “We started to think about mov­ing jobs to In­dia or China. Then we looked at Modi’in Ilit. Out­sourc­ing is hard be­cause of the time dif­fer­ence, but this is out­sourc­ing in our own coun­try.”

Man­age­ment con­sulted the town’s spir­i­tual lead­ers in set­ting up the branch. The re­sult is a pro­duc­tive of­fice with a quiet, har­mo­nious at­mos­phere.

“We were told that if we met the women’s needs, they would be avail­able to work. Ma­trix Global is a busi­ness and is ob­vi­ously look­ing for af­ford­able man­power, but also has a so­cial con­science about work­ing within the com­mu­nity,” says En­gler.

Is­rael’s high-tech in­dus­try is renowned for de­mand­ing long hours from em­ploy­ees, but th­ese of­fices are de­serted by 4pm as staff leave to col­lect their off­spring. Men and women are seg­re­gated, with sep­a­rate kitchens and com­mu­nal ar­eas, as well as a moth­ers’ room f or breast­feed­ing women. Fe­male Staff dress mod­estly, w h i c h m e a n s n o t r o u - sers, short s l e e v e s , plung­ing neck­lines or bare legs, and man­age­ment ad­dress the women by their mar­ried ti­tles. “A Charedi wo­man is the per­fect worker,” says En­gler. “They don’t surf the in­ter­net, spend time on MSN or per­sonal calls. Nor do they take long cig­a­rette breaks. They are very con­sci­en­tious, work hard and show re­spect for their em­ploy­ers.”

The project has proved so suc­cess­ful that Ma­trix Global is now con­sid­er­ing open­ing sim­i­lar op­er­a­tions in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak and Haifa.

Ma­trix Global’s model has been du­pli­cated in the town and else­where in Is­rael. Joe Rosen­baum, a re­li­gious Amer­i­can busi­ness­man, founded Ci­tyBook in Modi’in Ilit as a satel­lite of­fice to an in­sur­ance and prop­erty-ser­vices com­pany based in New Jer­sey, in the United States. He recog­nised the po­ten­tial, hop­ing to of­fer em­ploy­ees the chance to work in an en­vi­ron­ment sen­si­tive to their needs — in ex­change for salaries com­pet­i­tive with In­dia’s.

He says: “It al­ways both­ered me see­ing so many peo­ple within the Ortho­dox com­mu­nity hav­ing such dif­fi­culty mak­ing ends meet.”

Modi’in Ilit lies at the heart of the so­called Charedi sil­i­con val­ley. Ci­tyBook has about 200 re­li­gious em­ploy­ees in the town, Beitar Ilit and Jerusalem.

Im­age-store, an­other Modi’in Il­it­based com­pany, re­lies on its largely fe­male Ortho­dox work­force to run its dig­i­tal-ar­chiv­ing busi­ness. Part­ner, the Is­raeli mo­bile phone op­er­a­tor, has also es­tab­lished a Charedi womenonly work­place in Jerusalem.

Women are not the only mem­bers of the re­li­gious com­mu­nity turn­ing to jobs in the high-tech in­dus­try. In Jerusalem, out­sourc­ing pi­o­neer IDT Global Ser­vices is now hir­ing mid­dleaged strictly Ortho­dox men to staff its fa­cil­i­ties.

The sec­tor has had a great im­pact on the re­li­gious com­mu­nity. Sta­tis­tics re­leased last month show that poverty lev­els have dropped by five per cent within this sec­tor.

Amer­i­can-born Libby Af­fen is the CEO of the Tal­piot project. An IT pro­fes­sional, she has been with Ma­trix Global for 15 years. She is strictly Ortho­dox and as such un­der­stands her em­ploy­ees’ cul­tural re­quire­ments.

Af­fen, 51, a grand­mother of more than 30chil­dren,wasin­stru­men­tal­in­set­ting

Chavie Josovic: now a work­ing moth­erof-six

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