Cross-Currents by Rav Yitzchok Adlerstein
[...] Twenty-five years ago, a philanthropist handed Rav Ovadiah a blank check to create a modality for haredi women to receive the secular education they needed to earn enough to take their families out of poverty. Her father said, “Not yet,” which she says means that there were not yet enough people to teach the classes in a manner that would not conflict with the Torah concepts with which the young women had been nurtured. Bar-Shalom kept asking about the idea, and thirteen years ago got the green light from her father to create such an institution. At the time, she could identify only about 60 haredim in the entire country who held degrees.
Today, there are about one thousand students in the Haredi College in Yerushalayim. About two-thirds of them are women, many married with children. (Day care is available on campus.) The men have their own, separate program. Both have access to a variety of specialties, all of them geared to finding jobs in areas that are more lucrative than what is available within haredi society. Programs in more purely academic areas are not unthinkable, said Bar Shalom, as long as they will win the approval of the rabbonim who guide the college. But these are things of the future. At the moment, the thrust of the college is empowering people to become fully employable, and help bring haredim into the general work force, and hopefully easing the friction between the haredi and secular worlds. [...]
Committed as she is to providing real options for haredim to enter the workforce, I was curious to hear about her reaction to the video shown motza’ei Shabbos at the Agudah Convention. Produced by Hamodia, the video showed the effects of poverty in the haredi community upon its children. It is emotionally charged, and appeals for funding to help alleviate the crushing poverty that is taking a toll on the health of young, innocent victims.
The video sparked controversy and backlash in some circles. Some argued that applying band-aids to the situation is ultimately cruel, because it allows the system to limp along, without confronting the real cause of the poverty. People ought not to give in to maudlin sentiment, but to apply pressure severe enough that the community will make the necessary changes.[...]
I asked Adina Bar Shalom what she thought about those calling for tough love. If Americans cover the shortfall caused by the recent draconian cuts in support for families, won’t this impede or slow the very process of change she has worked so hard for? She shook her head. “It won’t. There is no greater happiness than being able to support one’s family. There is a process to make this happen. But we must support families during this process.”