Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Finding a New Path Israel wakes up to the needs of ex-Haredim


Leaving the ultra-Orthodox community is nothing new in Israel. Everyone, secular or religious, knows someone who used to be on, but is now “off the derech.” But the phenomenon hasn’t been well studied. Most of what we know comes from individual stories of people making the difficult transition from the insular Haredi world to mainstream Israeli society.
Now there is data to flesh out these stories, in the form of a report commissioned by the Israeli nonprofit Out For Change. The report provides a picture of ex-Haredim in unprecedented detail, estimating how many people leave Haredi communities each year, and describing who they are and why they leave. It also discusses new programs to serve the needs of ex-Haredim, many of them partnerships between nonprofits and the Israeli government. Still, it argues that much more must done to support ex-Haredim in the ways they deserve.
Previous attempts to study Haredi disaffiliation have been limited in scope. For example, a 2009 survey from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics included a single question asking whether respondents’ level of religious observance had increased, decreased, or remained unchanged over their lifetime. The new report, which Out For Change co-CEO Yossi Klar called “the first major research about this phenomenon in Israel,” takes a broader and deeper approach.
Neri Horowitz, author of the report and chairman of the Agora Policy Think Tank, took on the topic from many angles. He conducted in-depth interviews with former Haredim, about 100 individually and 100 in focus groups. He also spoke to “almost every person involved in supporting ex-Haredim” in Israel, said Klar. This included directors at Out For Change and Hillel: The Right To Choose, the other Israeli agency serving ex-Haredim, who provided data on the number of new people they serve each year. He interviewed less obvious sources, too, including welfare department employees in cities with large Haredi populations, who receive government subsidies based on the number of youth they’ve identified as “at risk,” many of whom are ex-Haredim.

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