Moshe Friedman may come from 42 generations of rabbis, but at 30 years old (after becoming a rabbi first, of course!) this seventh generation Israeli knew he had to forge another path. “My great-grandfather was the chief rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the founder of the Eidah Haredit…But when I was 30 years old, I was somehow exposed to the world of technology and innovation. I learned that Israel is the Start-up Nation, number 2 to the U.S. with the number of technology companies. I became very excited about it.” While he was enjoying Torah study and even wrote a few books on halacha, he was inspired to create his own start-up.
While he didn’t have a formal secular education at first, Friedman was determined to obtain the knowledge however he could. He started learning English and taught himself about technology. Using his Torah reasoning skills and an incredible amount of good sense, he was on his way. “In everything that I wanted to do, I would get the knowledge to be able to do it.” Secular people would say to him that he doesn’t have the education, “But I would say, I know how to think and how to solve problems, and I can do it.” Then came proving it to the naysayers as well as to himself. Friedman founded Clipop, an online social video editor, and was hooked on tech ever since.
At a certain point Friedman realized that he was the only Haredi person in High-Tech, and it was lonely. So he decided to change the relationship between this cutting-edge industry and the ultra-Orthodox community, both within Israel and around the world. What began as a simple plan to bring more Haredi men into the workforce ended up becoming a passion for connecting them with the technology industry.
To build this Haredi accelerator Friedman was dreaming of, he needed a support network that believed in and was willing to work with the ultra-Orthodox population. But finding such poeple in Israel proved to be more difficult than Friedman had expected. Instead of feeling discouraged, he thought “I have a mission to bridge this gap.” He took the problem to one of the biggest figures in Israeli High-Tech, Yossi Vardi, a secular Jew who told Friedman that “we must help our brothers and sisters.” Vardi opened the doors for Friedman to companies such as Cisco, Google, IBM and more and helped him found Kamatech.
Friedman has faced a ton of opposition from secular Jews in tech, but that hasn’t stopped him either. “They said, ‘Haredim, they are different, coming from a different culture…they come from the middle ages, they don’t understand what is innovation, what is the modern world. How can they bring innovation to technology?’ They were very skeptical about the Haredi ability to do things.” Surprisingly, the reaction from the Haredi community was the opposite. They couldn’t wait to get involved. “They said ‘We can do it.'”
In the past four years, Kamatech has worked with over 10,000 Haredim, “giving them technical training and helping them to get jobs in companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Google and others.” Additionally, they have a program to support Haredim with their own companies, giving them access to lawyers, accountants, mentors, money and other business needs to help their initiatives be as successful as possible.
“Just three years ago we had five Haredi people that were starting companies, and today we have over 1,100 haredim that are building their companies.” This cycle continues to beget success, as these entrepreneurs create jobs for others. “We have seen a very rapid growth of Haredim coming into the industry and building a lot of innovation and creativity. People simply cannot believe it.”
While some big Haredi rabbis were not initially excited to have Haredim working at big companies like Google, they saw the large numbers of participants in Kamatech staying as frum as they were before. “The rabbis saw that it was not a threat to the Haredi identity, that we were really helping people get jobs. Now they are very supportive of it.” Not only that, but secular Jews are seeing haredim not just as a sea of black hats, but as human beings, one of whom, under Friedman’s guidance, just had his company valued at 200 million dollars.
Friedman is especially proud that 40% of his participants are Haredi women. “The best companies today in the Haredi start-up world are led by women. The women are super-special.” This compares to a 10% participation rate of women in secular-mainstream technology programs. When asked why their program was so popular, Friedman recounted what his partner Yossi Vardi said, ‘This is not only about technology or religion. Imagine two brothers who were separated 50 years ago. The Haredim and the secular people of Israel are like brothers. Through this initiative, thousands of Haredim and secular Jews are meeting each other around business, technology, innovation…finally we are brothers.’ It’s not only about business, but taking the Israeli society, putting people together and building bridges.”
Editor’s note: This article is the first of several profiles within the high-tech haredi world that Kamatech has helped build which we will cover in the coming months.