While there is undoubtedly a stark divide between the secular and Haredi world – especially in Israel – sometimes friendship and a shared vision can close the gap. On the surface, Yael Leibovitz and Chani Zusman, two Israeli Jewish women could not be more different. Zisman is an Israeli-born Haredi mother of four who has always lived among the Ultra-orthodox. Leibovitz is a single, secular Israeli that has worked in finance in Tel Aviv. Together, the two have made an effort to educate and prepare Haredi women in Israel to enter the workforce in order to properly provide for their households with their organization Movilot,. The pair have travelled around the world, speaking in India at the women’s Economic Forum, Czech Republic at the Jewish community in Prague, and also Brussels on Women’s International Day at their parliament.
However, the two came into the partnership with their own sets of stereotypes. Leibovitz had a misconstrued view on Haredim because “we are very exposed to the media, and you just get what they tell you, and that’s what you hear from the television.” When she encountered Chani, her previous views were entirely smashed as she realized that a Haredi woman could still serve as a positive role model for religious and secular people alike. Zisman was quite surprised at the good nature and values that Leibovitz lived by. She thought of Yael “You can’t be like all secular people because you are nice, you have good values, you must be a different kind of secular!”
The two primarily focus on the concept faced by Haredi women known as the Double Glass Ceiling which Leibowitz describes as “a glass ceiling, each one of us, as women, has more than one ceiling because we are women first and there is one addition at least like being Haredi, or 45 years old, or a mother.” These ceilings inhibit many women from finding employment in the working world and further contribute to the multitude of divisive stereotypes perpetuated about women in observant culture. Zisman and Leibowitz quickly understood the magnitude of these perspectives, “As we got together and started to understand that we meet people that are really different from us and when we meet someone new we have a stigma that stands between us. We are not aware of it, but we believe it has an effect on the economy.”
In addition to lecturing and educating women, Movilot also engages with the employers themselves, working to break down the impeding perspectives and factors that prevent a certain hire due to bias. This is often a struggle especially with secular Israeli companies whose opinions of Haredim have been negatively informed. The two explain that “When we meet employers, we let them speak their fears, hesitations, what they have on their minds very openly because we know the Haredi, we know the secular, and each has their own hesitations and fears. Many of the things we are afraid of do not exist or are not what we think they are.” So many of the barriers that exist, including diet, dress, and even language can often be broken down into simple misconceptions which seep into society.
Leibowitz related a story about when she had hired a Haredi man at a company and there were numerous concerns. People were asking ““What if he wanted to make us all Orthodox? Or to eat Kosher food? Or he might not become one of the team and ruin the atmosphere.” Of course, these fears were soon assuaged and the man became an outstanding member of the operation. In fact, it was this occurrence that prompted Leibowitz to delve into the world of Haredi employment assistance.
Together, the two are continuing to break down stereotypes on both sides while helping Haredim to integrate with the secular and ideally bring about a more open, enlightened working world that can be accessed by all walks of life, regardless of religion.