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This Tech Start-Up Incubator Launched a Haredi Hackathon to Help Cure Covid

Kamatech is a five-year-old program that pairs Haredi Jews in Israel with high-tech jobs. Its founder, Moshe Friedman is at the forefront of enabling funding, programs, partnerships and job matching for Haredim in the well-established secular Israeli tech marketplace. He hails from a family that boasts 42 generations of rabbis and is born and raised in Israel with an entrepreneurial spirit. He wanted to give the Israeli Haredi community an opportunity for the same, despite the bias and prejudices against them. Kamatech offers grants for startups alongside guidance, mentorship and connections. On the other side of their organization, they give training and placement to programmers and engineers who go on to work at Google, Microsoft and Sysco. “I have met with over 1500 Haredi entrepreneurs that want to build start-ups.” From that pool, Kamatech has chosen ten companies per year to enter their program. “Those 50 companies so far have managed to raise $150 million and are employing almost 1000 employees to date. It’s a beginning of a Silicon Shtetl here [in Bnei Brak].”

The secular Israeli newspaper Globes recently picked a Kamatech company to be the number two most promising start-up in all of Israel. “Five years ago, [this would have been] a dream. Baruch Hashem, today this dream is coming true and we will see more and more companies like them.” Friedman is excited to build “the first Haredi ecosystem for entrepreneurship and technology.” He is excited about the impact this will have on Haredi perception. The CEO of Facebook Israel is also focused on bringing Haredi and non-Haredi Jews together and has partnered with Kamatech on this. “They realize that…they [can] do so many good things together.” To Friedman, this highlights a more important mission. “It’s not just bringing an income, education and opportunities for people, it’s bringing people together and [building] unity between Jewish people in Israel.”

The COO of the website-building platform Wix once gave a lecture to Haredi entrepreneurs. “He said he has visited all over the world, but added ‘I had never visited Bnei Brak which is 10 minutes away from my home.'” Friedman offered to give the COO a tour. He took him to see some yeshivas, synagogues, and the home of Rav Shteinman, zt”l. Friedman introduced the man to the Rav as someone who is giving a lot of jobs to Haredi Jews, gives a lot of tzedaka and wants a bracha. “The Rav replied, ‘If he’s [already] giving a lot of tzedaka, he is already blessed. He doesn’t need my blessing.'” The man was so impressed by the Rav and posted to his Facebook (to thousands of followers), that while he himself wasn’t religious, this Rav was the most impressive person that he had ever met in his life. “All of a sudden, Israeli people are meeting each other for the first time, not around politics, but as brothers and friends.”

One of Kamatech’s programs are Haredi hackathons (hacking marathons) where hackers, coders and programmers were invited to all come together and work on a technological problem for a few days straight. Recently, the hackers were brought together to work on pandemic-related issues. The idea here was to show that Haredim can be a part of the solution. Friedman says he gathered “a few hundred Haredi programmers, technology people with creative minds, maybe they can come up with solutions for the pandemic, how to fight Corona.” Friedman was surprised to see more than 300 people come together for a few days to work on this.” The Mayor of Bnei Brak, Maccabi Health Care and the Department of Health, Google and a few other high tech companies partnered with Kamatech and hosted the program. “Eventually, we had 26 groups that came up with 26 different solutions to fight Corona.” This created a lot of buzz, including at top government levels. “People saw that Haredim are not only part of the problem but they can be the solution.”

Friedman presented the Kamatech Hackathon’s findings to a special committee at the Knesset. “We presented in front of the Ministry of Health and the Prime Minister’s office. A few of them will be implemented into the health system and the government system.” Friedman has a lot of pride in this. “It created so much positive reaction and feeling for our people.” This is another reason why Kamatech was created. “It’s part of our mission. To create positive feelings [about Haredi Jews].”

For instance, a hacker that developed technology to track financial fraud is using it to track the way the virus spreads. “They know that the pandemic is spreading between people but they don’t know exactly how it works….if you can analyze real data from real interactions with people and you apply big data machines to it, you can really… identify the exact way to stop it.” Using all the data from Bnei Brak since the pandemic began, educated choices can be made about what to shut down and what to keep open. They also presented data for how to identify people who have the vaccine and / or antibodies, whom the government can give a green light to in order to work, go out and more. A Hasidic tech expert invented a card with special technology that allows this system to be brought to the public. The Ministry of Health had been trying to do this for a while, but now has a way to do so. “You can help people live their life in a normal way and not have to shut down the economy or cities.” All of the Hackathon’s technologies are available to browse on Kamatech’s website.

Friedman says that although this has been a challenging year, “Baruch Hashem, we still saw a lot of growth because we moved everything online.” They were able to expand their educational options to four times the number of participants. “[In the past year] we [taught] almost 2000 students. On the one hand, we feel that Corona is a big challenge but on the other, it’s a big opportunity for us and for others to do things differently. In the future, we will do much more training online so it will become much more accessible and affordable to more people.” Friedman sees this as the beginning of a new phase of Kamatech’s reach and ability to change the way Haredim interact with the world, even making it a better place.

For more information, visit https://www.kamatech.org.il/

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