A coworking space for tech professionals and start-up companies is opening next week in Bnei Berak, the haredi suburb east of Tel Aviv. It may not be the first of its kind serving the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel, but it’s definitely a rarity.
KamaTech, a program that aims to help integrate haredi workers into the Israeli tech workforce, established the new center with funding from tech giant Cisco and mentorship from WeWork, the widely popular brand of coworking spaces.
The haredi population, which now accounts for about 11 percent of Israel’s population, is rapidly growing; it is estimated that it will reach 19 percent by 2039. Most ultra-Orthodox do not serve in the military and choose not to attend universities. While a majority of haredi women (78 percent) work, only about half of the men (54 percent) do.
Moishe Friedman, CEO of KamaTech, is taking major steps to improve integration of this sector of the population into the country’s workforce.
“Israeli tech is made up of mostly secular Jews,” Friedman told Calcalist. “We want to give ultra-Orthodox people the opportunity to take part in [the] ‘start-up nation.’” The space will be “ultra-Orthodox-friendly” and includes a synagogue, but the CEO jokingly stressed that it won’t feel like a yeshiva.
Friedman’s program, founded five years ago, is a group effort of tech giants like Cisco, Intel, IBM, Google, and Microsoft. At the center in Bnei Berak, KamaTech will offer workshops and mentorship programs for aspiring entrepreneurs. The ultimate goal, said Friedman to Calcalist, is to attract tech companies to open new branches in Bnei Berak and employ haredi men and women.
There are already several start-up companies founded by members of the haredi community in Israel, including 2Drive, an app that connects driving students with pre-vetted teachers, and Joku, a software that manages footage captured on security cameras.
Simone Somekh is a New York-based author and journalist. He’s lived and worked in Italy, Israel, and the United States.