Guidance for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Youth
Every year hundreds young adults without a family support network reach the age of 18, graduate from boarding schools, leave foster families and they find themselves on the outside of the educational and welfare systems. In the absence of assistance and support, these young adults face difficult odds in trying to achieve their potential and break out of the cycle of poverty in Israel.
This phenomenon, while new in the religious Haredi community, is not unknown. Occurrences of this type might have remained an internally handled problem (by the family or community) but in practice, these young people end up leaving their own communities and becoming part of the national-religious or secular communities where they pose a difficult social challenge in society. This population lacks means of support, basic formal education, training, and skills for surviving in the secular world – they are often abandoned and ostracized by their family, leaving them to face a challenging new environment on their own.
In situations involving young women from the Haredi community, the challenge is even more complex, since these young women are at high risk to find themselves in peril, due to their family and community status, adolescence and sexual identity issues. Some notable behavioral characteristics include a tendency towards self-destruction and risk of falling into crime or prostitution. Some of these young women have experienced emotionally, mentally, and socially traumatic events such as sexual assault, abuse in domestic and other contexts, dropping out of school/employment, running away from home, joining gangs, and more.
Since 2016, Lamerhav has been running a program for young Haredi women ages 18-24, who don’t have a family support network and have graduated from the Nigunim Hostel in Jerusalem. When they turn 18, these young women exit the hostel setting and must return to their community, to the same problematic place they were at before the hostel, or alternately they must manage on their own somehow. The main challenge in this situation is that there are very few training and educational opportunities for young adult Haredi women, as most of the programs are for younger girls. Also many of the existing solutions assist with basic needs such as housing, but do not include guidance and mentoring. Having identified a need, Lamerhav has begun the process of offering these young women the type of support that is tailored to their needs.
The program aims to provide a personalized guidance and support structure for young Haredi women, ages 18-24 who lack the type of support that can help them advance towards independence, obtain an education, receive occupational counselling, gain social skills, and start a family.
Each young woman receives assistance that is personalized to her needs and includes a plan for employment, education, therapy, family connections, life skills, finding a partner/spouse, financial planning, leisure activities, basic services (banking, health, government agencies), realizing rights, household chores and maintenance, nutrition.
The women and their families (for those who are still in contact) have both expressed a preference for Haredi women mentors, and it should also be noted that the program coordinator is an educational advisor from the Haredi community, who understands the challenges, customs, and nuances of working with this population. Be it national service, education, or employment, the main goal is to prepare these young women for an independent life, each in her own way. Another piece to this program is meeting with the participants, talking things out, sharing advice, giving them the space to work through the process, and providing them another point of view on their experience and figuring out the goals together.
“I’m currently working with four young women residing at the hostel apartment,” says Pesia, “they have been through a lot before they got there. Each one of them has her own story, usually a complicated family story, or dropping out of school and not finding a place in the community. They have some connection with their families, but they aren’t involved in their decision making.”
Pesia says that in the past, most graduates of the Beit Ya’acov Haredi high schools went on to seminaries for religious girls, to study education, graphic design, and the like. They had a support system because they stayed within the Beit Ya’acov framework. Even if some of them didn’t succeed educationally, they’d find her another placement. Today, some Haredi girls graduate high school and are lost. Compared with the boys who graduate from yeshivas (religious schools) with no secular education or skills and have consequently been offered many training programs to make up for that, the girls have been left behind.