Until four years ago, Haim Hacohen, 37, was a full-time student in a haredi Orthodox yeshiva in the Israeli city of Ramat Bet Shemesh. Every month he received a government stipend of about $800 for his yeshiva studies, but it was hardly enough to support his wife and five children.
“That’s when I decided to learn programming in my free time in order to make a living,” Hacohen said. “Back then, it was much less accepted in our community, and people didn’t really understand it.”
Then Hacohen saw an ad for a boot camp seeking haredi Jews with some computer experience. He enrolled, and the training eventually led to a job with the software developer Unique. Now he works for Israel’s Education Ministry, where he earns over $4,000 per month calculating attendance, salaries and other data.
“After only one year, I tripled my salary,” he said.
Yirga Semay, 43, immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia alone at age 9. After his mandatory army service, he stayed on in the Israel Defense Forces for over a decade and a half, serving as an officer in a cyber intelligence unit, eventually earning a degree in computer science and an MBA, and marrying and having three children.
Semay’s long-term dream was to establish his own startup, so after retiring from the army he launched a company in the central Israeli city of Ramle. Called MetekuAI, the company and its 10 employees — all Ethiopian Israelis — combine artificial intelligence with human expertise to tackle problematic online content. Among its clients is the Jewish Agency for Israel, for whom Meteku AI focuses on fighting online antisemitism.
“Our vision is to tackle misinformation and fake news concerning Israel,” said Semay, who started the company a year ago. “We help organizations control the narrative by taking active part in online conversations, identifying potential crises before they spread and responding in real time with personalized content.”
Both Hacohen and Semay received help at key points in their careers from programs funded by UJA-Federation of New York designed to help Israelis from disadvantaged communities — including haredi Jews, Ethiopian Israelis, Bedouin Arabs and underprivileged Israelis from the country’s periphery, among others — find places in Israel’s enormously successful high-tech sector.
Hacohen is an alumnus of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC)’s Tech Ventures Program, which helps integrate haredi Jews into Israel’s high-tech sector. Semay was assisted by Olim Beyachad, a nonprofit group that for the past 12 years has been working to get more Ethiopian Israelis into higher education and competitive fields. Both organizations receive substantial funding from UJA-Federation.
“Especially in the current climate, our investments in these diverse initiatives represent our commitment to strengthening a flourishing, inclusive and democratic Jewish state for the next 75 years and beyond,” said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation. “We’re helping to bring hope and possibility to people across Israeli society for the sake of the country as a whole.”
As a founding partner of Olim Beyachad, UJA-Federation gives $180,000 per year to the program, which to date has over 1,400 alumni. Led by CEO Genet Dasa, who was born in Addis Ababa and came to Israel at age 11, the nonprofit aims to steer Ethiopian-Israeli university graduates toward rewarding careers while helping middle- and high-school students in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) so they’ll be better prepared for the job market.
“We know from research that our participants face racism while looking for employment,” said Dasa. “So our mission isn’t just to help them find work but also to change society’s perceptions and negative stereotypes toward Ethiopians.”
UJA-Federation is also a founding partner of JDC’s Tech Venture Program, which includes Israel’s Ministry of Economy and Industry and the Haredi Coalition for Employment. The program offers 100 types of services and has more than 5,000 current participants.
“We work with young men ages 17 to 24 who want to integrate into the job market,” said Eli Salomon, who heads the Tech Venture Program. “From the yeshiva world, there’s no natural pathway, so we help to bridge that gap.”
Since its inception in 2006, the initiative has helped 130,000 haredim find jobs.
Programs like these are critical to Israel’s economic health, said Eugene Kandel, the former CEO of Start-Up Nation Central, a nonprofit that helps support Israel’s startup ecosystem. Haredim comprise 13% of Israel’s 9.5 million citizens but account for only 3% of all high-tech workers, according to Kandel. In 30 years, haredim are projected to be 25% of Israel’s population, but they’re ill-equipped to enter the workforce, he said.
“About 60% of haredi homes have computers, so it’s not like they’re completely disconnected, but most of them cannot go to universities,” said Kandel, also a former chairman of Israel’s National Economic Council. “The quality of the places they do study is not great, and most haredi men don’t learn English. So it’s mostly the women who are joining high tech.”
Kandel has served on the advisory board of UJA-Federation’s Benin Scholars Program, which gives talented young people from Israel’s socioeconomic periphery the chance to pursue undergraduate studies in STEM fields. A pilot of this program is operating this year with 180 students across three institutions: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering in Beersheba. The program offers large scholarships and living stipends alongside psychosocial support and career guidance. It is slated to grow to six or seven institutions and encompass some 700 students, which would make it among the largest STEM scholarship programs in Israel.
When it comes to integrating Israel’s minorities into the high-tech sector, Arab Israelis — who comprise 21% of Israel’s population but only 1.8% of its high-tech employees — are cause for more optimism, Kandel said.
“For many years, Arabs were very wary of high-tech because it was related to defense, and in many cases Arabs couldn’t get into that, so they studied other fields like law and medicine,” Kandel said. “But that’s no longer the case.”
Fahima Atawna is the executive director of Siraj, a nonprofit based in Beersheba that aims to get more Bedouin youth into technology, starting in middle and high school. The organization, whose name means “source of light” in Arabic, was established six years ago. It has partnered with Ben-Gurion University and, more recently, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, whose students teach local Bedouins how to write code as well as soft skills like working in teams.
“We hope to be a source of light for all those students who dream of a future in high-tech,” said Atawna. “I know that we are a poor community, but our approach is not to sit here and say, ‘We are weak and poor.’ Rather, I know that I’m smart and have ability. Just give me opportunities.”
At present, two cohorts with a combined 43 Bedouin teens ranging in age from 14 to 18 participate in the program, which receives annual funding of $50,000 from UJA-Federation.
Israel is home to an estimated 280,000 Bedouin, of whom fewer than 100 work in high tech, according to Atawna. But the numbers are growing.
“When I started, there were zero Bedouin high-tech graduates at Ben-Gurion University. Now, 21 Bedouins study computer science and software engineering there,” Atawna said. “My community understands that you can do this work from home. You don’t have to travel to Tel Aviv. And Beersheba has good companies like Microsoft and Intel, and it’s very close to our villages.”
She added that companies are being encouraged to hire minorities because having people from diverse backgrounds adds value.
Raghad Aboreash, 15, who lives in a Bedouin village 20 minutes from Beersheba called Hura, said she joined Siraj after hearing about it from friends.
“I like trying new things; it’s in my character. I’ve learned Python” — a computer programming language — “and how to build programs, and I’ve made friends in America. I want to be a software engineer.”
Mohammed Alafensh, 15, from the Bedouin city of Rahat, is studying software engineering and physics. He hopes Siraj will help pave the way to success.
“I dream of becoming a big engineer, because this is the future,” he said. “I will be great at this.”
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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
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