Eli Bitaan - Ofer Vaknin - 3.2.2012
Eli Bitaan. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Tomer Appelbaum
MK Zahava Gal-On Photo by Tomer Appelbaum

A new bill advanced by Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On aims to provide financial aid to youths leaving the religious world, similar to that given to new immigrants upon their arrival in Israel.

Three years ago, Tel Aviv resident Eli Bitaan, 21, abandoned the prestigious Ponevezh Yeshiva in Bnei Brak and left the religious world. These days, he’s trying to fulfill his dream and get into Tel Aviv University’s Law School. Without a high-school matriculation certificate, and devoid of any financial backing from his family, Bitaan is, for the third time, trying to pass required preparatory classes while working toward his high-school diploma.

“I need to work and provide for myself throughout my studies,” Bitaan said, adding that the state should take responsibility for the fact that his Haredi education doesn’t match up to the level of study achieved by his counterparts in the state education system.

“It’s the state that deprived me of an education given to any other person my age. The state gave up on my education as a Haredi out of political motivations and never gave me an equal opportunity,” he said.

Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox youths who leave the religious world every year encounter economic hardship, a lack of formal education or trade and, following a sharp disconnect from family and community, find it hard to adapt to living a living and adapt to a secular way of life.

A new bill by Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On offers a temporary solution to these dire straits, by making the state recognize Haredi men and women choosing to leave Orthodox Judaism – known as Yotzim Beshe'ela - by awarding them the same financial aid, or Absorption Basket, given to new immigrants.

Speaking with Haaretz, Gal-On aid that Haredim leaving the religious world are “equivalent to new immigrants entering a society they know nothing about. It’s the state who that the Haredi education system and rears generations of youths devoid of a general education, this it’s the state’s duty to provide those who choose to leave the Haredi community and become secular with an Absorption Basket.”

According to estimates, direct benefits and aid given to new immigrants amounts to about NIS 50,000 per immigrant, with an added annual cost of about NIS 20 million.

Hillel, an organization geared at supporting Haredim who chose a secular lifestyle, takes care of hundreds of these youths, providing them with scholarships, housing aid, as well as food and clothing.

Bitaan, who joined Hillel about a year and a half ago, said the new bill would help only if the money would be directed at alleviating the immediate needs of those leaving the religious world.

“If the money leads to an exemption from municipal taxes, as the new immigrants receive, that’s not as good for us. But if the money goes toward helping with tuition or housing, then that would represent a significant help.”

According to Bitaan, “this group is passed up on both accounts. There are people who take good care of Haredim and those who take care of the secular public. But those who pass from one side to the other are left unaided.”

“Yotzim Beshe'ela in Israel are leaving the Haredi world and moving to life in a secular society,” MK Gal-On said, adding that “they suffer from gaps in formal education, from a financial and material lack, and from social and emotional hardships during their exit and following it.”

“Not only is the state responsible for their educational gaps, created during years of study in the Haredi system, but it doesn’t aid those who do choose to move into secular society since the Haredi parties prevent a recognition of their status.”

Read this article in Hebrew