Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau has dedicated mezuzahs in thousands of homes and workplaces, but he seemed to linger longer than usual when he did so Monday, at a new center that trains Web designers from the ultra-Orthodox community. Perhaps it was partly to give photographers an opportunity to capture the moment, but mainly it was due to the significance of the occasion.
Israel's Haredi community has been in the crossfire over its relatively low participation in the country's workforce and high reliance on welfare allowances, as well as the failure of its schools to include core subjects in the curriculum.
The Prog Center was established by Web developer Chaim Dikman, himself Haredi, as an incubator for Haredi Web designers. The center has already trained 150 Haredimn, and hundreds more have attended workshops that the center has sponsored around the country.
Lau, who is seen as a bridge between the Haredi world and other parts of Israeli society, said at the dedication on Monday, "This is a particularly significant day, especially in light of the highly inciting comments in the media claiming that Haredim don't join the workforce and relegate themselves to a life of poverty."
The Prog Center was an example of a place where students sought to join the workforce, he said.
Despite the official position among Haredi rabbis that the Internet is an abomination, even some of the most extreme among them recognize that it is not likely to disappear. They also understand that large Haredi families must find ways to support themselves and that many see the Internet as a vehicle for doing this.
The Prog Center was awarded the seal of approval from the Guardians of Sanctity and Education, a Haredi watchdog organization. The group's Rabbi Mordechai Blau of the group attended the dedication.
At the ceremony, Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism ) praised the efforts of government ministries to integrate members of the Haredi community into the country's workforce.
After the crowd dispersed, Dikman mused: "I don't know if there is another place like this where you see yeshiva students from the most extreme backgrounds sitting and building Web sites and banners."
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