Male and female Haredim from around the country, including several Haredi men in IDF uniform, came to Jerusalem Tuesday for a conference on high-tech in the ultra-Orthodox sector.
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It was an usual event for both the Haredi community and the high-tech world, which have very little overlap. The presence of so many men was especially unique, considering the fact that within the Haredi community, more women than men work in technology.
The Haredi world is warming to high-tech. For women with in the community, it can even boost social standing – some conference participants said that working as a programmer can boost a woman's value on the marriage market.
"My mother is looking for a match for my brother," one woman said during a lunch break. "But if the girl isn't a programmer, she rules her out. People used to look for a rabbi's daughter. But today, they know that working in high-tech means you will earn a decent living."
One session at the conference, targeted toward budding Haredi entrepreneurs, focused on how to raise money for start-up ventures and the ins and outs of registering patents.
The first speaker to win truly enthusiastic applause at the conference was Shlomo Parry, vice president of human resources at the high-tech company NDS. The company was purchased by Cisco last year and among its employees are about 100 Haredim.
"Here, girls walk around in different clothes than in Tel Aviv of the center of the country," he said.
Among the speakers, there was acknowledgment that Haredi workers fall into a special category, one that is often insulated from the secular world.
"We don't know graduates of 8200 [the army's premier high-tech unit] or graduates of the Technion," said Nili Davidovitz, founder of DAAT, an inshore development center for RealCommerce Ltd. "They don't go to our synagogues."
To non-religious visitors at the conference, some of the discourse sounded foreign.
"Many people ask me the secret of my success," said Davidovitz. "First of all, it's the help of heaven. I went to seek blessings from the rabbis. A lot of it is following Jewish law: IF there are dobts about negotiations or a worker's wages, for me, it's good that you can go ask what the Torah says."
But it many ways, this was a high-tech conference like any other. The Haredi entrepreneurs, for example, cited icons like Steve Jobs as their role models.
Beyond questions of culture and community, a gap in wages also separates Haredi workers from their secular peers. According to a survey conducted in advance of the conference by the Jerusalem College of Technology's Machon Lev, which trains Haredim for jobs in finance and technology, Haredi high-tech workers make significantly less than their co-workers.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the average high-tech worker earns about NIS 16,000 a month. But 48 percent of Haredi high-tech workers earn less than NIS 8,000 a month , which puts them below the average wage-earner in Israel.
Another 24 percent of Haredi high-tech workers earn NIS 8,000-12,000 per month, and 28 percent earn between NIS 12,000 and NIS 15,000.
Ziv Mandel, Co-CEO of the John Bryce division of Matrix, insisted these lower wages are what give his business an edge over programmers in India. Matrix employs some 900 Haredi workers.
But Racheli Ganot, founder and CEO of the near-shore solutions company Rachip, said it doesn't have to be this way. Her firm, which has helped develop chips for companies like Intel, Nokia and Sony, employs almost 100 Haredi women as programmers. After 18 months with the company, they earn about NIS 13,000 a month, she said, while those with more experience can earn up to NIS 20,000.