Israel primes women, emigres for careers in surging industries

All courses at the college "apply to the necessities of industry," Amidi says.

At the nearby Hadassah Career Counseling Institute, the focus is also on serving the country. Young people explore the options open to them after completing their military service and midlife professionals examine new job possibilities.

And at Hadassah Neurim, a youth village on the Mediterranean Sea north of Netanya, teenage emigres from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union join Israelis studying English, Hebrew, Judaic studies and electronics. The goal is to prepare them for productive citizenship.

Recognizing that Israel's human element is its greatest resource, these institutions are priming Israel's emigres, its youth and returning mothers, and its midcareer professionals to become the employees of the next century.

The technology school and Hadassah Neurim are also recruiting talented young people from the former Soviet Union and other countries, encouraging them to live in Israel and staff its industries.

"Absorbing immigrants is our top priority," says Yitzhak Garty, director general of the 54-year-old Hadassah Career Counseling Institute, where examinations and assistance are available in 12 languages.

Career directions are changing, he says, pointing to a 1996 survey. While an equal percentage — 11 percent — of young men and women between 18 and 23 are choosing to enter the sciences, only 3 percent of the women surveyed are choosing technology, compared to 13 percent of the young men.

"Hardly any women choose engineering unless they came from Russia," he said.

On the other hand, members of both sexes in increasing numbers are exploring business and management.

One of the goals at the institute is to encourage more young women to explore technological fields in order to serve the country's growing high-tech industry.

Another mission is to train haredi women and men — who are underrepresented in the workplace and often poor — for professions compatible with a religious way of life. While women were traditionally the family breadwinners, entering "a few occupations that are considered kosher," Garty said, such as bookkeeping, today an increasing number of women are taking computer jobs, while men are finding work in high-tech fields.

A growing concern is that women's pay scales are lower than those of men — even though Israeli women may be more educated. One of the reasons is that the country's old-boys' network graduates through the ranks of the Israel Defense Force. Although non-religious women must serve, their term of duty is limited and their work is largely clerical.

Recognizing these inequities, Hanna Gordon, a senior psychologist at the institute, is heading the Women in Management project, a coaching process to give women the confidence and skills to succeed in business.

At the College of Technology, the focus is on training students to serve the country. Women in the IDF take four-month courses in computerized graphics and printing technology before serving their units. Dental technology and optometry students provide aid to seniors, and blind students learn to use computers. Eighty-four percent of the college's graduates were working in their fields upon graduation, according to a survey done three years ago, and nearly 100 percent graduate. Two hundred seventy of the 1,200 students are from abroad.

Speaking over lunch in the college cafeteria, where students from the hotel management program prepared a sumptuous meal, three young women from France discussed why they chose careers in optometry.

Describing themselves as religiously observant but not haredi, the three moved to Israel to maintain Sabbath observance and follow halachah while pursuing a profession, a path that's difficult in Europe. They chose optometry because of their interest in science and in knowing how things work.

"I wanted something that's medical, but not medicine," says Dvora Arfi.

For Yohanna Lebirati, a second-year student, the program enables her to leave at midafternoon and spend time with her infant daughter. All three expect to receive four-year degrees in optometry in the year 2000 and will be in the second class of Israel's first four-year optometry degree program.

Meanwhile at Hadassah Neurim, Israel's largest youth village, gifted students recruited from the former Soviet Union share living space and classes with native Israelis, Ethiopians and other emigres. Many of these students, such as Archil Pirmishavili, 17, from Georgia, and Vladimir Yashayev, 17, from Azerbaijan, came to Israel without their parents, a situation they describe as difficult. Yashayev left at age 15 and didn't know a word of Hebrew or much English. Today he speaks both. His goal is to attend university, studying physics, but in August or September he will enter the army and he'll also be getting his Israeli citizenship.

"When we're here," he says, "It's hard to feel Israeli. But maybe when we get out…"

Yanna Haimova, 17, also from Azerbaijan, has been at the youth village a year and a half and is studying biology and chemistry.

"I'm learning a new language, seeing new places," she says, adding that in Israel she goes by her Hebrew name, "Hannah."

"Here it's all beautiful. I want to stay here. I want to learn about Israeli culture."

Pirmishavili says communicating with Ethiopian emigres as well as those from other parts of the world is difficult. "The first problem is language," he says, but cultural and educational differences also create barriers — "not only with Ethiopians but with other people too. But it's getting easier."

One of the challenges for administrators is dealing with the different populations at Hadassah Neurim, says Sylvia Temkin, director of overseas relations for Israel's five youth villages. The students from the former Soviet Union, particularly those who were recruited, are frequently gifted and highly motivated. The Ethiopians generally have much weaker academic backgrounds, while the Israeli-born students at the youth village often come from disadvantaged or troubled homes.

Hadassah Neurim offers both academic and technological tracks, including auto mechanics, electronics, natural and social sciences and practical nursing, as well as cultural activities and Judaic studies. Students' activities and homework are closely supervised, and the village offers counseling and health care.

Echoing the remarks of the technology college's director Amidi, Temkin says, "Israel doesn't have any natural resources. We don't have oil. We don't have coal. We don't have silver. Our only resource is the human resource and we have to take care of the weaker links of these human resources. If we don't, we will pay very dearly later on."

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].