Around 150 Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) social and educational leaders and activists gathered at the Mandel Leadership Institute to share their experiences, learn from and with each other, and to hear about the activities of the Haredi Leadership Network that has developed at the Institute.
The January 22nd event, which bore the title “Haredi Leaders Talk About Their Challenges,” focused on a number of weighty issues: the Haredi community’s relation to civil law and to the police; issues of mental health and of at-risk children; the lack of Haredim in the civil service; and the issue of maintaining a traditional lifestyle and learning Torah, while integrating into the workplace and into wider society.
“The field is an open place, and in the field of practice – in the real world – one needs courage, the trait of the patriarch Isaac,” said Naomi Perl, the director of Mandel Programs for Leadership Development in the Haredi Community, introducing the event. “What makes this group special is your decision – our decision – to take responsibility, each of us, for our own actions.”
Dr. Eli Gottlieb, director of the Mandel Leadership Institute and vice-president of the Mandel Foundation-Israel, spoke of the participants’ “continuous efforts to lead meaningful change, and their daily struggle to improve their communities.” Dr. Gottlieb also noted MLI’s contribution to the development of this network of Haredi leaders.
Prof. Ariel Hirschfeld, researcher and cultural commentator, also spoke about striving for change, in his dissection of the S. Y. Agnon story, “Three Sisters.” “Normal labor is rewarded with a normal wage,” said Hirschfeld, “but really difficult, challenging work, beyond the bounds of the norm, carries a danger for those who take it on. It is here that the true meaning of things is revealed, which can be unsettling for the doers. Herein lies the greatness of those who work towards change.”
The event included seven parallel sessions, which covered the ground between the world of Torah and the world of practice: the role of spiritual leadership in a time of upheaval; educational initiatives and dilemmas; mental health and at-risk children; Haredim and the civil service; and more. The sessions were chaired by Haredi professionals, who shared with the participants their own experiences of theory and practice, and spoke of their personal work in dealing with the unique day-to-day dilemmas of the Haredi community, as it struggles to balance its instinctive traditionalism and insularity, on the one hand, with its place in a wider, modern, secular world, on the other.