A famous Pirkei Avos contemplates the reciprocal relationship of kemach (flour) and Torah. Between the lines is the understanding that women assume the role of “breadwinner” ipso facto the charedi community’s high regard for full-time kollelnikim. But before the establishment of an exclusive women’s college in Jerusalem six years ago, poor man’s bread was the only kind charedi families could afford to put on the table.
A revolutionary decision by Gedolei HaDor exactly one hundred years ago enabled the establishment of the first formalized system of Jewish education for girls and young Jewish women. When faced with the ever-increasing assimilation in Poland at the time, the Chofetz Chaim agreed to lift the ban on Torah study for women, and thus came into being the Bais Yaakov education system. Jewish women could now acquire the knowledge and skills they would need to earn a living through a diverse secular education within a framework that strictly maintained Torah, and more specifically, charedi values.
However, changes in the school system and in the entire Jewish world triggered a chain of events that spanned across continents and time, resulting in the poverty prevalent today in many charedi communities, especially in Israel.
When the Bais Yaakov seminary network made aliyah in the shadow of the Jewish Enlightenment, some of the original educational components didn’t make it onto the boat. To protect their communities from the assimilation that once again reared its ugly head and caused many Jews to shift away from Ultra-Orthodoxy, Israeli Bais Yaakov schools made little accommodations for secular values or curriculum. The trauma of the Haskala had left its mark.
Even today, a lack of a solid core curriculum and work experience are major barriers to entering the job market. This is further compounded by community ostracism of women who pursue a career outside of generally accepted occupations. Until recently, the subject was wholly taboo. Most women in the community have no awareness of the business or academic worlds, including social and cultural business language and norms, or appropriate conduct in a business environment. They have no one with whom to network or consult.
“Bais Yaakov institutions are a mainstay of the entire charedi community,” says Dina Weiss, Founder and Principal of Tmura College. “But the system’s justified refusal to expose Bnos Yaakov to secular influences means that even today, most graduates of Bais Yaakov are looking at a future as blue collar workers or teaching for minimum wage at best. Even those who do find jobs in hi-tech aren’t able to advance beyond entry-level positions and are far behind their colleagues in terms of salary and opportunities for promotion.”
Tmura was founded to bridge cultural and educational gaps, and manage obstacles such as parental concerns, marriage, maternity leave and child care. It is the first college of its kind in the world and the only religious software engineering college for women, with the largest number of religious female software engineering students worldwide.
Through a strategic partnership with Azrieli College of Engineering, Tmura College has succeeded in bringing the sought-after B.Sc. in Software Engineering into the charedi community. This degree is recognized by the Council for Higher Education—an essential accreditation for career advancement. Azrieli College (formerly the Jerusalem College of Engineering) provides the academic content directly on the Tmura campus strategically located in Jerusalem’s Har Chotzvim hi-tech park.
“Tmura constitutes a major paradigm shift in charedi education,” continues Dina, clearly energized by what Tmura has achieved in such a short time. “We can and must work to empower women from the charedi community with the qualifications, skills and professional experience to ensure a promising career within a mandated religious and social environment and economic growth that can change the trajectory of their family’s life and inspire others in the community.”
This isn’t Dina Weiss’ first foray into a healthier charedi economy. With a B.Ed. in Computer Science and M.Ed. in Educational Management and Administration, Dina has a long history and acute sensitivity to the complex issues involved in training and advancing charedi women for employment in the hi-tech sector.
Her early initiatives included certified programs in conjunction with the Ministry of Commerce, and the establishment of Afik, the first charedi school to offer recognized diplomas in fields other than teaching. She pioneered manpower agencies to place groups of charedi women in established hi-tech companies such as Intel, Rafael and Israel Aircraft Industries; has fostered relationships with many private and government agencies such as Israel Police, Israel Aircraft, IBM and Cisco; and has also been instrumental in establishing a bagrut system adapted to the needs of the charedi community.
What makes Tmura College truly unique is its natural continuation of the Bais Yaakov system with unwavering adherence to its principles, together with a lechatchila pursuit of secular education. Suitability is determined by personal interviews and entrance exams and acceptance criteria give equal weight to both Torah lifestyle and values, and intellectual capacity and studiousness. Students must maintain a strict modest Bais Yaakov dress code and school uniform.
Most students are eligible for tuition scholarships, and the program schedule is designed to accommodate students who need to generate income while studying, as well as students who during the course of their studies marry and begin a family. Daycare services are available on the college campus and students raising a family can take advantage of individual tutoring and extra grants for food and other living expenses.
The four-year study program is designed to help every student gain technical skills as quickly as possible, with the first year of studies dedicated mainly to catching up on various subjects, such as English and Mathematics which form the basis for all study curricula. The academic year also continues with a summer program, offering students practical courses and internship experience.
The kodesh curriculum is comprised of a wide range of shiurim, with topics such as maintaining a Jewish home, through Halacha and Emunah, to Psychology and more. In addition, three lectures a week are given by leading rabbis and lecturers on topics such as juggling family and work, and spiritual challenges that lie in entering the labor market. Several intensive seminars are held several times a year for spiritual reinforcement and personal growth.
In addition to the academic and kodesh curricula, Tmura students are required to take a Life Skills course, which prepares graduates for work in the real world. Topics covered include Jewish Studies, establishing a home, marriage, raising children, money management and social skills. There is also a supplementary internship course, where students actively apply what they have learned in the classroom.
“What we offer students goes far beyond just a software engineering degree,” says Dina. “Tmura students enjoy a comprehensive program that includes limudei kodesh, social events, field trips, individual tutoring, bursaries and scholarships, practical experience within the college and through internships in real businesses, as well as job placement in full-time positions across the entire spectrum of the Israeli hi-tech industry.”
Tmura has a near-to-zero drop-out rate which Dina attributes to two main factors. “The first is that the college environment is very supportive, and students help each other and form close friendships. We help foster these relationships by integrating fun, interactive social events into the program and investing time not only in achieving a college degree but in the overall experience of a college environment. The second is that each individual student benefits from a unique program tailored to their specific needs.”
MAKING MONEY AND WAVES
The real test of an educational institution is the absorption of its students into the workforce. Dina shares the rationale behind Tmura’s Job Training and Placement Initiative. “We pair students who have acquired a solid education with the needs of the hi-tech marketplace in an environment that helps advance both sides. The initiative helps students integrate with ease into small start-ups, big international corporations, the prestigious Israeli aviation industry, government offices and banks, as well as top hi-tech companies, with some students even writing software for renowned global enterprises. One of Tmura’s top students was recently the only software engineering graduate in Israel to be hired by Mobileye, a renowned Israeli anti-collision technology company traded on the NYSE.”
A central component of Tmura’s philosophy is to ensure job placement for students even before they’ve completed their degree. One successful placement frameworks is OpalNet, an in-house, qualitative social enterprise that provides development solutions to leading companies and organizations by Tmura students. SMARTSTART is another example of a successful placement model that hooks up cash-strapped startups with inexperienced yet highly qualified graduates who join their team as interns.
“Our objective is simple: Get students into the workforce, build their resume by gaining experience in development and workplace practices, and enable them to experience the gratification of earning steady and sufficient income,” Dina sums up Tmura’s mission statement.
Tmura’s business model is so successful it has set new standards in the charedi education world and has shattered many myths on the way. Classic seminaries have responded by enabling three times the number of students to enroll in software engineering degrees and adjusting their marketing strategy to present their programs as “academic.” Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, as well as various other Israeli colleges, have shown interest in collaboration with Tmura to establish similar frameworks on their behalf. Communities in Lakewood, New York, and Montreal, have approached Dina Weiss to establish colleges based on the Tmura model.
Tmura has also enabled charedi parents— who for generations have feared the negative influence university campuses could have on their daughters—to breathe a sigh of relief and fully support their daughters’ enrollment in a program designed to uphold Torah values and financially sustain growing charedi families. Tmura has taken the simple concept of teaching a person how to fish and transformed it into a valid achievement and source of pride for an entire community. It’s just the beginning and Dina believes the sky is the limit.
Tmura College can be reached at 02-5638776, 0533153211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.