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Hillel helps young adults who leave the ultra-orthodox community succeed as full members of Israeli society. The transition from insular ultra-orthodox communities to broader Israeli society can be the most difficult part of someone’s life, and Hillel provides housing, education, mental health counseling, and social communities to those who make this shift. We help "Yotzim Leshe'elah" (ex Ultra Orthodox) become successful young adults who can support themselves, start a family, and find fulfillment in the type of life they dream of creating.
Hillel, founded in 1992, is the only organization in Israel devoted to helping those who have left the ultra-orthodox world. Hillel never encourages anyone to change his or her lifestyle, and only works with those who have already made an independent choice to leave their community. Our philosophy is simply that all Jews should be free to lead the type of life they desire. Since its foundation in 1991, the association has helped hundreds of young people make this transition successfully.
The organization has a small staff and relies on a network of 250 volunteers to help carry out our work. Our volunteers come from all segments of Israeli society and offer their time and professional services, including psychological counseling, financial planning, and academic tutoring. The generosity of our volunteers allows us to devote the majority of our resources towards the direct benefit of "Yotzim Leshe'elah" – through housing stipends, college scholarships, and other programs.
When our clients approach us, they typically have nothing. Most are between the ages of 18 and 25, and having decided to no longer be strictly observant, most are immediately kicked out of their parents’ homes. These young adults find themselves with no money, virtually no secular education, and no job skills. They have to confront a harsh culture shock, a large education gap, and economic hardships.
Additionally, since they grew up in insular communities, they lack any social network or mentors who can help guide them in their new lives and teach them the social norms of the society around them. Further complicating the situation, many of "Yotzim Leshe'elah" were victims of abuse at home or at school prior to contacting us. Without intensive support, many of these people would end up living on the streets – and sadly some who do not come to Hillel suffer this fate. What they all have in common is the desire to freely choose their own beliefs and lifestyles.
Hillel offers participants a full set of services, custom-tailored to each individual’s needs, so they can become productive members of Israeli society. We work with our clients from the day they leave the ultra-orthodox world and stay with them over the course of many years. We operate based on the Rambam’s principle that the highest level of charity is that which enables someone to become self-sufficient.
Upon coming to Hillel, each individual is assigned a personal mentor and is seen by a social worker or psychologist. Those who have been evicted from their parents’ homes may find refuge in Hillel’s short-term stay apartments, and can subsequently receive a housing stipend to help pay rent while working their first job. Hillel encourages participants to obtain a full education, and since most come without a school education the first step involves intensive classes and tutoring to help participants prepare for the Bagrut, a high school matriculation exam. Subsequently Hillel helps students enroll in college and vocational schools, and provides fully-funded scholarships. Hillel also helps many of our participants join the IDF, which helps them become integrated in Israeli society and provides good skills for obtaining jobs. Being in the IDF without the support of a family poses additional challenges, and Hillel works to provide added support to our soldiers. Finally, Hillel works to ensure that all participants end up with a stable job, so they can support themselves and contribute to Israel’s economy.
Hillel is currently approached by over 100 new clients each year, and currently serves 500 participants in various stages of transition. Hillel currently has two branches: one serving the Jerusalem area and one serving the Tel-Aviv/B’nei Brak area. Hillel has developed partnerships with a range of social service organizations in Israel so that we can direct our participants to additional specialized services they may need.
Hillel’s journey began with Shai Horowitz, who left the ultra-orthodox community at the age of 17. In 1991 he made his way to an appearance on public television, where he presented his plan to establish an organization that would help other ex-ultra Orthodox people like himself. Fortunately, two individuals who were to become the founders of Hillel saw his appearance: they were Tammy and Miki Cohen, ex-Palmach fighters who were members of the T'chila: The Israeli Secular Movement for Humanistic Judaism. They were joined by Rafi Shapira, from Kibbutz Ein Shemer, who helped in absorbing those in need into the kibbutzim of Hashomer Hatzair. The journalist Israel Segal, who had himself been raised in the ultra-orthodox world, was also active, as was Ornal Yekutieli, who was a member of the Meretz Party in the Jerusalem Municipality. Over the coming years, many volunteers joined together to make Hillel a living reality. Today, hundreds of volunteers work together, and Hillel has gained a reputation as the “go-to” address for anyone seeking help in adjusting to mainstream Israeli society.