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Since its inception in 1991, Hillel – the Right to Choose has helped thousands of young adults transition out of ultra-orthodox communities, find housing and employment, enter secular Israeli social frameworks, start and complete their studies, complete IDF or national services, and surmount personal obstacles to success.
Hillel branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, transitional apartments, and dedicated staff and volunteers currently serve roughly 1,250 clients per year aged 18-38; 31% are women and 6% are single-mothers. In addition, our HaBayit shel Hillel (Hillel’s Home) Emergency Shelter serves an additional 50 clients at immediate risk per year. The organization currently has 29 employees and over 390 volunteers nationwide.
When clients approach us, they typically have nothing. The majority are between the ages of 18 and 25, and having decided to no longer be strictly observant, 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 also confront harsh culture shock and a lack of even basic knowledge of secular Israeli social norms and behavioral codes.
Having grown up in extremely insular communities, they lack relevant social network and/or mentors to help guide them. Further complicating the situation, many were victims of abuse at home or at school prior to contacting us.
What they all have in common is drive, a wealth of potential, and the desire to freely choose their own beliefs and lifestyles.
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 and staff work together, and Hillel has gained a reputation as the “go-to” address for anyone seeking help in adjusting to mainstream Israeli society.