Adina Bar-Shalom

Ashoka Fellow
Jerusalem, J, Israel
Fellow Since 2010


This profile was prepared when Adina Bar-Shalom was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2010.
The New Idea
Since the ultra-Orthodox community is growing at a disproportionately rapid pace in comparison with the rest of Israel, and now constitutes almost 15 percent of Israel’s population, the challenge of integration, transformation and self-sustainability is growing more urgent and acute. Adina has set out to change the situation of the ultra-Orthodox community. Her innovation is to offer “academization” as she calls it, to ultra-Orthodox women (and now men) in Israel, while fully respecting their traditions, and the range of other demands on them. She observes that Israeli society as a whole is becoming increasingly academized, and those without academic degrees miss out on employment opportunities. The women who enter the college she founded in 2001, Haredi College in Jerusalem, are often the main or sole support for their families, which are often large, and live under the close supervision of rabbis or rabbinical bodies. The men are often restricted to a life of religious study that does not include paid employment. For both, the opportunity to learn academic subjects (education, economics, computer programming, or laboratory sciences are just a few examples) and to acquire professional skills (law is popular) provides personal dignity, much needed remuneration, and access to the wider society on the basis of mutual respect. Menachem Ben-Sasson, President of Hebrew University, says “Society must adjust itself to the changes taking place in traditional societies around the world, to encourage the acquisition of higher education and to take part in bearing the economic responsibility borne by the society as a whole.”

Like other entrepreneurial and successful projects that deal with coexistence and the integration of marginalized communities, this initiative deals with “the politics of interests” much more than with the trendier “politics of identity.” Rather than talking about mutual understanding and the acceptance of the other’s values and beliefs, Adina’s Haredi College equips its graduates with concrete knowledge and tools that enable them to satisfy their personal, communal, material, and spiritual interests, yet also feel a bit closer to the rest of the society. Rather than discussing emotions and fears in what often turn out to be pleasant, yet fruitless, mixed group deliberations, Haredi College faces the issues of exclusion, inadequate skills and alienation head on by addressing the most crucial practical needs and the most concrete interests of the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel. Doing this in ways that are accepted and recognized by the rest of society brings the graduates and their families a step closer to the social mainstream.

Through influencing public policy, speaking engagements, and conference participation, her message is brought to traditional communities, as well as policymakers in many countries. A good example of her influence—beyond the activity of her college—is the new ambitious program of Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, to specifically encourage employment of ultra-Orthodox women via tax breaks and other incentives, and by so doing improve Israel’s general GDP and ranking in terms of productivity and economic performance.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

More For You