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Jerusalem College of Technology

Haredi students’ participation in volunteer programs offered by their colleges can make other members of the Haredi community more inclined to enroll in higher education, a new study reveals.

The study, which was supported by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation and was published in Learning, Culture and Social Interaction (Community engagement of underrepresented college students: Ultra-orthodox students in Israel as social change agents), found that student volunteers from underrepresented minority groups like Israel’s Haredi population can bridge the gap between academic institutions and their minority communities, serving as agents of societal change.


The study authors included Dr. Zvika Orr, Prof. Edith Blit-Cohen, Maya Vardi, Bina Be’eri, and Prof. Daphna Golan-Agnon.

“This is the first study to explore community engagement programs involving Haredi students, and we hope that the findings can serve as a template for analyzing students’ community engagement among various minority groups worldwide,” said Dr. Orr, a Senior Lecturer in the Selma Jelinek School of Nursing at The Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), and, who along with Dr. Adi Finkelstein, is the co-founder and co-director of the College’s Lev Bakehila community engagement program.

The paper examined responses from questionnaires and in-depth qualitative interviews from students enrolled at JCT, many of whom are first-generation students. According to the research, 93.8% of Haredi students at the College described having a positive experience in volunteer programs.

A case study on JCT students contained within the report aims to demonstrate how social engagement can impact minority and underrepresented groups navigating the academic world. Student responses were based on several volunteer programs such as Perach, a volunteer framework in which students serve as tutors to younger children and provide them with academic and emotional assistance; Lev Bakehila (Lev in the Community), where students work to promote the rights of people with disabilities affiliated with the Haredi community in Jerusalem; and the Payis Scholarships and Impact Program, where students engage in volunteer work in a variety of fields and organizations, such as schools, community centers, hospitals, and assisted living facilities.

“Through their community engagement, Haredi students act as agents of knowledge and of change in their communities. Although this process is wrought with challenges and dilemmas, the Haredi student volunteers described their experiences as informative and enriching. This case study illuminates how community engagement can help underrepresented students cope with navigating their communities and the academic world,” said Prof. Blit-Cohen, a professor at the Paul Baerwald School of Social Work and Social Welfare at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Responses from students participating in the study revealed that their community engagement experiences helped them bridge the gap between the Haredi and academic worlds. Community engagement serves as a positive catalyst among Haredim because volunteering coincides with one of the basic religious and cultural values practiced in their community where the prevailing discourse emphasizes charitable and benevolent endeavors, acts of loving kindness, and compassion.

Additionally, community engagement work helped Haredim foster social change within their communities. During their service, they were able to formulate a new perception of social phenomena and offered this newly adopted perspective within their communities. In the interviews, students involved in a disability rights project, for example, mentioned their sense of commitment to changing social perceptions about people with disabilities in their Haredi communities and beyond.

Along with the many well-documented social and academic benefits associated with community engagement, volunteer service also dovetails with JCT’s institutional commitment not only to excellence on academic and religious levels but also to fulfilling the College’s responsibility to make positive contributions to society.

The study’s authors chose to spotlight Haredi students because they are often caught in the crossroads between their community and academia. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2020, only 4% of Israeli students were Haredim, less than a third of the share of Haredim in the Israeli college-aged population. Moreover, the dropout rate among Haredi students is almost three times higher (23.9%) than the rate among non-Haredi Jewish students (8.2%).

“Given our findings, we are calling for more inclusive community engagement programs that reflect and further enhance the diversity in higher education,” Orr said. “It appears that the key solution for the optimal integration of Haredi students in community engagement programs should be understanding the unique needs and cultural sensitivities of the Haredi community.”


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