My name is Dr. Shmulik Hess; I’m married to Lital and the father of four (two sets of twins, for those interested). I grew up in an ultra-orthodox family, with a father who learned in a kolel (a yeshiva for married men) and a mother who supported the family. I am a graduate of the ultra-orthodox educational system, from the cheder to yeshiva, all within the Lithuanian stream (Rabbi Kanievsky).
I left the Haredi world at the age of 19, with no real formal education, to enlist in the IDF as a fighter in the armored corps. After the army, I started from scratch, completing my matriculation exams and closing considerable gaps in my education. It was a challenging but rewarding path. Afterward, I completed my doctorate and post-doctorate at one of the leading universities in the world. Today, I am involved in the biotech world of drug development as an entrepreneur and CEO. And I’m proud to serve as chairman of the board of directors of Out for a Change. I want to stress that my success is not mine alone, and it would not have been possible without the wonderful people I met along the way, first among which is my partner, Lital, who were all helpful and supportive.
Every year, some 3,000 young men and women leave ultra-Orthodox society, choosing instead to live according to their worldviews, change the path they had been led down their whole lives, and integrate into the larger Israeli society. Most of these individuals face huge educational gaps in basic core studies because their knowledge is at a 3rd-grade level. Most can close these gaps only after completing their military service while still confronting the many personal challenges of leaving the Haredi world. Contrary to popular belief, data suggests that previous, intensive study of the Talmud does not help close these gaps.
Ultra-Orthodox society will continue to grow, and with it, the number of people leaving. The best way to deal with this growth is not by fueling hatred or refusing to speak to one another. Although I left the ultra-Orthodox community, I don’t hate the community, and I don’t want to fight against it. For me and other Yotzim, these are our parents, our brothers and sisters, and for some of us, even our children. We do not believe in a discourse of hatred and division. Instead, we see ourselves as bridge-builders between the ultra-orthodox world and the remaining Israeli society. A bridge on which many different meetings and interactions can take place. Both bitter arguments and warm collaborations. This bridge, however, must never be burned.
You can be angry with the ultra-orthodox – or you can love them. You might feel that they are your brothers – or not. But the real change for Israeli society will be achieved through the support we offer those who choose to leave and integrate. Their success is our success.
The Out to Learn program at Out for Change provides free tutoring and includes a mentoring, counseling, and guidance package for those leaving the ultra-orthodox world. Because of the expected increase in Yotzim, we launched a crowdfunding campaign to help expand the Out to Learn project and offer help to thousands of yotzim throughout the country.
In this tense and charged period, it is time for us to truly understand that if we want to positively and practically impact our future, we must actively support those who have left ultra-Orthodox society. We must help them fill gaps and integrate into Israeli society in every way, for the well-being of us all.
I invite you to be a part of the change and to actively support yotzim by clicking on the attached link to make sure that more yotzim receive the help they need to succeed in university, fulfill their dreams and integrate into Israeli society.