By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
President Peres at Jerusalem College of Technology. Photo: Mark Neiman/GPO On his visit to the Jerusalem College of Technology yesterday, President Shimon Peres showed special interest in meeting and hearing the ultra-Orthodox students who constitute about a third of the institution’s 4,500 students.
The visit to the 44-year-old academic institution – which teaches engineering, management, accounting and nursing to national religious and haredi young people, with men and women on separate campuses – was the first by a sitting president, though Peres had visited JCT years before he became president.
The modern Orthodox men on the Givat Mordechai campus join the Israel Defense Forces before or after getting their degrees, while the haredi men – most of them with wives and children and no scientific, mathematics or English-language background – go straight from their yeshivot to a year of preparatory classes to matriculate and then to their studies, without IDF service.
Women, both national religious and haredi, study nursing in the capital’s Givat Shaul campus, while modern Orthodox women get degrees in electronics engineering, computer engineering and other subjects. Haredi women study various subjects, including accounting and business, at Machon Lustig in Ramat Gan to prepare for supporting their families as their husbands study Talmud.
It was announced by the new JCT president, Prof. Chaim Sukenik, that the 44-year-old institution established by the late Prof. Zev Low (Lev) would have a new name – the Jerusalem College of Technology/Lev Academic Center, and the Merkaz Academi Lev in Hebrew.
Marketing research had shown that while potential students and eventual employers who are modern Orthodox were very familiar with the institution, secular employers knew nothing about it, thinking it was a cardiac (lev) institute at the nearby Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Peres met in a small forum with haredi professors, including one who has developed a molecule that can separate cancerous from healthy cells, with the eventual possibility of using apoptosis (programmed cell death) to rid the body of the tumor.
He also met haredi students who were working on projects involving lasers and using computers to quickly emboss books in gold-like print instead of working by hand.
JCT administrators said they have launched special projects to teach immigrant men and women from France, Ethiopia and even from Morocco.
Haredi male students – from Lithuanian yeshivot, such as Ponevitch in Bnei Brak, and hassidim from Elad and Mea She’arim in Jerusalem – told Peres that JCT was ideal for them as a way to learn important professions in an atmosphere conducive to a Torah way of life.
Several of the haredi students complained that the ultra-Orthodox community in the country had been “persecuted” by the authorities and lawmakers in the past year in an effort to draft them into the military against their will.
Peres recalled that the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, appointed him to negotiate with the rabbis when only 200 or 300 yeshiva students were seeking exemption. Today, there are many, many more, said Peres, but today, the problem could be resolved by serious discussion and compromise.
“There has been a lot of extremism on both sides,” he said.
The president added that he saw no contradiction between Torah and science, and some of the haredi JCT students agreed.
During his visit, Peres called for a national program that would provide free nourishing food for all children from birth through age three, English and Internet studies in pre-schools and free education through the age of 18 for all, whether religious or secular.
He also suggested that all teens from 10th grade should be allowed to work for two hours a day – at clean, intellectual jobs, if possible, to integrate their studies with real life. New ways of teaching have made it possible to learn the same amount in half the time, Peres said.