Shatil Spotlight: Pnina Pfeuffer

11 December 2019

Pnina Pfeuffer, a Jerusalem native raised ultra-Orthodox, is merging her deep roots in the Haredi community with her progressive values. With training from Shatil and funding from the New Israel Fund, she is working to launch her organization, New Haredim, and promote progressive values and activism among the 1-million-strong ultra-Orthodox community in Israel.

New Haredim, which is almost entirely volunteer-run, aspires to eventually serve as an umbrella organization for all efforts and organizations working for progressive ideals in the ultra-Orthodox community.

“With NIF, we shared the values of civil activism, equality and justice,” Pfeuffer said. We want to bring these values into our community for the benefit of both the Haredi community and the State of Israel.”

To launch the work of the New Haredim, Shatil helped Pfeuffer organize a kickoff-event in November. The event took place in Jerusalem, where 15 activists met with NIF President David Myers and NIF grants department director, Yuval Yavneh and began to plot out their common goals.

It was clear from the beginning that the New Haredim activists share the NIF values of equality, transparency, and closing the wealth gap.

“One of our long-term goals is to establish a public education system for the ultra-Orthodox that is overseen by the Education Ministry,” Pfeuffer said.

Currently, Haredi education is semi-private with insufficient teaching in core subjects like English and math, rampant discrimination, and poor wages for teachers. As a result, many Haredi high school graduates, need additional education in the form of government programs to enter the labor market or risk joining the ranks of the large number of low-income ultra-Orthodox families.

The urgency of this issue brought several leaders of the modern Haredi world to meet with the NIF grants department to discuss their vision and goals, including Michal Zernowitski, the first-ever ultra-Orthodox candidate to run with the Labor party, Haredi journalist Eli Bitan, and Pfeuffer herself.

“This struggle, for a state Haredi educational system, cannot be one undertaken only by Haredi activists such as myself,” said Zernowitski in a TED lecture which can be viewed here. “It needs to be one of the whole country. It needs to be part of the platform of every political party that cares about social equality and closing social gaps.”

The meeting with these community leaders also resulted in a research project by Shatil. Extensive mapping by Shatil organizer Ruth Klein has shown that an estimated 100,000 ultra-orthodox Israelis are integrating into the formal, non-Haredi workforce, entering academia, and using the internet.

Now Pfeuffer is working with Klein to begin building the foundations of the budding organization including a theory of change, work plan, a budget and a long-term strategy.

“We are really returning to our core work at Shatil with the New Haredim,” Klein said. “Funding alone doesn’t build a movement…I really help them become self-sustaining and develop them into an umbrella organization that will lead Haredi civil society with the values of equality, tolerance and democracy.”

Pfeuffer, for her part, is deeply grateful for Shatil’s support.

“Ruth pushes me because she’s a real go-getter and doesn’t let me rest for a minute,” Pfeuffer said. “I’m the only employee at New Haredim, but they are acting as my team all the time.”