Who are the Yotzim?

Yotzim, are Israeli Jews establishing self-determined lives of choice and opportunity beyond the confines of the restrictive ultra-Orthodox communities in which they were raised.

Why are they so important?

Put simply – they are essential to a progressive future Israel.  

In order to understand the important role that Yotzim will play in Israeli society, you need to first understand the problem posed by the communities that they left behind.

Since 2017, the Israeli government has invested billions of shekels on initiatives and incentives to increase ultra-Orthodox participation in the Israeli academic system, military and workforce. Despite some small successes, these efforts have primarily failed, because that community and its leaders steadfastly resist integration into the mainstream. The reasons are complicated, but foremost among them is fear of contact with modern progressive ideas and values.

In contrast, Yotzim embody those values, and thrive when given an opportunity to receive an education and join the labor force. That’s why annual success rates for Hillel Scholarship recipients are between 92% – 96% each year, and our alumni enter the workforce at higher and higher levels. As their advances become impossible to ignore, Yotzim are the most potent vehicle for ultra-Orthodox change at the grassroots level.

Such change is absolutely necessary. Given the rate at which the ultra-Orthodox population is growing, and their heavy reliance on public assistance, their non-participation in Israeli society poses perhaps the largest current threat to the country’s economic stability and national security.  That’s why the government is trying so hard to find solutions for the dilemma they present.

Yet despite heavily subsidized vocational training and certification initiatives, drop-our rates for ultra-Orthodox in government higher education initiatives is over 60%, and only 2% of men and 8% of woman achieved an academic degree in 2018. Only 13% of boys and 51% of girls passed high school matriculation exams, while only 51% of ultra-Orthodox men and 70% of women were employed in 2018 – a substantial increase for women, but a 2% decrease for men since 2015.

Yotzim are the key. They are evidence of what may be achieved through choice, sacrifice and hard work even in the absence of the government support afforded their ultra-Orthodox counterparts. As such, they are a beacon of proactive choice for the next generation of ultra-Orthodox young adults.

How Many Yotzim are There?

Yotzim are one of the fastest growing communities in Israel today.

Ultra-Orthodox populations exceeded one million in 2017 and according to all estimations will comprise over 40% of the Jewish population of Israel by 2065.[1] In 2019, young adults aged 20-29 numbered 178,000 and were 16% of total ultra-Orthodox, while youth aged 10-19 numbered 265,000.[2] This means that the pool of potential Yotzim will increase by 50% in just the next decade. This is not projection – it is fact. These children have already been born and are learning today in Israeli Talmudei Torah and Yeshivot that do not teach mandated core curriculum or modern progressive values.

A number of studies conducted between 2016 and 2018 (Shoresh Institute, Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, et al) have demonstrated that the percentage of those disaffiliating from ultra-Orthodox communities in the 20 – 29 age bracket each year is also increasing – with estimates of annual exit rates ranging from 6% to 12%.  As a result, the coming years will see an enormous surge in the number of Yotzim in their 20s.

[1] Israel Central Bureau of Statistics

 [2] Israel Democracy Institute’s (IDI) 2019 Statistical Report on Ultra-Orthodox Society in Israel

Why are They Leaving?

Their reasons for leaving are highly individual.

Some go because of punitive sanctions in response to their questions, ideology, gender identity or sexual orientation. Others seek a wider range of opportunities and experiences, and to escape the cycle of poverty and lack of advancement. Still others have experienced distress caused by strictly enforced gender roles, or stigma due to communal responses to abuse, divorce or other traumatic events.

Regardless of their reasons, when Yotzim leave, the majority are abandoned by family and friends. Single-parents may have their custodial rights threatened. They enter the mainstream lacking knowledge of social standards, familiarity with modern gender norms, and basic resources for integration and advancement.

What they do have is a burning desire to explore the world, and the willingness to work hard and prosper. That longing is the shared narrative that runs through all of their individual stories.