Story: Mendy Shalom, age 24
Mendy was born in France into a Haredi family and immigrated to Israel at age 4. He studied in an anti-Zionist, Jerusalem chaider as a boy. After his sisters married members of the Sadigura Hasidic sect, the whole family was drawn closer to Hasidism and Mendy went to Sadigura yeshiva until the age of 17. Mendy’s decision to leave the Haredi fold did not occur all at once but developed slowly during his teenage years. At age 17, when it became apparent to his family that he would not be a Torah scholar, Mendy began a pre-academic program to begin bridging the educational gaps he acquired from years in the Haredi school system. At the time he was not serious about any of his studies except English, and eventually dropped out of the program, though not before he matriculated in English. Unmotivated and unsure of what he wanted to do or where he could do it, Mendy decided to try his luck abroad, traveling first to family in France and then to New York to work in matzah baking with former Haredi friends, a lucrative enterprise.
Once in the US, Mendy became part of a close-knit group of former Haredim from Israel and New York, whose common language was Yiddish and who supported one another in their new lifestyle choices. No longer under pressure from his family and community, he was able to fully embrace a secular lifestyle while retaining Jewish traditions that were meaningful for him. Mendy worked in Jewish-owned restaurants and eventually purchased a van and began working in deliveries. However, the IDF, noticing he had left Israel without enlisting, began to take legal action against him and prevented him from renewing his passport. Mendy realized that it was time to go back to Israel and enlist. The intelligence tech program he was interested in – Shahar – was a Haredi program. So he donned a yarmulke once again and enlisted as a Haredi. Although he passed the technical entry exam, which would allow him to learn computer programming as part of his service, Mendy was unable to get security clearance for the highly classified unit and instead spent the better part of his 2.5-year service, somewhat ironically, enlisting Haredim to the Intelligence Corps. His interest in computer programming having been sparked, and not knowing how he would be able to be accepted to university with all of his educational gaps, he saw an advertisement for a computer science course offered at Out for Change and decided to join.
The introduction to computer science course at Out for Change was a game changer for Mendy. Taught by an Amdocs expert, the course gave him basic skills and the confidence and knowledge to continue learning. He began study computer programming online at night, through YouTube videos, a Udemy course and tech blogs with online tutorials. Within a year, he was able to begin offering freelancing services on Fiverr at night and develop a small business in developing web applications. The IDF eventually agreed to grant him security clearance and he developed a new system for the Intelligence Corps. Now newly discharged, Mendy plans on returning to the US and joining the team of a New York-based startup as a front-end developer, take his GED examination and maybe even pursue a college degree.
For Mendy, the biggest challenge in leaving the Haredi world is the lack of education he received growing up in the Haredi educational system. Despite being highly intelligent, capable and resourceful, Mendy’s interest in programming brought him face-to-face with the fact that he had studied no more than basic arithmetic during his school years. The educational gaps he deals with are vast. While he has already made an enormous amount of progress, he still has a way to go. We at Out for Change are gratified and proud to be part of Mendy’s journey – and expect great things from him.