Nili Davidovitz and Reem Younis come from different corners of Israeli society. But both women are leaders in Israel’s high-tech field and members of minority groups.
Davidovitz was born into Israel’s haredi Orthodox community, spent her teenage years in a girls-only high school in New York and, back in Israel, became a software developer. But after her marriage of 22 years collapsed, she was left as a single parent in the haredi world. She went on to form her own company.
Younis, an Arab-Israeli, was inspired by an early teacher to attend Israel’s prestigious Technion Institute of technology. She obtained a degree in civil engineering and met her husband. But when missiles started hitting Haifa during the 1990 Gulf War, the couple decided to leave their jobs and move inland to Nazareth, where they started their own companies.
“Our parents thought we lost our minds. How can you leave a job and go to something that is not secure?” Younis told 75 women at Hera Hub DC, a female-focused networking space. She and Davidovitz discussed their paths and challenges to becoming entrepreneurs in their respective fields.
The Sept. 13 program was sponsored by the Maryland/Israel Development Center, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the Embassy of Israel and the Greater Washington Forum on Israeli Arab
After Younis graduated from Technion, she found work in her civil engineering field. But her husband, also an engineer, had a tougher time. Moving to Nazareth, she and her husband founded Alpha Omega, which designs equipment for neuroscientists, and Alpha-Cad Ltd., which specializes in solutions for the construction and architectural industries.
The couple sold one of their two cars for start-up capital. Younis’ father-in-law also gave them four gold coins because he predicted hard times ahead.
He wasn’t wrong. Younis said she became accustomed to living with little money.
She described the Arab community as caring and said the couple’s parents were willing to help when necessary, despite both families having modest incomes.
“We were not afraid to be starving. At the end of the day, we can go and eat at our parents’ house,” she said.
Today her company has 75 employees of diverse backgrounds.
“We wanted to make a point,” she said. “In order to have innovation, you have to have diversity. We are true believers of diversity.”
Her advice for other entrepreneurs was concise.
“Challenge yourself all the time to be out of your comfort zone. It is tiring, but it’s the only way to do it,” she said.
While Younis’ company sought to create a diverse workforce, Davidovitz has focused on employing a single strand of Israeli society.
“I’m here to speak the voice of the Israeli haredi women,” said Davidovitz, whose software development company, Daat, employs ultra-Orthodox women exclusively.
Traditionally, haredi husbands study Torah while their wives are the breadwinners.
With a single parent supporting potentially seven or more children, a large percentage of haredi families rely on government assistance. This reliance on the government often puts them at odds with much of Israeli society.
Haredi women have three priorities that lead to restricted job opportunities. But Davidovitz works to accommodate them.
The women’s priorities are family, modesty and supporting husbands engaged in full-time study of Torah, she said.
“Haredi women are willing to work very hard. They are not willing to work overtime,” she said.
In addition, modesty prevents them from working alongside men.
Davidovitz said she arranges transportation for employees who live far away (haredi women consider driving to be immodest) and is understanding when they must stay home to care for a sick child.
Julia Westfall, CEO of Hera Hub DC, said the Israelis’ presentation showed the problems women encounter, regardless of where they live.
“It is interesting to me to see how they experience the same thing we do here,” she said.
Asked for advice on tackling social problems, Davidovitz’s focused on compassion rather than business:
“Work with your heart at all times, and always see the other person’s [perspective].”