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It’s not every day that Israel Meir Lau, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, opens a new college campus. But then the Haredi Advertising Academy is hardly an everyday college. Located in the heavily Orthodox Jewish town of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, this is Israel’s – if not the world’s – first advertising school exclusively serving the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. Launched with 35 students in May 2010, the academy is grooming a generation of ­advertising execs specifically targeting Haredi consumers.

Founded by the mainstream advertising school Habetzefer, which is based in Tel Aviv, the academy is a bricks-and-mortar response to the increasing clout of Israel’s Haredi Jews. Living throughout the country (and everywhere from Brooklyn to Belgium), this sector is separated from secular society by history, faith and custom. It takes its name from the Hebrew word for trembling – Haredim are literally trembling before God.

Currently a mere 13 per cent of Israel’s population, their massive family sizes (an average of eight children each) should see Haredi numbers double in just over a decade. It’s a demographic that can no longer be ignored.

For the moment, however, the Haredi community is far from flush. Indeed, its total advertising market is valued at a mere NIS100m (€20m). Yet despite these modest numbers, the community’s future growth and herd-like spending patterns make it hard to overlook.

Set in a bland industrial zone, the academy is stark and spartan. Classes are twice-weekly, the course lasts seven months and men and women study separately. The school focuses on marketing, public ­relations, conventional advertising and advertisement production.

“Haredi consumers want to feel ­understood by advertisers and not marginalised,” says Tzvia Shoham, CEO of the Haredi division at McCann Erickson’s Tel Aviv office.

The Academy, which has 15 mostly secular lecturers, must guide students through the vast restrictions dictating Haredi advertising. Some are obvious: no sex, nudity or exposed skin. But others can be more unwieldy: Haredi rabbis have opposed the use of digital screen advertising on the side of buses and beauticians were ordered to stop promoting their services via images of eyes or eyebrows.

Most crucially, Haredi consumers are forbidden from text messaging, watching television and using the internet. ­Regarding the rabbinical committees ­issuing these edicts, they typically do so unchallenged and with little explanation. Despite these obstacles, Israeli advertisers are clearly keen to maximise Haredi potential – eyeing their increased income as Haredis further integrate into the Israeli workforce (see box). “Especially textile companies, banks, mobile phone operators – they’re all very interested in the Haredim,” explains Eitan Dobkin, the Academy’s managing director.

The class today is female-only. Mother of five Malki Weiss sells advertising for magazines, while Brazilian-born Debbie Englard is a spokesperson for a local Haredi non-profit. The lecturer is Vered Batash, who is also Habetzefer executive director. Terms such as “unique selling point” and “brand strategy” are bandied about. As are “modesty committees”, “rabbinical decrees” and “community censors”. There is no mention of television or the internet. “These students are in many ways really disconnected from the regular world,” Batash says.

Steering them back to the mainstream, however, are mega-brands such as Danone, McDonalds, Ikea and Coca-Cola – along with Israeli consumer giants such as the telecom Cellcom and national carrier El Al. They’re everyday businesses with specialised marketing campaigns for Haredi consumers – real world examples of advertising locally while ­operating globally. “Coke’s mainstream campaign, for instance, is anchored around ‘the taste of life’ concept,” Dobkin explains. “But for Haredis the message is about family and the Sabbath. The promotions are expressed differently for different audiences,” he continues, “but still share a similar brand DNA.”

Nonetheless, because of those “modesty committees”, Haredi ads can feel banal. A recent McCann ad for Vichy cosmetics, for instance, centered on a model’s face in the “mainstream” ad but displayed a laboratory beaker in the Haredi ad. “Everything is focused on the product,” Shoham says of Haredi ads, “there is very little about the consumer.”

Four months after its debut, double the number of students have registered for next term. For students, the programme provides a crucial link between secular-styled aspirations and their own cloistered culture. “I’ve always wanted to be part of this arena,” says 34-year-old mother of five Yael Kliger, whose husband works in advertising. “I had my kids, I made my home – now it’s time for me to try something new.”

With everyone from Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai to Knesset opposition leader Tzipi Livni now weighing in on the economic and cultural costs of Haredi isolation, secular Israelis are demanding a more equitable contribution from their Orthodox brethren. Still, even as Haredis begin to embrace mainstream professions, a major gap remains between the Bnei Brak-styled sacred and the Tel Avivi profane. “We always wanted Orthodox students at our main branch in Tel Aviv, but it’s located next to a beach,” Dobkin says. “We knew they were never going to come to us,” he adds. “So we realised we’d just have to come to them.”

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Despite their numbers, the Haredi community is currently Israel’s poorest – with 60 per cent of all families living below the poverty line. The chief cause is unemployment: 60 per cent of all Haredi men in Israel do not work. Instead, they study Torah full-time, which costs the Israeli economy an estimated $1bn (€775m) in lost income and taxes. But unlike their parents, who enjoyed lavish government subsidies – young Haredi adults are now entering the workplace. They have no choice: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut Haredi welfare support by more than 50 per cent during his tenure as economic minister in 2003. Almost a decade later, upwards of 40 per cent of Haredi men and women are now employed in the formal sector – many in hi-tech and software industries. Still, Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer says ongoing Haredi unemployment is economically “not sustainable”.

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