Menachem Bombach is waiting behind the gate outside his school building on a dusty hilltop: long black coat, short beard, thin-rimmed glasses, the look of a refined yeshiva student, hands folded in front of him. He smiles and says, “Welcome, welcome!”

It’s hard to believe that this gentleman’s home has become the site of frequent demonstrations by religious zealots. His apartment door and lock have been smeared with tar several times; his neighborhood was covered in pashkevilim, posters, denouncing him as a Haredi imposter and calling on him to “return to Tel Aviv.” And when he was recognized upon a visit to his childhood neighborhood Mea Shearim, locals threw bottles and diapers at him, tearing off his yarmulke.

Bombach has faced this sort of protest ever since he first opened his school in Beitar Ilit three years ago — a high school for Hasidic boys that teaches math and science, and offers bagrut matriculation, exams. While this model has always existed in the Haredi Lithuanian community, though on the margins, this school is the first of its kind in the Israeli Hasidic world, and it’s quickly beginning to attract attention from prospective parents. […]

Bombach is deeply concerned about the next generation of his community. Between the ages of 0-14, there are approximately 500,000 Haredi children in Israel today, he estimates.

“If they don’t enter the workforce, we will become a Third World country,” he warns. “And the Haredi world will be the first to suffer for it. It’s hard for Haredim right now to understand how this can be. But there’s no alternative. From here, we will have the future heads of hospital wards, engineers, high-tech companies, scientists in the service of the public. I really believe it. “

“Haredi society is a very good society,” he explains. “There is so much idealism here, it is truly a world of chesed [acts of kindness], a miraculous world. And it is turned to the future, it understands there will be challenges. And we are figuring out how to protect our identity throughout those challenges. You have to understand, I’m not changing the community here. I’m protecting it.”